At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Acts 8.1, 4
Just like He said
If we had been living in Jerusalem in the days following Stephen’s murder, we might have thought that we’d heard the last of the “Christian thing”.
After all, the thousands who had come to believe in Him by then all fled the city. And the disciples – the preachers – who were left had very few people to teach.
In fact, as we know, the exact opposite occurred. Instead of shriveling and going away, the Christian movement expanded, took deep root throughout the Roman world, and turned it rightside-up for Jesus Christ in a very short time. Apparently, those first believers were prepared for such a response – since Jesus had promised they would be persecuted – and they took it, well, in stride, going everywhere to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
How did that happen? How could it come about that a people and a movement so heavily persecuted and resisted – not just in the book of Acts, but for more than 250 years following that – could finally become the faith of a Roman emperor, achieve legitimate status, and become the dominant religion in the civilized world?
The answer is the transplantation of one key concept – what we might call the “Keystone Concept” for life in the Kingdom of God.
In his book, The Song of the Earth, British scholar Jonathan Bate suggests that poets and poetry might be more important to human life than we normally consider. He asks, “Could the poet be a keystone sub-species of Homo sapiens? The poet: an apparently useless creature, but potentially the saviour of ecosystems.”
He referred to the situation off California’s west coast when the sea otter population was nearly destroyed: “When the sea otter was hunted to near-extinction off the Pacific coast of North America, sea urchins – the otter’s prey – went unchecked and overconsumed the marine kelp forests, rendering barren large stretches of the ocean floor.” He continued, “When conservationists reintroduced the sea otter, the kelp forest duly grew again and the barren sea was reanimated, reinhabited by a full range of aquatic life from plankton to whale.”
Dr. Bate believes that poets might be a key sub-species for restoring beauty and wholeness to humankind. I’m sympathetic with that view, but poetry is not my primary interest – not here, at least. I’m mainly interested in the idea of keystone, and I wonder whether what’s true for poets and sea otters might not be relevant to life in the Kingdom of God.
When those people scattered from Jerusalem to save their lives, they left home and belongings mostly behind. But they took with them one key concept: They had been called to be witnesses for Christ, and nothing and no one was going to keep them from fulfilling that calling. Wherever they went, as they were going, they proclaimed the message of Jesus. Wherever they settled, when they finally found new homes and communities, they set about starting churches and building communities where grace was the common currency (cf. Acts 11.19-23).
The people who fled persecution in Jerusalem understood implicitly that the calling to be witnesses for Christ did not change merely because circumstances changed or new ways had to be learned. Their sense of being Christ’s witness – of having been sent into the field of the world for the purpose of embodying, proclaiming, and bringing near the Kingdom of God – went with them as they fled, and took root wherever they settled. And from those seeds – those keystone people and their keystone concept – the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire and the world.
Though they might not have used the terminology, they understood the concept of Personal Mission Field, and they lived it graciously, boldly, sacrificially, communally, and with transforming power.
I firmly believe that the calling to a Personal Mission Field is a Keystone Concept for seeking and advancing the Kingdom of God. Remove that idea – deny it, ignore or neglect it, or fail to take it seriously – and the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom soon begin to fade. We can see this in our own nation. Since the 70s and 80s, when Christians stopped taking seriously their call to be witnesses for Christ, and transformed their churches into “seeker-friendly” substitutes for “as you are going” evangelism, the presence of the Kingdom of God has begun to shrivel. The promise of the Kingdom is hardly ever discussed. And the power of the Kingdom for making all things new is almost non-existent.
We need to recover the Keystone Concept of Personal Mission Field if we ever hope to know the Kingdom of God as anything more than an idea currently on hold. Where this Keystone Concept is allowed to languish, the presence of the Kingdom shrivels, its promise dissipates, and its power ceases to function.
But where this Keystone Concept lives, where the people of God have embraced the idea, understand their calling and Personal Mission Field, and are working their Field daily by prayer, works of love, and faithful witness to Christ, there the Kingdom begins to flourish once again.
Our desire is to establish Personal Mission Field as a Keystone Concept in believers and churches all over the world. The ministry of The Fellowship of Ailbe reaches regularly into well over 100 countries, attracting multiplied thousands of visitors and friends. We need to be more faithful and diligent in encouraging and equipping those who come into our Mission Field to take up their calling and work their Personal Mission Field in the confident expectation that Jesus will empower and bless them for the work of restoring the reconciled world to God and His glory.
Each week in this column we will feature teaching, training, and stories about people working their Personal Mission Fields. This morning I talked with a young man in Germany who has begun a ministry to church and business leaders, which is already reaching people in China, Japan, Guatemala, Africa, and elsewhere. As I reminded him of the many people he would be equipping for life in the Kingdom, he held up to his camera for me to see his thoroughly mapped-out Personal Mission Field worksheet, which, he assured me, is a crucial component of his own work.
The world will thrive and be filled with joy, rejoicing, righteousness, and peace to the extent that people make the Kingdom turn to follow Jesus as His witnesses. Personal Mission Field is the calling of each of us who believes in the Lord Jesus, that He might be at work within us, by His Word and Spirit, making all things new in all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
I look forward to hearing from you about how this Keystone Concept is causing your Personal Mission Field to flourish in the grace and truth of the Lord.
Working your Personal Mission Field: Pray for Laborers
Jesus taught us to pray that the Lord would thrust out laborers into the harvest (Matt. 9.37, 38). For the coming week, pray daily that God would keep your Personal Mission Field before your mind throughout each day, and that more and more people, in countries all over the world, would embrace this Keystone Concept, that the Kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven. If you have mapped out your Personal Mission Field, carry your worksheet with you as a reminder to pray for the people God is sending you to each day, and for how He can use you in making all things new.
Have you mapped out your Personal Mission Field? Watch this brief video, download the worksheet, and get started today.Here are a few other resources to help you in working your Personal Mission Field:
At The Ailbe Bookstore:
Joy to Your World!
At The Fellowship of Ailbe website:
Our free ReVision series, “Restoring the Reconciled World”
For the Fellowship of Ailbe, and for the Personal Mission Field Workshop, this has been T. M. Moore.
We ask the Lord to move and enable many more of our readers to provide for the needs of our ministry. Please seek Him in prayer concerning your part in supporting our work. You can contribute online via PayPal, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.