She dug deeper into the conversation by asking, "What do you do?" I then said, "I am a minister."
After many years of this type of interaction, without exception, the next thing out of the person's mouth will be very revealing. Now on full alert for her potential responses, I heard these words: "So many young people are using drugs. It seems since they took religion out of education, the problems have gotten much worse." Then came the defining moment of the conversation as, with genuine concern, she asked if I thought it was too late. Among other things, I responded, "If I thought it was too late, I'd unpack my luggage, stay in Telluride and enjoy the beautiful creation."
Reflecting on this interaction, I've been pondering this question: can our generation do what the Church did as reported by her severest enemies in Acts 17:5 & 6? In the city of Thessalonica, the Church's reputation and influence caused the jealous Jews to give them the greatest public relations talking points ever when they said, "These men who have upset the world have come here also."
Will it be said of our lives and ministries that we upset our neighborhoods and nation, our communities and cultures with the gospel of the Kingdom of God? How will our generation respond to questions on the streets like my Telluride acquaintance asked: "Is it too late?"
We believe there is time to fulfill that which God has called us to individually and corporately. We also believe the Scriptures are the master key and blue print for how we can effectively engage our culture and lead it into societal transformation. Our starting point and foundation of faith is that only the Church can turn our nation. We will build alliances with those groups and organizations who work for the common good of our cities, yet scripturally the Church carries a mantle for transformation like none other. This leads to the question of how.
The Church at Antioch is a model and pattern of what it will take to change our neighborhoods and nation. The strategy for societal transformation ultimately filters down to the presence of local congregations and ministries who demonstrate the Kingdom dynamics seen at Antioch. America desperately needs to be saturated at the local level with ATMs -- Antioch Type Models. In this article, we will briefly look at four core values seen then, which are values that are on demand now.
1) Centrality of Jesus! Acts 11:19 & 20 vividly portray how Antioch preached and prioritized Jesus. Successful transformation by the Church is built on this foundation. Seminars, conferences, books, sermons, social media comments, songs, seminaries, Bible schools, blogs, etc. seem endless, and yet our culture shows signs of decay. As believers and ministry leaders, there must be a returning in our lives, conversations and messages to the centrality of Jesus! In our desire for relevancy to those we lead and influence, we've drifted from the anchoring truth Antioch leaders were tied to -- preaching the Lord Jesus. Can it be, my friends and co-laborers in the Kingdom of God, that our social decay is linked to our feeding the people a steady diet of filler and substitutes? ATMs keep their focus on the centrality of Jesus!
2) Kingdom view of ethnicity. Acts 11:19 & 20 reveal a striking contrast between Antioch and the other cities. Phoenicia and Cyprus saw race while Antioch saw grace. In reality there is only one human race with different ethnicities. Genuine Kingdom people see grace before ethnicity and culture. Being born in the South and spending many following years there, we can testify to the importance of God giving revelation of His Kingdom and its prevalence over our particular natural born cultures. As we witness the most recent eruption of ethnic prejudices in America exposed by the Zimmerman case, it is a reminder of what Antioch demonstrated -- an understanding, maturity and heart to prioritize a Kingdom view of ethnicity. Our hearts have been saddened by the devastating loss of life and tremendous pressures the Martin and Zimmerman families have experienced. We are deeply concerned by the wide spread ethnically-incensed responses this case has exposed among the Church. Antioch-type believers can step into this situation, model the Kingdom of God, and by the grace of God, we could see the root of racism uprooted in our lifetime. As we respond to a tragedy with a Kingdom view of ethnicity, the Lord who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him is able to heal, deliver and make whole a divided nation. Can the Church do it again? Can the Church model a Biblical example of ethnicity and thereby be the catalyst for cultural healing?
3) Activation. Acts 11:27-30 is a prime example of the Antioch Church being socially active. Agabus prophesied a great famine throughout the region, and the people took action to help those hurt by the loss of daily necessities. Verse 29 states each of them got involved in a very practical way to respond to the prophetic word and help those hurting. Having spent many years among a portion of the Church which embraces the prophetic gift of God and how He speaks to His people to encourage, edify and comfort, it is particularly exciting to see a grassroots movement activated toward humanitarian and social relief. Can the Church upset our communities as the early Church did? It can and will as she moves from a spiritually introverted dysfunctional mode into a Kingdom culture, which is active in societal transformation. Antioch Type Models are active in their neighborhoods and nations!
4) Territorial Authority. Acts 11:27-30 reveals a core value of the Antioch Church and is an example for us. These believers felt a responsibility beyond their own immediate footprint. When the word came regarding the famine and how broad it would be, they took ownership and set in motion a strategy to minister. The scripture says the famine would be all over the world, and the Antioch Church understood their role to be ministers of the gospel to the world. God had given them a revelation of their Kingdom authority, and it reached into the known world. If the Church in our generation is to disciple or "upset" the nations as Jesus commissioned us in Mathew 28:18-20, there must be an enlarging of our territorial authority. Effective ministries will see the Lord broadening their reach to include people and territories they once may have not carried a burden for. ATMs planted throughout our cities that move in a broader territorial authority will be the catalyst for societal transformation in our lifetime.
Countless people in America ask the question "Is it too late?" The answer is it's not too late to see our generation so used of God to bring societal transformation that even our enemies become our greatest allies as they state, "Those who have upset the world have come here also."
Prayer & Action Points:
1) Pray for the centrality of Jesus among the leaders and believers!
2) Ask God to reveal His Kingdom revelation regarding ethnicity to you. Build relationships with people across ethnic boundaries.
3) Talk to your leadership about how you and your congregation can become more active in your community. What has God given you that can become a catalyst for community transformation?