Innovation and Flexibility in Mission

4 May 2021

Although the gospel message remains unchanged, the ways we share it depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit, circumstance, context and our own gifting. That’s why at Pioneers we embrace innovative and flexible approaches as we seek to reach more and more people with news about who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of all people who put their trust in Him. As David Price’s comments here attest, we derive our core value Innovation and Flexibility from Scripture itself.

From Ethnocentrism to a Christ-Centred Diversity-in-Unity

Understanding of Cultures

Acts 2-14

Innovation and flexibility in mission is the creation of sustainable new solutions

to the problems faced in discerning, proclaiming, and living out God’s good news

in the diversity of a multicultural world.

The challenge of the Gospel requires creative, innovative, and deeper thinking, planning, and action to communicate the Gospel in the world of today. But it has always been so from the beginning.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost energised the early disciples to obey the commission of the risen Christ to make disciples of all nations. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is full of examples of innovation and flexibility in mission. The first major innovation in the Acts story is in the mission leaders’ worldviews – from an ethnocentric to Christ-centred diversity-in-unity understanding of cultures.

The challenge emerges with the conversion of Saul who was leading the persecution of believers. Will the Jerusalem sending church accept a convert (Saul) from the mission cutting edge, and his ministry among them as an equal (9:26-30)? We observe the flexibility advocated by Barnabas to accept a very unexpected addition to the team.

An innovation in Peter’s understanding takes place after the Jewish Christians are scattered away from Jerusalem, the first cultural centre of Christianity (Acts 8:1-3. Acts 10-11, 15; Galatians 2:11-14). The Holy Spirit leads Peter through a radical change of heart and mind in his attitudes towards peoples of other cultures. He experiences a mind changing vision and comes to a radically Spirit changed perspective from his default cultural response (10:1-35). He demonstrates a new flexibility in preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles and there is clear evidence of the Spirit of God at work among them (10:44-47). Facing the criticism of fellow Jerusalem church leaders for his ‘risky’ activities (11:1-18) Peter shares his experience and those who hear the story also experience a change of mind and praise God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’. But, later in Antioch Peter wavers under pressure from the traditional Jewish ‘circumcision group’. But Paul confronts him with a persuasive Gospel exposition and by the time of the Jerusalem Council meeting Peer had committed to the innovative position he had accepted in the house of Cornelius (Galatians 2:11-21, Acts 15:1-11).

When some believers scattered from Jerusalem by persecution reach cosmopolitan Antioch in Syria, they begin sharing the Good News with their ‘Gentile’, Graeco-Roman neighbours. Large numbers rapidly respond, embracing the Gospel in a surprisingly short period of time. But when this new openness reaches ‘the ears of the church in Jerusalem’ the leaders have more questions, so they send Barnabas to check it out. With an ‘eye for the main thing’, he understands this is the work of the Holy Spirit and encourages them all ‘to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts’ (Acts 11:19-24). Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul – the only leader he knew who, following his conversion, was commissioned by the Lord to go to the Gentiles. He was the one who could embed this new innovation in the multicultural church community in Antioch (Acts 11:25, 26).

Within no more than fifteen years from the amazing conversion of Saul, Antioch in Syria now becomes the new centre for mission. Further significant response among peoples of non-Jewish cultures flows from his first missionary journey with Silas from Antioch to the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 13:1-14:28). In the process, another innovation occurs in the flexibility of the way Paul proclaims the one message of the Gospel in different ways to different cultural groups. This contextualisation continues through the Acts story.

Pioneers members commit to a mindset of Spirit directed innovation and flexibility in mission that is both faithful to the Gospel message but flexible in strategies and in ways of communicating the message. This first innovation in the early church from ethnocentrism to a Christ-centred diversity-in-unity understanding of cultures carries a major message and warning for every cross-cultural worker.

Our ethnocentrism forever lurks within us!

-David Price, Leadership Development.

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