Most of us are trapped in what Paul Hiebert calls “cultural frames.” Doctors live in hospitals and medical settings, teachers in schools, bankers in banks, business people in shops, pastors in churches. These social enclaves create their own sub-languages. They give birth to membered associations, networks, anticipated roles and hierarchies, and economic-power structures. They share world-views and operate out of a mutually shared power base. They are a subculture and at times a world isolated to itself. Most city-folk find a home in one of these enclaves, and there they become ‘insiders.’ The church has learned to play the ‘insider-outsider’ game far too well. As an insider, we feel safe. Venturing into other worlds, we are ‘outsiders’. Having ‘outsiders’ venture into our territory is threatening, particularly if they are different than our dominant homogeneous group. The church is trapped in this “cultural frame,” becoming a haven against the world for too few. That must change.
The early church was an urban movement. Christianity started in Jerusalem, and spread through the cities of the Roman Empire – Samaria (Acts 8:5), Damascus (9:2), Caesarea (10:1), and Antioch (11:19). The strategy of Paul was an urban strategy. From urban centers, Christianity then spread to the countryside. The church in Jerusalem became the world’s first mega-church with more than 10,000 members in a city with a permanent population of 80,000. Twelve percent of the city became disciples. The critical mass caused by the church growth gave them the city-impact capability. Then, it became a comfortable church, stirred and transformed into an evangelistic force only by persecution.
Antioch, on the other hand, was leaner and more quickly a missionary sending center (Acts 13). Antioch was not a small enclave like Jerusalem. It was the third largest city in the Empire, after Rome and Alexandria, with a population of as many as 800,000 residents – ten times the size of Jerusalem. It was a melting pot of cultures. The church there reflected the multiculturalism of the city. Its leadership was multicultural – Simon the Black (Africa); Lucius of Cyrene (North Africa); Manean (thought to be a slave of Herod’s father); Saul of Tarsus (of Asia Minor); Barnabus (the island of Cyprus). Here was a five-member, multicultural, pastoral team from three continents. World consciousness was built into their leadership team. “The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.”
Mission experts assert, the “professionalism so characteristic of modern missions and the institutional church was not characteristic of the Christian movement in the first century.” When Paul pens his letter to the Romans, he provides a list of his helpers. They were ordinary people whose lives had been profoundly redirected by newfound faith. Romans 16 lists his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” Phoebe is noted as “a great help to many people, including me” (16:2). Priscilla and Aquilla “risked their lives” – indicating a risk-taking troop that in view of the cross, were not willing to play it safe. Andronicus and Junias were “fellow prisoners” and apostles (16:7). These are not merely new Jesus fans who prayed some ‘sinner’s prayer’ with Paul and saw faith as a sweet addition to their lives. They were caught up into the gospel story as fellow workers, conscripted and compelled by the Spirit, to share the impact of Christ on their own lives. They embraced the risk-taking, sacrificial spirit of the cross.
It seems clear from research that, “During these first few centuries, the gospel was spread mainly by lay evangelists, by women and men, and even by children.” Overwhelmingly, the characters found in the pages of Scripture are ordinary people, laity, not clergy – 85 percent of the time. The Bible is not a record of professional religious people who move God’s agenda forward. It is the story of ordinary people whose faith impacts their world.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.
 Paul Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies, 280-281.
 Ibid, 325.
 Ray Bakke, A Theology As Big As The City, 146.
 Quote from Mike Stachura. Robert Miller, Survival Handbook for Young Pastors (Xulon Press, 2009), 146.
 Roger Greenway and Timoty Monsma, 46.
 Green, Evangelism, 175-176; Quoted by Greenway and Monsma, 47.
 Ray Bakke and Jon Sharpe, 39.