Today, I will continue my series of posts related to The Mission of God Study Bible. The essay below was written by Andrew Jones, better known online as the “Tall Skinny Kiwi.” The subject of the essay is “Itinerant Minstry” and it is dear to Andrew’s heart.
You can find out more about Andrew through his blog, tumblr, and especially at the JonesBerries adventure travelogue that he maintains about his family. Essentially, Andrew is an itinerant social entrepreneur who has a business so his family can do ministry.
As you read, I hope you will think about your own life of ministry. Leave a comment below and answer this question the rest of us: How are you using your life/work/hobbies/whatever to help accomplish ministry?
by Andrew Jones
Maybe it’s not right, but I feel a slight pang of grief when I read of Saul and Barnabas. Despite having a secure future as church leaders, they are assigned the downwardly mobile status of itinerant ministry by the church in Antioch. Doomed to wander through places always foreign and rarely familiar, they will limp forward as borrowers and beggars, strangers and sojourners, but never settlers.
An “itinerant” travels from place to place without a home. Stereotypes are demeaning: drifters, hobos, vagrants, bums, squatters, tramps, and carnies. Some are neutral but few are positive. And yet there are some who voluntarily embrace itinerancy for the sake of the gospel, including circuit riders, pilgrims, and wandering monks. The worst examples of the latter were frowned on. Benedict called them “gyrovagues” (“Those that wander in a circle”); Augustine called them “circumcelliones” (“Those that prowl around barns”).
Despite the stigma of being homeless ragamuffins, it was often the wandering missionaries who enabled the church to accelerate its mission into new spheres: extraordinary itinerants including preaching orders in the Middle Ages, Methodist circuit-riders, tent-revivalists, and the Celtic “peregrine,” who one writer described as “intrepid Irish adventurers.”
As an itinerant for most of my twenty-five years in mission service, I share both in the shame of this lowly disposition and the joy of freedom to travel wherever God is shining His light. I also have some perspective on why the Holy Spirit might have set such a precedent in Antioch.
Itinerancy is more effective in both cost and time, having no house to maintain or return to. Our apostolic efforts are not tempted by the idolatry of building our own empire because next week we will be somewhere else, serving another ministry project. But it’s more than that. As itinerants, our dependence on others for their participation with us becomes a filter that leads us to the right people at the right time, as Jesus outlined in Luke 10. We depend on God. We depend on God’s family. We even depend on the people we are sent to.
Like Abraham, we are told to go but not given a destination. We find ourselves in intimate company with the people of faith, who viewed the heavenly city as their real home. We have no house but we enjoy a hundred houses in this life and the benefits of a large and diverse spiritual family. We drink deeply of the sufferings of Christ who, having no place to lay His head, walked the same path we tread.
Recent years have seen a more positive spin on the mobile lifestyle. Partly in response to globalization and the necessity of competence in foreign cultures, many are eager to embrace new itinerant identities such as “global nomads,” “existential migrants,” and even “families on the road.” Likewise, interest in itinerant ministry has intensified as a new generation discovers a “spirituality of the road” and new forms of missional pilgrimage.
As in Antioch, there are still Christians of export quality being sent out on itinerant journeys that are initiated by God, modeled by Christ, led by the Spirit, and given an enthusiastic thumbs-up by the church.