For a few years I spent all week sub teaching, coaching high school basketball, and offering driver’s education to teenagers. To echo Acts 17:17, I was “speaking daily in the school yard with all the students who happened to be there.” I used my influence and relationship with students in the school to launch a youth ministry that lasted a couple years.
Then I got a full time church job.
Suddenly, I found myself sitting in a cubicle in a church building much of my week preparing to do youth ministry for 90 minutes on Wednesday nights. Guess which “ministry” had more impact?
We’re exploring Paul’s strategy of engaging spiritual seekers beyond the ‘church walls’ and “in the public square day by day with all who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Paul’s ministry in the ancient pre-Christian city of Athens resembles our post-Christian culture of Western Europe and America today.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
I stand amazed at the missional strategy of Paul. While most of the other Jewish teachers of his day were content to spend their time teaching their religious pupils under the roof of the synagogue, here is Paul sipping his coffee at the ancient equivalent of a Starbucks in the ancient equivalent of Time Square in the ancient equivalent of New York City.
The church is declining across the board. Less people “coming to church” on any given Sunday. Those rare exceptions — large churches experiencing explosive growth and apparent success — are often just draining small churches of their attenders who are now looking for a more exciting option. They, too, are largely failing to get a hearing with the folks who will never set foot in any kind of church on a Sunday because they are reading the newspaper at Caribou Coffee, riding their bike down the trail, sleeping off a late night bender, or catching up on home projects.
How many church leaders today have settled for just ministering to those who show up at our church on Sundays? I know I’m guilty. How many church leaders today will creatively and boldly follow the Paul into the “marketplace” day by day and minister to “all who happen to be there” (Acts 17:17)? What might that even look like? We have some ideas, so keep watching and reading about MainStreet’s exciting 2020 Vision.
The writing is on the wall. It’s time the church is mobilized to get out beyond our sanctuary walls and follow the Great Apostle into the marketplace — both literal marketplace as well as the bustling marketplace of ideas on Facebook and Instagram!