From the time I was a child, the miracle of Jesus that probably most captivated my imagination was His feeding of the 5,000. With only five loaves and two fish, something like a Hebrew Happy Meal, Jesus fed over 5,000 hungry men. There are multiple things we can learn about ministry from that miracle, but one of the most important is this: God has already placed in the hands of His church everything necessary to complete the Great Commission.
Just as the little boy had only to open up his hands and offer up his five loaves and two fish, so have we only to offer up our lives into His hands to see the lost multitudes fed to abundance.
Leaving the borders of Jerusalem
The Book of Acts demonstrates this over and over. God uses ordinary people as the tip of the gospel spear. Throughout the Book of Acts, ordinary people outpace even the apostles in gospel expansion.
The first time the gospel leaves the borders of Jerusalem, it is not in the mouths of the apostles, but ordinary people. Jesus had clearly told His disciples He wanted His gospel preached in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. But by Acts 7, the gospel seems “stuck” in Jerusalem. The first seven chapters of Acts contain not one story of anyone leaving Jerusalem with the gospel.
That all changes with the story of Stephen. Stephen, an “ordinary” believer (not an apostle), provides such humble, sacrificial service to widows in his community that he is brought before the Sanhedrin to explain what he’s doing.
His bold testimony to Christ starts a riot, and believers are driven out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. As they go, they carry the gospel with them (Acts 8:4). Luke (the writer of Acts), goes out of his way to point out that of those who left preaching the word, not a single apostle was involved:
“…and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria… (and) those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1,4, emphasis mine)
God accomplished through the preaching of a layman what the apostles had been unable to do in seven chapters.
Later in that same chapter, we see the first “international mission trip” taken by Philip, another one of those laymen. The Spirit of God guides him to a desert road junction where he meets an Ethiopian government official whom he leads to Christ and baptizes (Acts 8:26–40).
According to the church father Irenaeus, this “Ethiopian eunuch” returned to sub-Saharan Africa as its first gospel emissary.
One layman, Philip, obedient to the Spirit, was able to get the gospel farther around the world than had all the apostles up to that point.
This pattern of “anonymous” Christians spreading the gospel continues throughout Acts. As Steven Neill notes in his classic History of Christian Missions,
Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries… Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church in Rome. They certainly did not found it.
Dr. Neill points to the existence of three primary Christian “centers” by the end of the first century: Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. The most remarkable thing about those centers, he says, is that we have no idea who brought the movement to them, or who planted their first churches.
The church at Antioch, for example, which served as the hub for missionary activity for the last half of the Book of Acts, was planted by those scattered there after Stephen’s sermon (Acts 11:19). Here’s what’s significant: Luke uses no personal names in reporting the account of those who established the most strategic church-planting center in the ancient world. He only says the Lord’s hand “was with them” (Acts 11:21).
As my friend Vance Pitman says, that is Luke’s way of saying, “a bunch of dudes whose names I won’t mention because you wouldn’t recognize them and won’t hear anything about them again anyway.” They are the kinds of people who get listed in the credits of the movie as “Bystander #3.”
It was Apollos, a layman, another “them,” who first carried the gospel into Ephesus. And yet another group of “them” first established the church at Rome. These believers hadn’t travelled to Rome on a formal mission trip, they were carried there through the normal relocations that come with business and life! But as they went, they made disciples and established churches (Acts 8:5–8; 18:24–19:1; 28:15).
Thank God for them.
Throughout Christian history, the gospel has nearly always spread—and stuck—because ordinary people like you carried the gospel wherever they went. Ordinary people are the tip of the gospel spear.
Again, the question is no longer if you are called to leverage your life for the Great Commission, only where and how. However God gifted you, He gifted you with the Great Commission in mind.
Maybe nobody in Christianity knows your name, but you can be part of the most powerful and effective mission force ever established—”Team THEM.”
This post is an excerpt from J.D. Greear’s new book, What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?.