I’m not sure how long the term “missional” has been in vogue in Christian ministry, but it is a fairly recent focus of the Church. Though it has only come to the forefront in books and conferences in the past few years, “missional” ministry is the way we often see God’s Kingdom advanced in the Book of Acts.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:19-21
What a great testimony about the Christians in Antioch: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Any of us would love to have this said about our ministry. This account gives us a model of missional living that can instruct us and our ministries on campus and beyond.
Scattered in Acts
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch…
The Christians who came to Antioch were scattered by the persecution that came after Stephen’s death in Acts 7. Up until that time, there is no record of ministry or outreach beyond the city of Jerusalem. Christians had settled in and were establishing programs. However, Jesus called to his followers to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
But there doesn’t seem to be any movement to carry out that commission. What they had failed to do on their own, God used persecution to accomplish. God used this seemingly negative event as a means to accomplish his mission. Though it may not have been obvious at the time, God scattered them for a purpose.
It is also significant to notice who was scattered – “all except the apostles were scattered.” (Acts 8:1) Those who were the most thoroughly trained and who had spent three years with Jesus were the ones who stayed in Jerusalem. It was the everyday, ordinary Christians who were scattered and arrived in Antioch.
Scattered on Campus
Scattering is a fact of life in college ministry. Students are scattered every day across our campuses. They are scattered among residence halls, Greek houses, and apartment complexes. They are scattered among different majors and departments. They are scattered among a large variety of social groups – fraternities, sororities, bands, clubs, teams, etc. They gather to worship and study God’s Word and sharpen one another and then they scatter across the campus and throughout the community.
We need to encourage our students to see this scattering as a blessing and a way to accomplish God’s purpose. They need to have a vision of God’s purpose in it and a sense of calling to the places to which they scatter. Too often we emphasize the “gathering” – our large group meetings and worship services – but we often forget that the real work of reaching our campuses for Christ happens when we scatter. We will never accomplish the mission to which God has called us without embracing the scattering and seeing it strategically.
We also need to help our students realize that the mission of God will not be accomplished by our ministry staffs alone, but by every member doing their part where they are scattered. The church at Antioch thrived because the Christians who were scattered saw the purpose of God in it. We will not reach our campuses unless our students see the same thing.
Scattered Around the World
But beyond that, we need to prepare our students for the scattering that happens when they graduate and leave our ministries. They need to see their future careers, wherever they may be, as a part of the scattering that will take the Gospel to every corner of our world. As engineers, educators, accountants, musicians, etc. they will be scattered among people and places that need the presence of Jesus and the message of the hope that he brings. We need to be equipping them for ministry when their time with us is over.
Mike Armstrong (@_mikearmstrong_) is in his 32nd year of ministry to college students at the University of Arkansas with Christ on Campus and is a past president of the Association of College Ministries. He has been married to Gina for 34 years and they have two grown and married daughters. He has also been a track and field official for over 20 years and is a fan of classic rock, jazz, and the blues. You can read his blog at michaelarmstrong.net or find him on Facebook at THEMikeArmstrong.
Lydia Bryant4 years ago
The Holy Spirit’s guiding my personal Bible Study this morning led me to your post. I am a part of a sizable group of exiles from our beloved church which has split over the leadership (or lack of) of new young pastor, & the power struggle resulting from certain mean-spirited members who have found a way to manipulate him to their agenda.
Our exiles are trying to recover from being scattered, from the nuture & fellowship of sunday school classes & mission groups into a choice of churches in the area, of which not all will agree.
Your wise words speak exactly to what the scripture saying to my heart…the scattering is a blessing, part of God’s plan to spread the gospel. We need to put the pain of this separation behind us & embrace the scattering, the comfort of the time of clustering around one another is over, the call is clear!