By Bishop Farr
In Acts 15, we find the Apostle Paul, Barnabas, and other apostles and church leaders at a church board meeting at the Jerusalem Church. They were advocating for their outreach mission when some of the regular members started objecting and demanding that new people act and conform to all of their standards and rituals. It is a fascinating story that sounds like some of the meetings I’ve been in over the course of my ministry.
It’s easy to get hung up on all the reasons why new people and places should look, think and behave just like the existing people and places. It’s easy to worry about how our folks who are already in church; will react. It’s easy to worry about keeping or retaining those we already know. It’s easy to think too much time is being spent worrying about getting new people. It’s human nature for those who are already Christians to think, “What about us? We are already here!”
Peter very clearly answered these questions. “Friends, you well know that from early on God made it plain that he wanted the outsiders to hear the message of the good news and embrace it” (v. 7). It’s not that Peter didn’t care about those already in the church, but he knew the mission of the church is to reach those who do not know Jesus.
It’s also interesting that those already at the church in Jerusalem wanted the new people to act, think and look like themselves.
Peter responded to them. “So why are you now trying to out god-God; loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too?” (v. 10).
James breaks the silence of the board members and said, “So here is my decision: We are not going to unnecessarily burden new Jewish people who turn to the master” (v. 19).
We in the Missouri Conference are focused on our vision, “to relentlessly lead our churches to become outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers.” And we are implementing our priorities; one of which is “New Places for New People.” We believe every church can make a difference in some way. It is a fact that new people will think, act and behave differently than us. But, scripture says that it is O.K. as long as they turn to the master.
Friends, if we don’t find a way to reach new people, more diverse people, younger people, we are not going to stay in business. John Wesley once said that, “we have but one business on earth; that is saving souls, and saving souls alone!”
What are you personally doing to reach the outsiders? What is your church doing to create new places for new people in your community?
Unless we invest in this priority, we will just keep doing the same old, same old and getting the same old results! The Apostle James was present at the first church board meeting when he summed it up like this, “God at the very outset made sure that radical outsiders were included” (v. 14).
Is that your church? Or, are we hoping that they look just like us?
Bishop Bob Farr
of the United Methodist Church