What a different and strange religion Christianity would be if Jesus had directed us to build stronghold churches and then just wait for people to show up. Yet in many ways, I believe this is what a lot of churches in the West are doing much of the time. The old adage from a famous baseball movie rings in my head: “If you build it, they will come.” But are parishioners actually coming?
It’s fascinating when we look back at the life and times of our Lord and Savior. For much of his life, God’s son had a mobile ministry. We recall that before Jesus was even born, his parents were called back to Bethlehem to the place of Joseph’s ancestry in order to fulfill an order for the Roman census. Each family had to return to their place of origin to be counted. Although the Biblical text glosses over how difficult this must have been, some manuscript scholars have theorized it was close to a ninety-mile trip. Mary was very pregnant, and this was before trains and automobiles. The trip was difficult I’m sure, and the landscape was often dangerous.
This story about traveling a long distance and then being turned away at the Inn ended up with the birth of a king in a manger of course, and for that we celebrate the Advent season every year. The Gospel of Luke mentions their trip briefly. Luke 2:4 says, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Something tells me that this young couple didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. When the Romans tell you to go somewhere - you go.
After Jesus got older and formally began his ministry, Biblical texts give an account of him traveling all over Galilee and going to churches and homes to preach. Matthew 4:23 says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
Once again, we have this notion that in order to get the word out ... Jesus had to move around and take the initiative. He didn’t wait for the people already in the synagogue or out on the streets to come to him; instead he went on a kind of sanctified tour. It is also worth mentioning that he preached with such authority that it completely baffled the Jewish ruling party. The Pharisees couldn’t wrap their heads around how someone who hadn’t studied with them could end up knowing so much about God. Almost as if he had an inside scoop.
Think about your own situation today. If you want something to happen, then you need to get up and get going. If it’s time to get a new job for example, then you start making phone calls and looking through job postings. You often end up traveling for interviews as well. Typically staying at home and sitting around doesn’t lend itself well to engaging new horizons. You have to move.
Finally, you will notice also that Jesus’ disciples and followers had the same challenge. The book of Acts records the followers of Christ moving from place to place. The Gospel accounts record that occasionally Jesus and his followers would become so overwhelmed from the work of ministry that they had to escape and get away to a ‘quiet place’ where the Lord could pray and meditate.
The apostle Paul famously traveled around and began defending Christianity as well. He stood before kings and procurators, always willing to testify and lend credence to God’s incarnate son. Sometimes this would even land him in prison, and once in a shipwreck!
It seems then, that effective ministry is always in motion. Jesus led, and people followed. No standing still, and no resting on their laurels. People who work in ministry know that sometimes there is no rest for the weary, and there is no shortage of folks who need spiritual leadership and compassion. Ministry will take as much as you are willing to give. Jesus knew this also, and accounted for it with occasional, short rest periods.
We are accustomed to hearing about the Great Commission. Indeed, it is more or less the mission of the modern church. Matthew 28:19-20 recounts this narrative quite well. It says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Notice that we are told to go and do. To make disciples and to baptize them in the name of Trinity. This takes effort and time of course, but I think it also requires us to be mobile. To evangelize while we are moving about in the public arena - not just waiting in church buildings for people to come visit.
We would have an entirely different religion if the Great Commission commanded us to “build it, and they will come.” This would be a faith of waiting and watching. Instead, what we are called to do is be proactive in our approach. Yes it is wonderful when people come to us, but think back to your own life for a moment. More often than not, didn’t someone have to come after you first?