Mission: When changing direction is important

Oct 2006    

THERE is much to learn from Paul’s mission practice on his second missionary journey in Acts 15-16.

Although Paul planned to re-visit the churches that he and Barnabas established on their first journey, he changed his plans when he was divinely prevented from preaching in these regions and received a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help.

Paul shared his vision with the rest of his companions. In their desire to be used and led by God, Paul and his companions reflected on their experiences and on Paul’s vision; they listened to each other and finally concluded that God had called them to Macedonia, a place they did not plan to go to. It was out of this openness to God’s direction that a significant event took place in the history of mission: the first mission of the Church into the region of Europe.

In Macedonia Paul followed his usual practice of going to the cities and sought out the synagogue so that on the Sabbath day he could proclaim to the Jews and others who worshipped the God of the Jews that Jesus the Messiah had come.

Although they found no synagogue in Philippi, they heard of a place where some women gathered for Jewish worship. Paul went there and shared the Good News with Lydia, a businesswoman from Thyatira in Asia Minor. Lydia and her household believed, were baptised and formed the nucleus of the first church in Philippi.

When Paul and Silas were seized, stripped, beaten and thrown into prison, they prayed and sang hymns as they expressed their faith and trust in God in the midst of pain and suffering.

When the prison warden appeared, utterly confused by the miracle of the unlocking of the prison doors, Paul shared the Good News with the warden. Paul’s mission was to be God’s instrument of hope to all he met. For him, mission was part and parcel of how he lived each day and how he responded to each situation he encountered.

There are four observations to make from Paul’s mission practice. Firstly, while Paul had a plan and a programme for his missionary journey, he was also open to revisions of his plans and programmes, as he understood God’s direction.

It is important to have plans and to set directions for our mission activities but we need to be open to possible changes to those plans because we are open to the leading of the Spirit. As we reflect on our experiences and the opportunities before us, we can be open to review and rethink our present tasks in the light of our conviction of God’s direction.

Secondly, Paul models for us the need to work with others. Paul and his companions met, discussed and reflected together as they tried to determine what action and direction to take. They could do this because they were united in their vision and mission. We too need to agree on our mission and see it not as the pastor’s or the mission committee’s mission but the joint mission that we work at together. Then with our different gifts and insights we can make our unique contribution as we seek to discern God’s direction.


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