Working in missions or ministry is by far one of the most challenging yet rewarding endeavors a person can embark upon. Over the years various strategies and methods have been experimentally driven. Some have proven fruitful while others have failed miserably despite the sincere efforts of those involved. One of the reasons there has been failure is from lack of following the guidelines laid out for us in Scripture (particularly in the New Testament) as to how we should approach gospel advancement and world missions. In the 13th-19th chapters of Acts there are 5 key strategies which the Apostles and Early Church engaged themselves passionately in and lived by. These approaches should be ones that we should seek to implement. Without them, the church will not build the foundations necessary in order to preach the gospel whether that be in a foreign land, our local community, or to our coworkers.
One of the most significant strategies, yet one that is often forgotten about, is to carefully listen and obey the voice of God. Throughout the book of Acts there are numerous recordings of how the believers sought guidance through prayer. When the Spirit told them to do or not do something and they obeyed, God used their obedience to grow and expand the church in the most phenomenal ways. In Acts 13 the Spirit tells the disciples to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work which God had called them to do. Through obedience to this calling Paul would embark on his first of many missionary journeys which would ignite the flame for world evangelism.
Another example of listening to the voice of God would be in Acts chapter 16 where Paul received a vision from the Lord. In the vision a man from Macedonia was asking for help. Knowing that this was from God, Paul and the other disciples who were with him immediately set off for Macedonia. Upon arriving there, they were able to preach the gospel to many and perform miracles. Through the tribulations they faced by being imprisoned and beaten, they were able to share the good news with the jailor and his whole family became believers. Although listening and obeying God’s voice is not always easy nor is it sometimes safe, God uses every situation that He calls us to and anywhere He places us in order that through our obedience He can work not only in us but through us as we witness to those around us.
This leads us into the second strategy which is to do everything for the glory of God alone. This is perhaps most evident in Acts 14 after Paul and Barnabas had healed the lame man in Lystra. When the people saw what had happened they treated them as gods and began to worship them. Paul and Barnabas instead of reveling in the glory they were receiving sought to explain to them that God was the one who had healed the lame man, not themselves. If serving or doing anything in the name of Jesus is solely not for His glory but for wrong intentions, God will not bless it, nor will we be able to serve Him fully.
As the church and representatives of Christ, our desire and focus should primarily be to bring others to Him by striving to honor Him in everything we endeavor to do. To often, especially within the Western churches, the shift is more often than not taken off of God’s goodness and who He truly is and is rather put upon the people leading within the ministry. This can also lead to submitting people to rules or regulations which are not necessary or even biblical. The Apostles learned early on that these would be issues which would need to be constantly clarified and addressed as seen in Acts 15 and we would be wise to follow in their footsteps in this area.
The third strategy is to use contextualization when preaching the gospel. Throughout the New Testament there are multiple illustrations of how the disciples and believers would use this concept as a means to share the gospel with whomever they were preaching to. In Acts 13, the Apostle Paul as he began to share the good news with the Jewish people in Antioch, delivered the message in a way which the Jews could relate to by using their culture, language, history and religion as evidence and examples for preaching the gospel.
Paul uses the same strategy a few chapters later in Acts 17 when he has the opportunity to speak in front of a group of Greek philosophers. He was sensitive to their culture and practices as he began to unfold the scriptures to them. This would prompt Paul to write later on in one of his epistles, “ I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews…..To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).” In the same way, we should strive to share the gospel with those who come from other religions, ethnicities and cultural differences first by learning and seeking to understand, and then sharing in order that they might comprehend more fully what we are seeking to say.
Along with contextualizing the gospel it is important not to conform other people to that of your own culture or lifestyle. The disciples realized this in Acts 15 when they were faced with the issue of whether or not the new believers should become circumcised. It was causing disunity within the churches and misunderstandings as to whether or not those who were not circumcised were truly believers. After meeting with the elders in the church, the Apostles agreed that it is not by physical standards but rather spiritual ones which make a man clean and pure before God. In the same way, when we are living amongst and sharing the gospel with a group of people who are completely different from us, it is important that we do not try to make them like ourselves in order for them to think that that is the only way that they can become believers. As Christians our goal isn’t to convert people through man-made structures. Every culture and people group is unique and different in their own way; our ultimate role is to help them understand by using their own language, traditions and lifestyle to tell them about Jesus.
Finally, but most important is to recognize how essential the power of the Holy Spirit is today in our own lives and those whom we are seeking to win for Christ. It is the Holy Spirit which guides and leads the hearts of men. It is not what we say or do, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us that enables people to realize that it is not by our own strength but rather by Him who dwells within us. Without the Spirit, the church would not be as powerful as it is today. Throughout the book of Acts as it depicts the formation of the early church we see the Spirit moving in ways which for some of us is hard to imagine.
It is vital to recognize that the Spirit is moving just as powerfully in our own day and age just as during the time of the early church. Today this is perhaps most seen by the thousands of Muslims coming to Christ through dreams and visions. It is the healing and miraculous divine interventions which are occurring all over the world which are bringing people to Jesus. If we fail to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit we are diminishing God himself. One question which we should ask ourselves is, “Am I allowing the Spirit to work in and through me every day?”. Without this in the forefront of our minds we can easily lose sight of how we should view the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives.
By implementing these 5 strategies into our work in missions, ministry or workplace (wherever that may be), we will be able to effectively and adequately serve God and share the gospel with whomever He puts in our path. As the body of Christ it is necessary that we study the book of Acts particularly in regards to Church growth, structure and discipleship. Not only must we study it, but we must determine to live by these standards wholeheartedly. By seeking to understand the principles and guidelines laid out for us we can then effectively carry out the great commission which Jesus gave us: to go into all nations and share the gospel to the ends of the earth.