In our journey through the book of Acts, we’ve heard reference to many unnamed heroes who were active participants in the mission the early Church. After Stephen was martyred in Acts 11, a great persecution broke out and the people were scattered all the way up to Antioch. There, “some of them” shared their faith in Jesus and a great number of non-Jewish people “turned to the Lord” (v. 20-21). They recognized that wherever they had been scattered had become their “parish.” So they followed Jesus well, talked to people about Him, and a whole church was born! This was a massive moment–the first time the Gospel moved into Gentile communities.
But who were these people? We don’t know! The Bible simply says, “some of them.” And these “some” are only a few of the unnamed heroes in Acts. We never learn the names of the lame man who was healed at the Gate Called Beautiful, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the cripple healed in Lystra, the Philippian jailer, and many others.
So we know Peter’s story and Barnabas’s story and Paul’s story, but we must not make the mistake of assuming that those are the only stories happening. God was at work in all these unnamed people’s lives; He had dreams for each one of them. The book of Acts does not depict some ministry opportunities reserved for just the few prominent, gifted people. This was a movement that was multiplying rapidly as God worked through all the saints. When we begin to grasp this for ourselves, we begin to recognize that every single one of us is called into God’s dream too. And that’s when things begin to increase and multiply.
A really helpful example of this comes from a book called Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Faster and Cheaper Than Yours. The main idea of the book is that organizations are fundamentally changing because technological advances make it possible to access resources that are much more available than ever before. There is a shift from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance as more and more people network their resources. According to the authors, organizations have been primarily linear in their thinking as they try to line up a supply chain of limited resources in order to produce a product. But new “exponential organizations” recognize that resources are abundant because more and more people can participate and contribute.
A prime example compares two different hotel organizations: Hyatt and Airbnb.
Think about this: if Hyatt wants to start a new hotel, what has to happen? They have to find a plot of land, build an enormous building (or find an existing building and completely renovate it), hire a large staff, and maintain the large property. Building a new hotel requires a huge amount of overhead and investment. This is extremely expensive!
But Airbnb works very differently. Through new technology, Airbnb networks all sorts of people who are able to offer accommodations through the resources that they already have. Airbnb allows people to open their homes. In fact, the name itself comes from the idea of an air mattress. The founder came up with the idea in California while a large conference was happening. All the local hotels were booked and so he just got an air mattress, filled it up, and invited some people to stay for a small fee. And out of that has grown an incredibly huge network where all you need to be a “hotel” is a bed!
Now, at some of these Airbnb places, the bed provided is a far cry from the luxury of a Hyatt, but at the same time many Airbnb listings are really nice. Another observation is that an Airbnb lodging can offer a more authentic experience since oftentimes you are staying in someone’s home or backyard cottage in a neighborhood rather being away from the city in a grouping of other large hotels in a more controlled environment.
Hyatt is an amazing company, but it is directly led by professionals. It requires big buildings and tons of resources.
Airbnb, on the other hand, creates an empowering framework so that anyone with a bed to be in the hotel business.
Do you realize that God designed the Church to work like Airbnb rather than Hyatt?
If you look at the statistics, Hyatt was founded in the 1950’s and has 679 properties across 54 countries–an impressive offering. By comparison, Airbnb was founded in 2009 and has more than a million listings in 34,000 cities in 198 countries. This is absolutely staggering growth because Airbnb has created an empowering framework where everyone plays. Anyone who wants to “be in” can “be in.” For too long we’ve treated the Church like Hyatt, when God designed it to be like Airbnb. And in the Grace Family of Churches, our goal is to be an empowering framework so that everyone can play rather than some edifice-building institution that reduces people to customers and consumers.
The most powerful thing throughout the book of Acts is that before anyone had Airbnb apps or internet access is that the Church from its very beginning was an exponential organization. The whole point is that God has a role for everybody. Your place is your parish.
What does that mean and how do we step into that? It’s pretty simple. First, ask God, “Where is my parish; God, where have you placed me? Give me eyes to see.” And as that begins to clarify, start praying for it, whether it’s the neighborhood pool, the workplace, the ballfield. Wherever it is, just start praying! And here is your goal: you want to follow Jesus well in that place and you want to help others do the same. That’s making disciples.
It’s pretty simple. We walk with people who may distracted by a thousand things and invite them to turn their direction toward God. And we walk with them through simple decisions to talk about God, to maybe open up a Bible and read a verse, to maybe come to a worship gathering. And then those decisions begin to stack up and become decisions of increasing depth.
That’s discipleship: directions, decisions and depth; moving towards Jesus–following him well.
And this is something every single one of us can do, no matter who knows your name.