We begin a new series of posts called “Jesus in the Public Square” to accompany a teaching series I’m doing about our new MainStreet 2020 Vision. We begin with some reflections on Acts 17 I wrote years ago.

Urban ministry is en vogue. “Missional church” models are hip and aplenty. Church planting seems a natural next step for many young and restless leaders frustrated with “church as usual” and in search of a more vibrant community of faith. Twenty-first century America is rampant with every conceivable form of idolatry and ripe for a kingdom harvest.

But motive is monumental for authentic Kingdom missionary undertakings. The driving force behind all outreach ministry, church planting efforts and missional community formation must be a genuine burden for those we are trying to reach with the message of Jesus and his vision for human flourishing. We see this burden displayed beautifully in Paul’s ministry in Ancient Athens:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

Paul’s heart was broken for a city void of the knowledge of the God revealed in Jesus the Messiah. He couldn’t sleep at night thinking about souls being lost due to lack of knowledge. He couldn’t stomach all the idols that took the place of God in the Athenian’s lives. Something needed to be done.  Someone needed to be the one willing to reach this pagan metropolis — at whatever the cost, and whatever the means used to make this possible.

As I observe the heartache of the Paul in his missionary endeavors, I wonder…

I wonder if some of us pastors love ‘leadership’ itself more than the people we lead.

I wonder if some of us leaders love chasing after a vision more than chasing after the people the vision is meant to reach and serve.

I wonder about churches that love the idea of mission more than the actual nitty-gritty, self-denying work it takes to reach beyond our doors and comfort zones.

I wonder if some church planters feel a strong call to plant a new church but have no deep burden for the particular town or people where we are planting.

I fall into each of these categories from time to time, and need to continually check my own motives in ministry and leadership. But may our ministry efforts be rooted in a deep, genuine burden for the people we’re trying to reach. We need only look to Jesus as the best example:

When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them. (Mark 6:34)

Father, break our hearts for what breaks yours. Amen.

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