We’ve seen in this post and this post that God has been at work in the world ahead of his people throughout the scriptures. He was ahead of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), ahead of Daniel (Daniel 4:10-17), ahead of Peter (Acts 10:19-48), and ahead of all the apostles (Acts 11:19-30).
If we see examples of God at work ahead of his people throughout the scriptures, what does that mean for us today? Does it mean that God is ahead of his people still today?
I would argue yes!
A Derivative Witness
We can be sure that there is no place where God is not already present in some way. God’s activity isn’t limited to the geographical location of God’s people, nor do we need to be anxious about the success of the church’s ministry. I love this quote from Lesslie Newbigin in The Open Secret: “The church’s witness is secondary and derivative. The church is witness insofar as it follows obediently where the Spirit leads.”
Have you ever thought of your church’s ministry as “derivative”? It almost sounds condescending, doesn’t it? But when you consider it, the church’s ministry absolutely is derivative. Because the church’s ministry derives from the ministry of the Spirit. It derives from the mission of God and from what God is already doing in the world.
A Counterintuitive Strategy
Ministry success can be measured, then, not in terms of size or numbers, but in terms of the church’s obedience to the Spirit. Robert Schreiter in Constructing Local Theologies puts it like this: “The prevailing mode of evangelization and church development should be one of finding Christ in the situation rather than concentrating on bringing Christ into the situation” (my italics).
“Finding Christ in the situation,” as opposed to “bringing Christ into the situation,” seems so counterintuitive. Why? Because we’ve been taught that it’s only when the church initiates programs of evangelism and mission that the church grows and people come to faith.
But God is already at work in the world. God’s hand is already stirring things up in places and in ways we haven’t yet imagined. All we need to do is become aware of what God is already doing—and then join God in that!