Last month we spoke of the need to hit the streets as did those first disciples – the early church – after receiving their baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit. They moved out and began to turn their world upside down with the gospel message.
Years ago before my pentecostal days I had the privilege of leading a group of great young Congregationalists. One thing about them has never faded from my memory. On Thursday evenings some of those committed youngsters would gather in the church, pray earnestly for souls and then hit the streets ‘come rain or shine.’ They would seek to introduce Jesus Christ to all who would listen to their testimony. Their motto? Evangelise or fossilise!
Paul grabbed his great opportunity!
The apostle Paul did this, hitting the streets of cities and moving around evangelising and sharing his great insights about Jesus Christ and the church, the body of Christ.
However, in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (Message), he declares very firmly that he is ‘staying right here at Ephesus.’ He deliberately chose to remain in this particular city and give it his best shot. And this was the very city where he had worked resolvedly hard in establishing the church there but had faced much opposition. Why did he hang in there?
Paul had the best of reasons: ‘because a huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here.’ As was his way, he was determined to build that church further not just with talk but with the power of the Spirit.
In the midst of negativity
Ephesus, a Roman Asia capital, wasn’t an easy place to minister! It was filled with immorality and negative influence and was a refuge for murderers and thieves. The city was heavily predisposed to paganism; in particular its trademark was the worship of the Ephesian goddess Diana, involving ceremonial prostitution.
Against this negative, emotional and physical environment, along came Paul, bent on seeing lives changed through the gospel message of freedom, encouragement and a positive Christian lifestyle.
It’s not easy in the midst of negativity and opposition to build a local church for Jesus… for his glory, a place where he can meet with his people to receive their worship, and speak into their lives and encourage them to reach out to others.
But it can be done, as Paul proved, with the help of committed Christians and the Holy Spirit.
Twelve keys behind Paul’s Ephesus’ ministry were…
• Vision (1 Cor.16: 9)
• Determination and stick-to-it-ness (Acts 19:8-10; 1 Cor.16: 9)
• Boldness (Acts 20:20-21)
• The Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim.1: 6)
• The supernatural (Acts 19:11-17)
• Outreaching beyond Ephesus (Acts 19:22)
• Leadership support (Acts 20:28)
• God’s grace (Acts 20:32)
• Humility (Acts 20:19) a
• Personal example (Acts 20:33-35)
• Opposition awareness (1 Cor. 16:9; Acts 20; 31)
• Dying to self (Acts 20:24).
With the Spirit’s enabling and committed, Spirit-filled Christians, Paul ran well his race at Ephesus and accomplished much despite the heavy opposition, occult powers and anti-Paulism. God’s plans were fulfilled.
It’s easy to compare aspects of Ephesus to our own cities!
Can we see the parallels to our own city or town? If so we must have Paul’s determination and vision of a great open door of opportunity to reach the unsaved and the spiritually hurt.
Many churches today are aware that they’re on the verge of moving ahead into something exciting in God’s destiny for them. Pastors have been encouraging their people to really buy into the church’s vision, to pray, to support financially and in every way possible. And above all, to believe for church growth as they effectively touch their community and city for Christ.
Many churches today have already laid the necessary foundations …
• An openness to allow the Holy Spirit to lead, not just boards and committees.
• The church being Spirit driven, not program driven.
• Meaningful, Jesus-centred and deepening worship.
• Living in an expectation for the supernatural to occur.
• Unity and really caring for each other.
• Connecting with each other and the unchurched through Connect groups.
• Willingness to be taught by the word of God and be challenged accordingly.
• Strong prayer and back-up intercessory groups.
• A desire to see solid spiritual growth in church.
• A prayer-based yearning for salvations and new people including youth.
• Opportunities for all to be involved ministry-wise at some level or another
• Missions-minded – reaching beyond themselves (the church without walls)
The opportunities are here for every church and Christian
Like Paul, we too have opposition – occult forces, doubt, denial, negative influence, crime, prostitution and gospel adversaries around and in our city.
We can achieve much for Jesus as we move in faith, expectation and trust!
But maybe our church family presently lacks certain workers for, say, the crèche, kids, youth, worship team or technical equipment operation. Maybe there’s the great need for our own building, more equipment and finance. Earnest prayer requests bring great answers!
Like Paul we too should stay on, hang in there; we have the Holy Spirit, the right message, love, God’s grace and so much more going for us these days.
Today is not a time to merely stand in the doorway of an open door but to go through and see what God can achieve. Let’s renew our commitment and believe that as we support our local church, it can be a great one for Jesus’ glory! And not through any heavy demand of ‘equal financial giving or ministering by all’, but by all taking every equal opportunity!
Let’s be like the early church, like those young Congregationalists I once knew and was so proud of…evangelise or fossilise!