Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"We Really Never Get Past Jerusalem" by Garris Elkins

As Jesus was about to leave the earth after His resurrection He set in motion the final preparation of His disciples to carry out His mission on earth. Pentecost was coming soon. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said to His disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere - in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

I used to look at these words as the progressive unfolding of the church geographically - and yes, that is true. What started in Jerusalem migrated from region to region until most of the earth has been covered with the witness of Jesus Christ. But there was more to that understanding that I was about to learn.

A couple of years ago I was preparing a teaching on missions for a group of pastors in an Eastern European nation. As I prepared to speak the Spirit said something to me, "You never leave Jerusalem." I found that statement odd since I knew what was in the text. The Spirit was about to deepen my understanding of the mission of the church.

When we send out missionaries to the ends of the earth, or to an inner-city mission, we are sending people to those distant places to raise up leaders and plant churches who will eventually reach their city. To those being reached their city is their Jerusalem. For the last 2,000 years those cities have been found in places described as the "ends of the earth." In that sense, all of our sending enterprise is a ministry that sends people to distant lands or people groups to train them to reach their own Jerusalem.

Having spent some years overseas in different nations, I can remember the first few times I traveled outside the U.S. It was exciting. It was really an "uttermost part of the earth" kind of experience. As those experiences became more frequent, and eventually became a physical assignment overseas, I realized that the people of Berlin, Germany lived in their own Jerusalem. Berlin was not a distant land to them. It was distant to me. Berlin was home to the Berliners. The people of Kingston, Jamaica lived in their own Jerusalem. To the residents of Kingston, Kingston was their Jerusalem ,not a Judea or a distant Samaria. If I was going to be successful in my calling I would have to go to a distant land and actually see it through the eyes of those living in their Jerusalem. I was not going to those places to help them reach an unfamiliar place. They lived, worked and ministered in a familiar Jerusalem. Jerusalem is all around us. It is the street we live on. It is the workplace we enter each day. It is the parking lot we walk across to attend a worship service.

The indicator that we have grown in our calling and Kingdom assignment is when we begin to see the need to invest and serve beyond the boundaries of our own Jerusalem. A healthy church or ministry is always looking beyond it's own sphere of influence towards Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. As we faithfully serve the assignment God has given to each of us He will begin to stir up that Acts 1:8 Spirit-breathed calling to go as His witnesses to help people repeat the same process in their city. When that stirring takes place the church begins to move past what is familiar and her footprints will be found beyond the known Jerusalem in the streets of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. In one sense we never really get past a Jerusalem mindset as we journey towards the ends of the earth. Wherever we go we will eventually arrive in someone's Jerusalem.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Garris. As one who has been active in missions for many years and one who has worked extensively and intensively in many indigenous settings, I sincerely appreciate what you have said RE Jerusalem. I found that one of the biggest deterents to the geographical expansion of the church is the mindset of 'headquarters,' or the central office of our respective sending agencies. There is a latent 'fix' within churches, a need for approval of overseers that enters even a second generation church or a church geographically distant from the central office. This tendency can and often does kill initiative that is coming from the Lord to the local church - local leaders are needing to ask approval to do the will of the Lord. I'd call that idolatry, and our denominational structures often put us (I think unwittingly) in that place. I often remind my African friends that, as they are planting and multiplying churches, they are writing a chapter of the Book of Acts. Asking permission from 'the central' is a courtesy. Having said that, there is also the problem of going off in a spirit of independence - the Lord cannot honor that any more than he can honor one who is bound by organizational structure.