When I was younger, traveling with my parents, around meal times my dad would start scanning for places to eat. He’d look for billboards advertising local restaurants. When he had found a possible place to eat, he’d look at the parking lots. If it was meal time and the parking lot was empty, we wouldn’t go. If it was full, he knew that would be a good place to eat. It was harder back then, because each town had their own restaurant – their own local flavor. Nowadays, parents choose differently. They look for billboards advertising the franchises they know. They hope to find one of their favorites before the kids find one of their favorites, so they can pull in and eat a decent meal. Franchises – they come with the same standards, the same recipes, the same taste that we’re accustomed to. They make life less adventurous, but more comfortable.
Duplication is the key to success in franchises. In some ways, it’s sad. New restaurants have a hard time succeeding against the tried and known franchises in any city. We’re comfortable with those known features, but a little leery of new places and features. As Paul and Barnabas planted the gospel, they had a dilemma: they had been called to plant churches and move along. But once a church had been planted, how would it continue to grow? They established a pattern of developing leaders quickly, and then trusting God to take care of the new church. “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23)
There is nothing more amazing to me than the spread and the growth of the early church. Today, leaders need a seminary degree, approval/ordination from a board or from another church, and a vote from some part of the organization approving them. After undergoing that vetting, they come into the church and work with committees that are already in place to lead the people of God. Paul and Barnabas came into towns with a synagogue of people looking for a Messiah and maybe a few Gentiles who might be sympathetic. Within a few weeks, they had gained followers of Christ from the synagogue and among the Gentiles, angered the Jewish leaders, and got the Jewish leaders and the political leaders working together to throw them out of town – sometimes after severe physical punishment. (How many times was Paul left for dead again?) What was left was a group of new Christians with their leaders having been assaulted and thrown out of town. As Paul and Barnabas traveled back through those towns, circumspectly I imagine, they prayed, fasted, and then appointed leaders – people they knew were committed to the Lord.
Imagine how much God trusted these early saints. No training, chosen in the face of persecution, but with an amazing love for the Lord that grew strong in such a short time. I wonder about Christians today: we grow up in the church with amazing Bible study materials. We’re nurtured in the faith from our days in the cradle. Yet, when we’re approached to teach a Sunday School class, we demur, because we don’t know what to do. Service in the church needs to be reserved for those who are stronger in the Lord. If the early church had the number of followers that we have, with the training that we have, the world would have exploded for Christ. It’s time for God’s people to break out of their cocoons and serve. It’s time to set the world ablaze with the good news of Jesus Christ through faithful love and service.
Oh Lord, it’s so easy to sit back and let others lead. Remind me that You have called me to serve You, and let me follow You today. Let this world be filled with Your people sharing Your mercy and grace.