7 principles for modern diaspora ministryby Andrew Sheely, Disciple-Maker
The Book of Acts details the birth of the first-century church. In its 28 chapters, Luke describes how a small group of Christ-followers spread the gospel from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
In Acts, we see the gospel transcend both geographic and cultural boundaries. Today, people are moving from their homelands to other places in the world at a rate like never before. Such movements may be by choice, by force or caused by circumstances such as political or military conflict. In general, these migrations of people from one region or culture to another are called diaspora movements.
Diaspora movements also open new doors to ministry. As we grow in our understanding of modern diaspora ministry, there are a number of principles we can learn found in the pages of Acts. Here are seven of them.
1. Acknowledge God’s sovereignty in the movement of nations
God has orchestrated the movement of the peoples of the earth, and He has brought the nations to our doorsteps as a part of His sovereign plan. He has done this so that each person may have an opportunity to seek Him and perhaps find Him (Acts 17:26-27).
We can have complete confidence that the students, refugees and immigrants who are currently living within our borders have been placed here by God’s design. Let’s take hold of this incredible opportunity just as the early church did when the nations were gathered in their midst on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11).
2. Recognize God’s desire to break down cultural barriers
A large theme in Acts is the dissolution of social structures that kept other nations out of fellowship with Jewish-Christians (Acts 10:28, 34-36). We also need to acknowledge our own cultural biases and lean on the unifying gospel message of Jesus Christ as we share the Lord’s truth with people from all backgrounds.
3. Contextualize the gospel in a multitude of circumstances
The good news is one message, but it can be communicated in a variety of ways. Paul was an excellent example of this as he often catered his message to a specific audience (Acts 17:16-34).
There are numerous resources for how to engage in gospel conversations with people from other cultures, but the best way to learn is through practice. Make new friends and listen to them. Ask questions about their home country, family and traditions. Based on their answers, you can learn which stories from your life and the Bible resonate with their background. This way, you will be able to build understandable bridges from their spiritual worldview to the cross of Christ.
4. Identify those God is already working in
The Ethiopian eunuch was already reading a portion of the Scriptures when he met Philip (Acts 8:30-31). Cornelius had a preparatory vision before visiting with Peter (Acts 11:13-14). Paul encountered various Gentile “God-fearers” during his missionary journeys (Acts 13:16,26). All of these people are examples of those God was working in before they even met a Christian believer.
God is already at work in the lives of the people He is bringing to our nation. May we be sensitive to His Spirit and pray boldly for these types of interactions as we engage the lost in our cities.
5. Have confidence that God can bring anyone to salvation
There is no one who is outside the reach of Christ’s life-changing message. Many often forget that the apostle Paul was once the church’s greatest opposition (Acts 9:1-2). Thankfully, this all changed when Paul recognized Christ for who He truly was.
It can often be discouraging to share Jesus’ message with those who are entrenched in the lies of false religions. We can take heart, however, because we know that God has been saving those who were once far from Him since the birth of His church. Our Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Muslim friends can all be transformed, no matter how closed-off they appear to be now.
6. Make an open display of true, Christ-centered community
The early church was an incredible expression of deep, Christian community (Acts 2:42-47). If we are being honest, we can admit our Western, individualistic culture often does not foster this type of close fellowship. This mindset makes it difficult for international seekers to feel welcomed into Christian circles. Let’s learn from the first century disciples as we openly display true, Christian unity to a lost world longing for authentic relationships.
7. Reach out to displaced brothers and sisters in the faith
The Jerusalem church became aware of Hellenistic Jews who were being overlooked during the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1-3). At this time, the church members surrounding them quickly responded in service and charity to these believing widows. In a similar way, Paul welcomed Priscilla and Aquila when they were fleeing Emperor Claudius’ persecution in Rome (Acts 18:1-3).
In our day, many of the refugees fleeing their countries are doing so because of religious persecution. As such, many who enter the United States are already mature, growing disciples of Christ. We must not neglect these fellow brothers and sisters during their time of struggle. What if God has brought these fellow believers to our country so that we can join together in His redemptive plan for our Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist neighbors?
We recognize that God is doing a great work in our day in bringing the nations to us. As we look to the lives of the first century apostles, we recognize that we, too, are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit, following the same Lord and proclaiming the same gospel message. What the Lord achieved in Acts, He can certainly accomplish through His church today. In this way, the kingdom of God will continue to be proclaimed “with full boldness and without hindrance” until the day of Christ’s glorious return (Acts 28:31).
Editor's note: Andrew Sheely is pursuing a master of divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Andrew is is passionate about reaching the nations near and far with God's glorious gospel and empowering Christ's church to do the same.