I love being a spectator. Some might consider me a professional spectator. In the fall there is nothing better than being a spectator in a football stadium cheering on your favorite team. Do you spectate? Maybe you’re a spectator of a good movie or concert, playing video games or surfing the Internet. Whether it is a bleacher or sofa, spectators are good sitters. Spectators feed off others doing the work and paying good money to have a seat with the best view.
Sad, but true, the Christian life can be a spectator sport. Instead of sofas or stadiums, the church pew can be your seat of choice. It is far too easy to sit comfortably cheering or booing on the 11-people serving on Sunday. All the while never engaging yourselves in the ministry or doing your part to serve the church. Where are you at today? Are you sitting in the grandstands cheering from a distance? Are you standing on the sideline benched and bored? Are you retired from the game because you are no longer motivated to workout your salvation with fear and trembling? Or are you on the field running the race, fighting the good fight, eager for encouragement to keep pressing on?
In Acts 9, Paul miraculous comes to Christ on the road to Damascus. After he gets his sight back he immediately enrolls to serve for the sake of Christ [cf. Acts 9:18-20]. According to Paul, serving Christ was the greatest thing since sliced kosher beef. He worked his entire life to gain merit badges from God, but Christ gave him an entirely different motivation to work. As a recipient of God’s grace, he made it his mission to be a conduit of God’s grace. You might call him a missionary—a man on a mission. I think Paul always kept his car packed ready to go to the next place eager to share the good news that radically broke into his life. In fact, if you are believer you are an immediate missionary for Jesus Christ. Here are 3 truths that will move you from the sofa into His service or from the mundane to your mission:
1. NEVER DO MINISTRY ALONE [Acts 15:36-16:5]
On Paul’s first journey, he and Barnabus were sent out from Antioch [Acts 13]. Many Gentiles bowed their knee to Christ through their ministry. On the brink of the second missionary journey, Paul had a good plan, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” [Acts 15:36ff] Barnabus was cool with the plan, but he wanted to bring along John Mark too. Paul did not like the idea, since Mark bailed on them midway through their first journey [13:13]. Barnabus—the encourager—wanted to give his friend a second shot. It started a conflict so sharp the friends to parted ways.
So who was right? Most side with Paul since he’s the apostle, however, the Bible is silent not taking sides. It is interesting that you never hear about Barnabus again. On the other hand, later Paul would ask that Mark be brought to him because he was “useful to him for ministry” [2 Timothy 4:11]. And this Mark is the same Mark that eventually wrote the gospel of Mark. Bottom line is—we don’t know—who was right, but God did use their conflict for His purposes. They are both right and both wrong. I find it encouraging that even though Paul and Barnabus had their issues they were still willing to serve. They didn’t hang up their shoes—giving up. This shows you the attractiveness of message over the messengers. The church might be messy, but it is still the beautiful Bride of Christ.
If you serve in the church you are wise to remind yourself, first, work hard to fight for unity whenever possible. Paul says in a letter to a church, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:1-3, cf. Colossians 3:12-17] Do you think your pastors, deacons, sound techs, worship leader, nursery workers, AWANA helpers, and Sunday School teachers are aware of this need for unity? People problems can come up frequently when serving the Lord together, but whenever possible strive for unity.
The number one reason why people leave a church or the mission field is because of conflict with a person or personality. As Sarah and I go to North Africa, pray for our team. Pray for an ethos of grace that seeks to resolve conflict biblically and quickly. I could not imagine doing ministry alone. That was my favorite part of ministry at BGBC, serving along side deacons, youth leaders, and teams of people who sought unity in community.
Second, serving together is far better than serving solo. Do you notice that Paul usually serves on a team? Rarely do you see him going solo, even in prison. I have heard many of reasons why people do not like to minister with others, like, “Our personalities just don’t jive,” “I’ve had too many bail and leave me with the bag,” or “I really work better by myself.” It is exceedingly selfish to serve God alone. What might be more selfish is not even engaging in ministry. Doing ministry with others might cause friction or factions, but that is no reason not to do ministry with one another. You might think you are more effective by yourself, but the Christians faith was not meant for Lone Rangers it is to be lived in community. My church has a core value that states, “We are devoted to making every member a minister.” It takes a church to raise a Christian.
Third, serving with others closely mimics Jesus’ model of discipleship. Jesus’ idea of discipleship trains people on the job. Most people learn best by doing, which runs contrary to our culture that says you learn best by hearing. Serving with others makes ministry transitions easier. Who will take over after Sunday School or small group when you leave? Are you grooming your replacement in the food pantry or youth group? Have you asked God to give you a Timothy [or Tabitha, 9:36-43] to train [2 Timothy 2:2]? Doing ministry alone can be dangerous. It can leave a vacuum after you’re gone. It is also dangerous because it is easy to cheat and lie about your service because no eyes are watching you. Serving with others keeps you honest. Follow the model of Jesus and His disciples: never serve alone.
Need an example? Look at how Paul picks out young Timothy [vs.1-5]. Paul needs help so he grabs Tim and gets him ready to serve. Paul grows to love Timothy so much that he often refers to him as his, “true child in the faith.” [1 Timothy 1:2] and, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.” [Philippians 2:19-23] These are the kinds of relationships that make doing ministry together worth it.
2. NEVER ARE YOU CALLED BY GOD TO DO WHAT YOU ARE NOT ALREADY DOING [Acts 16:6-10]
The time has now arrived for Paul’s second ministry road trip. With the car packed and ready to go Paul and Timothy ventured out towards Asia [Turkey], but the Holy Spirit did not permit them to go. In fact, God says “NO!” to four cities in Asia, but He does say, “YES!” giving them permission to go to Troas [Troy], which ultimately leads them to Philippi [Macedonia; Europe]. Paul’s plan was to go where he had already preached before [15:36], but God had plans to send him to preach to the unreached people West of Jerusalem.
While in Troas, God gives Paul a vision. In the vision, a man urges him to come to Macedonia to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the passage of Scripture we dub, ‘The Macedonian Call.’ It is a well-known passage that missionaries often use to validate the country they believe God has called them to evangelize. You must be very careful to label a calling to a place or a project. You will hear people say, “I’m called to the poor. I’m call to Pakistan. I’m not called to kids! I am certainly not called to be an evangelist.” Nobody would dare to argue with the calling of God on your life. But there are two problems with this. First, it ignores the fact that missions is the primary purpose of the church; and if you’re called to be a part of the church, then you’re also called to missions. You can’t be an employee of Taco Bell without selling tacos, and you can’t be a part of the church without doing missions. It’s that simple.
Second, it often misunderstands the idea of God’s calling upon one’s life. The Bible describes vocational calling to ministry as a function of the local church, not as the autonomous decision of the individual. If you are serving a place or project before you are serving a Person you got to ask yourself, who’s mission are you on? Paul is sent out from his local church to preach the gospel of Christ as an ambassador of His church. Paul’s call is fairly general. Paul’s calling to go to Macedonia never interferes with his original and overarching calling, which was Paul was to serve Christ and suffer for His namesake [cf. Acts 9:15-16]. Paul is not so much called to a place as he is called to preach the gospel in that place. Macedonia is a really big place. So the first place they decide to go is the strategic port city, Philippi.
Paul isn’t called to something new, He is called to do what he’s been doing all along—preach the gospel. Now God is simply directing his servant to do just that in a new place. Like Paul, your primary calling is to serve Christ, which will also be followed by suffering. Suffering always precedes glory. And suffering paves the way for Christ and His church.
There are thousands of unreached people groups around the world and there are thousands of spiritually profitable projects needing willing servants. If you are unsure what to do or where to go: Research an unreached people group [JoshuaProject.net]. Adopt one [globalroar.org]. Give or go. Pray for people of peace around you [Matthew 10; Luke 10]. If there are none, continue on to the next place. Some soils are not ready to receive the Word of God. The point is: the kingdom of God is near, so get off your sofa callused rear!
3. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE RADICAL REWARDS OF SACRIFICIAL SERVICE [Acts 16:11-15]
Again, Paul and Timothy [and Luke] hop into the station wagon and head over to Philippi. It must have been a long trip—too much pork rinds and licorice. Once they reached their destination they decide to rest a few days. I imagine they scoped the place out before going gangbusters on the good news. They could not find a local synagogue [usually the first place to meet God-fearers], which means there were less than 10 Jewish men [minimum needed to start a synagogue]. In non-Jewish places Jews would gather in obscure places because Macedonians saw them as a cult. So they went outside the gate to find worshipers. They found a women’s prayer gathering on the Sabbath Day down by the river. There they met Lydia.
Lydia, owned an upper-class clothing shop in an upper-class kind of town. Like Martha Stewart or Oprah, Lydia’s an ancient independent and businesswoman women. She sold of purple fabric, which is the color most royals would wear. Lydia reminds me of a woman I met while in South Africa. Gerda, a middle-aged single woman, sold tie-dyed fabric. I met her while buying a gift for my mother. She knew I was from out of town and asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “The United States.” With curiosity she asked, “What are you doing here?” “I am hear to share Christ with your community, see His church grow and find people interested in knowing more about Him and His Word.” To my surprise she opened her home and the next week I started a small group Bible study that later became the seed to a new church.
Lydia becomes the first European convert and opens her home the church for the first church in Philippi. She is an immediate missionary. And she is a single gal with a clothing shop. God uses single females [i.e. Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, Elizabeth Elliott, Rachel Saint]. Today 20-25% of the missionaries are single women, and this does not count the 40% that are mom’s or wives. Women married to Jesus and His mission are so needed. You never know when you might meet the next Lydia. You might be the next Lydia!
In the church, we value male spiritual leadership because the Bible empowers men to this position. This does not mean women do not have a purpose in the church and global ministry. The church and Bible have a favorable view of women. In fact, true Christianity has the most favorable view of women among all the religions of the world [cf. Proverbs 31]. God clearly gives distinct roles to men and women, but they are equal in value because both men and women are created in His image [Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28]. Both sexes are marked by their Makers image.
What God is interested in most is what kind of woman you are—a woman of Christlike character. Young or old, God is looking for godly gals. Some of the greatest servants I know are older women who barely venture from their home, but pray earnestly and encourage rigorously the church.
Let’s look for a moment at her turning point. First, she comes to Christ because someone told her the gospel. Faith comes by hearing. Someone must speak the gospel. The point of speaking the gospel is to give something to see. Paul was not some irresistible orator, but his God is a relentless heart pursuer. Second, the Lord is the key actor in the story, not us. You have a significant role in speaking the gospel, but it is the Lord who does the decisive work. He “opens the heart” of Lydia. This is a beautiful picture of God’s salvation. This means He takes out the hard heart of stone, and puts in the heart of flesh [Ezekiel 36:26]; He says with sovereign authority, “Let there be light,” and “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Third, she pays attention to the truth. The effect of the Lord’s opening her heart is a true hearing of the gospel. She was “granted repentance” [2 Timothy 2:25] and faith [Philippians 1:29].
Without question or complaint Paul and Timothy follow Christ’s course direction to Philippi. God leads them to a businesswoman praying to God and He opens her heart. They continue to minister and meet another girl, but she’s quiet messed up. She’s a demonized slave girl who was being exploited for her fortune-telling skills [16:16-24]. Jesus shines light into her darkness. And now there was no hiding the fact that God is at work in Philippi. Her owners get ticked because their hope of making money left with her evil spirit. So they had Paul and Timothy beaten and thrown in jail. They took a dull or dreary situation chained up in the damp dark cell and had a worship service [25-33]. What follows next is as Jerry Lee Lewis sang, there was a “whole lotta shaking going on!” God orchestrates an earthquake and all the prisoners are set free. The jailor, now out of a job, comes to Christ amidst the rubble. Ironically, the jailor is freed from the bondage of his sin.
All this, in Acts 16, is here to show you that God rewards those who sacrificially serve for His namesake. The reward is the salvation of lost souls and the planting of the first church in Europe. In its inaugural membership: a businesswoman and her household; a messed up slave-girl; and a suicidal city employee—a jailer and his household. That’s the church in Philippi that God built. And He is still building churches today and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. In Christ, you are the beautiful Bride of Christ!
With that I encourage you to never do ministry alone, know you are never called by God to do what you are not already doing, and never underestimate the rewards of sacrificial service. Know that your ministry matters in eternity. Those kids in AWANA or Sunday School, the men and women in your Bible Study or small group, those neighbors in your neighborhood, those students in your class or bus, and those you work with at the office are looking to you to show them through your words and deeds the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the reward of sacrificial service. The motivation of Paul’s service was not guilt, but the grace of God he was given on the Damascus road [cf. 1 Timothy 1:12ff]. The only lasting motivation you will have to get off the sofa and into the service of Christ is meditating on the glorious grace in Jesus Christ.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:12-14]
 He encourages Timothy to get circumcised, not because he would be a more fit to serve. The Jerusalem Council settles this debate [cf. Acts 15:1-35].Timothy’s mother was Jewish and he would be ministering to Jews. He was giving up his rights to reach the Jews [1 Corinthians 9:19-23].
 Cf. Romans 12:1-13; 2 Corinthians 4; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrews 12:1-13
 Luke shares the stories of many women in the Book of Acts. Women like Lydia were particularly prominent in Paul’s missionary efforts in this portion of Acts—the women of Thessalonica (17:4) and of Berea (17:12), Damaris in Athens (17:34), and Priscilla in Corinth (18:2). Priscilla and Lydia took an active role in the ministry of their churches. For an excellent treatment of Lydia, see R. Ryan, “Lydia, a Dealer in Purple Goods,” TBT 22 (1984): 285–89.