I’ve been thinking about gathering and scattering lately. I’m sure some of you have as well. Most of us have gone a long stretch of time where we couldn’t gather with our local congregations in the way we were accustomed. Even as many congregations have begun to reopen, we’re discovering that it’s not going to look anything like “normal” anytime soon. We’re not alone. School districts, universities and businesses across the nation are still evaluating when and if they’ll be able to reopen or return to the same spaces in the same ways in the coming weeks and months. Our gatherings are not the same and they may never return to “normal.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the early church and the challenges that they faced considering our own struggles. Acts 8: 1b-3 gives us a picture of some the early realities that our brothers and sisters had to navigate.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
What if the church, those early followers of Jesus, had chosen to stay in Jerusalem? What if they had never scattered or fled? The church might have met its end in those early years, snuffed out as folks like Saul sought to punish the early believers with prison, abuse and even death. What if they had fled, but always saw the goal as getting back to Jerusalem? What if the bulk of the new testament writings were dedicated to instructing the early Christians with directions and instructions of how to make the journey back to Jerusalem? It was the fierce persecution against the church that first allowed the outward spread of the Gospel.
Now, I want to be clear, I don’t believe we’re facing persecution here in North America! Will we face persecution? Most likely. We may very well face the kinds of things faced by our brothers and sisters around the world, but we’re not facing that yet. It’s obvious that we no longer have “home field advantage” because of our Christian faith. I think we can expect that benefits and advantages that we’ve long enjoyed are going to continue to be challenged or taken away (e.g. tax-exempt status, etc.).
While we’re not facing persecution, we are being forced out of our normal customs and rhythms. We’re being forced out of our larger gatherings and none of us can predict how long this reality is going to last. Perhaps the Lord is trying to move us right now? Perhaps God, in His sovereign grace, is allowing His people to be scattered where we might be most useful for His mission? What if God is deploying His church to homes and extended families, neighborhoods, trailer parks, condo associations and apartment complexes across our communities? It may be difficult or even impossible to gather crowds of hundreds right now, but perhaps God is sending His people to spread the Gospel in groups of 5, 10 or 20 in our living rooms, backyards or community patios?
This will require discipleship. We need to deploy folks to demonstrate and proclaim the Gospel to every man, woman and child to whom they are sent. The opportunities for mission are limitless, countless possibilities and expressions of God’s people on mission. We need to help equip people to help others follow Jesus, not just get them to church events.
There’s a temptation right now to want to get back to Jerusalem. There’s a strong temptation to make our gatherings our focus. I think the Spirit of God is allowing us to be scattered far and wide to accomplish His mission. I think our gracious God is positioning us to do the work that matters most to Him.
Are we willing to be scattered for the glory of God and His mission?
CGGC eNews—Vol. 14, No. 31