He left them

Acts 19:1-10
Acts 19 had a big influence on my early discipleship. Actually, one phrase struck me.

The chapter opens with the apostle Paul in Ephesus. While there he baptized some who had only heard of John’s baptism. Then he began teaching and debating in the synagogue. Luke tells us he was there for three months and “argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.”

As you can imagine, some people responded in faith. Others did not. So deep was their rejection that they “spoke evil of the Way.”

What was Paul’s response?

Well, he didn’t continue to argue. He didn’t respond by speaking evil in return. Here’s the phrase that lunged at me: He left them.

That resonated with me, in part, because of the experience in church I had. It was hard getting through to Christians who only wanted their way. We had opportunities to reach out to new people, but wouldn’t because it didn’t align with our comfort. It was most frustrating to me. That was more than twenty years ago. I was still new-ish to faith and it didn’t make sense to me. But that phrase taught me to learn to keep moving.

It was so simple. Paul left them and went on to others who might listen.

All these years later, though, I can tell you, it still doesn’t make sense to me. Now, I’m in a strange place. My calling in the church is to be a pastor. My congregation’s discipleship is what I’m called to nurture and care for.

But what if they aren’t listening?

That’s always been my struggle. Many of us have been content to keep things as they are. At the same time, we wonder why so many of our churches are struggling. My conviction is as long as our discipleship is weak, we’ll continue to struggle the way we are. No, I don’t mean everything is perfect if each member attends Bible study and worships with the church. I just can’t shake what Jesus said, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33). We sure do strive for so many other things first. As do our churches.

And that’s my ongoing argument. We don’t need bigger budgets or more programs. We need the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. When we get a firm grasp on that, so much of what we’re called to do will make more sense. We’ll have a strong conviction of what we’re supposed to be doing.

The question remains, what if our churches are not listening? What do we do then? I can’t leave a church I’m called (and paid) to serve. Church-hopping isn’t a productive thing for you either. I certainly don’t want us to fall into the temptation of judging or condemning others. That isn’t faithful.

Where is the line? Do we continue to pour into those who seem to have made their decision to not respond? Our hope is, of course, one day they might. Or do we, in some sense, leave them so we can find others who want to know and hear? I don’t mean forgetting, neglecting or shaming them. 

This conversation matters because what churches decide guides what kind of congregation they’ll be. What kind of ministries they’ll pursue. 

If you’re reading this far, your discipleship is probably important to you. I’m grateful for that. Thanks for hanging in and helping us discern how to be a faithful church.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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