When you unintentionally scatter

I’ve been spending my morning devotional time in the book of Acts (thought it might be helpful in planting a church to look at how the church was born and grew) and today came across a familiar passage. But since we’ve been discussing as a church the importance of the church as a “gathered and scattered” called-out group of people united by common vision (more than a group united by a building and a Sunday service), I enjoyed seeing another example of “scattering.”

Sometimes, and probably more often than not, “scattering” is intentional. Christians aren’t to gather 24/7. We gather for worship, fellowship, discipleship, etc…But much of our time is spent at work, home, neighborhoods, hobbies, activities. When we do so, we are to be intentionally looking compassionately at people wherever and whenever we intentionally scatter.

But we see in Acts 8 that the early church didn’t intentionally scatter much until they were forced to scatter via persecution. Now they sure did have a “scattering feel” to their fellowship time. But it seems that few really scattered until they were forced to scatter. Or you could say scatter unintentionally.

In America, we don’t have to literally scatter because of persecution. Yet we do often scatter unintentionally. Sometimes it may be a job transfer or a loss of job, and as a result scattering may be literally, and largely,  a geographical change of scenery. And highly unintentional. The takeaway from this passage is that the early church seemed to preach Christ wherever and whenever they were unintentionally scattered. Despite being forced to different locations (unintentional), they intentionally looked around them. They simply saw who was there and who needed Christ.

But sometimes unintentional scattering may be less geographical. Sometimes God continues to put people in your path that you wouldn’t normally think about loving and moving towards. Sometimes you find yourself unintentionally in places like Teeball three nights a week (not sure there is need for practice when there are literally no rules; I actually do have fun but it is 100% about building relationships and not skill development for Connar). Or a baby comes and changes the schedule. Or certain people continue to invite you to do things and you don’t know why. Or you keep seeing the same person time and again. Or for time constraints or various other reasons,  you’ve been scattered to different places and spaces, among different people, or different kinds of people (sometimes not kind).

This is what I call unintentional scattering.

The application from this passage is to be on the lookout wherever you go. Whether you intentionally scattered or unintentionally scattered, the Sovereign Lord has put you there for a reason. Let us be looking, even if all around us is unfamiliar territory or unfamiliar folks. The gospel spread and continues to spread not only by intentional scattering but also informal unintentional scattering. Both are equally as important. The destination or how you got to that destination is far less vital than your “looking” when you get there.

Downton Lessons: Will your community miss you or your church when you’re gone?

Perhaps one of the most redemptive shows I’ve watched on TV, ever, is Downton Abbey. It seems every episode illustrates clearly or presents something which challenges/encourages me in my daily walk, or points me to Christ or my need of Him (as is more common in one of my other favorites Breaking Bad).

One of the sagas raised in Season 2 (and I’ll do my best to not spoil anything if you do choose to watch but haven’t yet), is the real possibility of being unable to keep Downton up and running. Some of the characters will clearly miss this more than massive house. And it is simply personal. They will have to downsize, which is the ultimate faux pas for such aristocrats. Though is probably just as much a stretch for suburbanites today. 

But others have greater concerns than just having to downsize: what will this mean for the community? Because Downton is so massive, it relies upon and employs numerous workers, who might not be able to find work elsewhere. The whole “servant” profession is on the way out Post WWI, as the British society progressively becomes more and more democratic. The Earl also wonders what will become of the community surrounding Downton if it were no longer to exist. He cares about his workers but also about the community, and recognizes that it will be a legitimate blow to both if Downton went away.

Ultimately Downton, at least in his mind, and perhaps a few others, exists not for itself alone but as a blessing for others. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham is blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing to others. Now this blessing clearly points to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of that blessing. But Jesus commands his disciples to live out this passage by bringing the gospel and its ultimate, as well as its concomitant blessings, to the entire world (Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). As a church, we are blessed, not as an end in and of ourselves, but as a blessing to whatever community we find ourselves in. 

One of the most helpful diagnostic question I’ve heard when thinking about the existence of a local church is, “Will the community miss you if someday your church did not exist?” Clearly the answer for Downton is yes, because that is a major concern for the Earl. 

Would this be the same case for your church? This isn’t a question primarily for pastors, but for members. If your church were taken away, its lamp-stand snuffed out, would your community miss it? Would your community, not simply your members/attenders miss it or at least be sad to see it go? Would it miss your love in word and in deed? The answer to this question will indicate, at least in part, your community impact. And since the church isn’t a building, but the people of God, this question is more properly directed to its members than its pastors. There are simply more of them and therefore more community impact. Let me put the question like this: would people in your community miss your love to them? If you had no worshiping community, and therefore no base where you could rest, rest, worship, and be trained and sent out into the world, would people care? Can your community say, “I don’t believe what they believe, and they annoy me with their truth claims, but they do love me and my family?”

Would this be the same for you as a neighbor? God puts people into neighborhoods, the exact time and places for where they should live in those neighborhoods, apartment complexes, condos, shelters, etc..SO THAT, people could seek and hear the gospel (Acts 17:26-27). Will they find people ready to share the gospel and their lives as well? Will people be sad if you move? If the answer is, no, or “I’m not sure,” then your house is seen simply as an asset (or liability if you purchased in FL during the housing bubble), but not as a blessing to be used to bless others.

In Christ, we have the freedom to ask these questions and feel convicted of their answers. Because our performance doesn’t put a smile upon the Father’s face-Jesus did that-we can be open and honest about failures and successes. Our failures don’t remove the smile and our successes don’t maintain it. Jesus work assures us of both.