Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. – Acts 14:1-7
I am a big fan of Edwin Friedman, who applied family systems theory to church dynamics and leadership. Friedman’s mantra – according to me – is “Define yourself. Stay connected.” To which one might well add, “Maintain a non-anxious presence” which I believe is essential to the first two. In normal circumstances, this is a good bit of advice. Sometimes, however, and – under great duress – the non-anxious presence and staying connected part needs to be abandoned in deference to staying alive! Such was the case on this occasion with Paul and his companions. They had to flee from Iconium, rather than getting severely abused by the crowd.
During a quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I was challenged by some of the other chaplains and the supervisor of the group, and accused of being defensive. When I shared that with a friend of mine (who was also a psychologist and counselor by training), he remarked, “Sometimes you need to be defensive.” I took that to mean that you don’t have to receive every criticism and disparagement at face value. Nor do you have to let people accuse you to the detriment of the Good News of Jesus or the truth of the Bible.
On this occasion Paul chooses to leave the people in Iconium and head to new environs with the Gospel message. They defined themselves as missionaries, people entrusted with the gospel message that was meant to be proclaimed to all nations. That was what God had in mind when he confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. Now it is unfolding, The work that God had for them (cf. Acts 13:1-3) was unfolding. They were literally on a mission from God and that defined them. They stayed connected with each other in that process – a vitally important tactic.
In that connection and identity as missionaries of God, they would do wonders. The church would be planted in various cities throughout Asia Minor and even ultimately into Europe. Their connection with the people who were being converted would be shown in bold relief when the time came for them to leave Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:17-38).
The life of an evangelist/missionary is not easy. Friendships can be hard to come by. But those connections with the people of any community offer opportunity to be part of God’s move into the hearts of more and more people. If we each would define ourselves as children of God, missionaries of his love, and stay connected with the people God brings into our lives, who knows how we might impact someone’s eternity.
Such a definition will serve us well, allow us to be non-anxious wherever we are, and stay connected through the love and mercy of God in Jesus. There is great leverage for the kingdom in such a posture.