Act 17:6 “And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also …”
So what’s the “big secret”? How did the early church “turn the world upside down” without the wealth or technology that we have today? After all, it seems that our modern “church” worldwide is still struggling to get the Gospel to the whole world after two thousand years, but these early believers reached the world within their lifetime.
Was it lack of money? No. The early church was very modest in their means. In fact, never should someone complain about their “ministry salary”. Having been a pastor’s son and also having served as an associate pastor in a couple of ministries, I have heard people whine about “how much they make”. If they were “guilted” into ministering for a “beans and rice salary” and they are draining their finances for the “ministry”, it is their own fault and they are traveling a very foolish path.
I personally find that some of the most effective ministries are offered to small groups of people here and there at no cost by laymen working full-time jobs. 1 Timothy 5:8 “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” When I worked in the financial arena many years ago, I once told someone, whose identity shall forever remain anonymous, that he needed to leave “the ministry” and get a job to pay down his debt which was approximately $80,000. Incurring a massive debt for “the ministry” is not spiritual.
The standard modus operandi for early believers and apostles was to serve for free and earn money from their own secular jobs. Paul said he was worthy of “double honor” (and the word ”honor” in the Greek was akin to ”wages”), but while he noted his service was worthy of such distinction and reward, you never see him anywhere in Scripture asking for it, though gifts were given. You actually see him at times remaining independent financially to ensure certain congregations knew he was working from pure motives. This conduct also allowed the early apostles and elders to maintain independence financially, so they could preach the gospel without financial dependency on congregants or under the control of such dependency. Neither did Jesus or most of the other leaders in the early New Testament Congregation ask for funds or demand salaries. We never see them “browbeat” people with the demand that more people need to “sacrifice for the ministry”. The Holy Spirit moved upon people to give.
Such a philosophy of “barking at the flock” is errant and is seen usually in mind control cults where the leader wants to bankroll their “ministry” off the backs of those working beneath them. I once knew a large international ministry who treated their workers in this same way and even laid off a godly man I knew just before he reached his “10 years of service” (at which time the stingy thieves would have had to pay him a meager, miserly retirement package of $10,000 or $1000/year).
In other words, while some “ministries” have millions and sometimes billions of dollars of real estate, assets, and liquid deposits, they are robbing their workers. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 says “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of “double honor” or “double wages” in the Greek, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, ‘the laborer is worthy of his reward’”. If a “ministry” is going to have full-time workers, they should ensure the workers are paid justly and that does not mean just above poverty level. Otherwise, they should allow their workers to work full-time at a secular job and then as part-time workers or even volunteers, each as they are able.
All of this said, the early elders were not as much into extracting the saint’s “tithe money” as they were into collecting money for specific purposes such as helping widows, orphans, and other believers experiencing difficulty. Most worked for free and there were no massive building programs. They also helped poor people outside the church in order to further the Gospel from what the Book of James teaches. They kept the expense side of their “ledger” almost non-existent through low maintenance methods such as meeting in smaller groups, using existing buildings like houses or town assembly halls [also known as “synagogues” from the Greek tongue], etc) rather than buying stadiums so the whole city of Corinth could meet together at once. Never did they spend time building empires or massive operations, and they definitely did not burn through the saint’s money through firework displays or other such entertainment. They didn’t charge money for tickets, books, videos, or rock concerts. There’s a great deal of business savvy we can learn from the early apostles who managed to reach the whole world within a very small number of years with far less technology, transportation, and methodologies than we have today. To look at them, quite honestly, makes me feel guilty as an individual and as a member of the American church when I see how much they did with so little.
Also, notice that the early elders were organized and spent time praying together about where GOD would have them serve (i.e. Macedonia, Philippe, etc), so there was little redundancy of “footprint”. They had virtually zero overhead, an organized “footprint” as to where believers lived and ministered, and they taught in local assembly buildings and marketplaces to unbelievers, which was more than a tract saying “Five Steps to Heaven” (although such tracts can be effective at times). They also were known by their love. Their love didn’t consist of a lot of words, but of real money and actions that showed they cared. They watched out for Sister Sally, the local widow or little Tom Stout, the local orphan, and also Joseph who had lost his job or Carl who had a vehicle accident. When people watch out for each other, the world around them notices. The early believers were known for their love. They sold their property and watched out for each other.
We all know of situations where a person is without employment or vehicles or both, and how the local congregation turns a “deaf ear” to the needs of the person or perhaps because the congregation is so big, they don’t even know about the need. This is why the world is not taking notice of today’s version of Christianity. They know that if they are ever “down and out” that they are more likely to get “pushed under the bus” than assistance. They know this isn’t love. While I disagree with one local church who acts as a kind of “give-away” non-profit supplies store (because I believe if a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat); at the same time, I also disagree with those congregations who have all the money in the world to throw at buildings and programs but find every excuse in the world to avoid helping out their own members or the poor around them.
Their “big secret” was really not a secret. The Holy Spirit was the key.
Act 2:4-5 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”
They loved. They were able to love others sacrificially at the level of financially helping others and lived in one accord with the Holy Spirit and were therefore able to pray in one accord in the Spirit, and when they walked out of their prayer meeting filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to boldly speak to people about Jesus. They were organized and set out to reach the world in a methodical, geographical way. Is that not the way to reach the world today? Is that not what Jesus said?
Act 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
As a boy, I remember my dad’s old vinyl record playing a funny song by a Southern Baptist minister of music who sang about the massive variety of methods and ways they had tried to train their workers to “soul win”, but the members still wouldn’t do it. Sadly, this state of affairs is far too common in even the Truth-preaching churches today.
So what is the key? The key is a congregation who are living in tune with GOD so closely through the filling of the Spirit and prayer that they are able to love others in a sacrificial way (they go without their large house or expensive car so they have the funds to help others instead). They live closely with one another and collaborate to reach the world with the Gospel due to the Spirit’s filling, their own devotion to GOD, and their fervent devotional life. No more books will be needed on “being bold” in our witness, because the Spirit will resolve this problem. No more charts, incentives, or programs will be needed, because the Spirit’s power will be the “engine” roaring within the church as the church will begin to spend more time on prayer than it spends on “fellowship”. Keep in mind that no matter how many classes or study aids you hand out to church members on “soul winning” that only the Spirit can “soul win” and only the Spirit can empower us to teach His Word to the world around us. Once the Spirit moves, we will easily reach the world for Christ, but without the congregation of GOD living holy, praying together until the power of the Spirit rests upon them, and being filled with the Spirit of GOD, no mountain of “soul winning” programs or messages on the Mission will prevail.
Only the filling of the Spirit through holiness and prayer can bring the world to Jesus Christ. Prayer is a huge factor. Prayer changes things, but only the prayer of fervent, godly people. That means many Christians need to repent of their carnal attitudes, rebellion, and disobedient imitation of the world around them, and begin to honor brother’s consciences and pray side-by-side with them until the Spirit rests upon His people once again.