The Three Ministry Spaces

The Apostle Paul was in the midst of his missionary journey. He arrived in Athens 12 days ahead of the rest of his entourage and something very interesting developed over those 12 days.

Acts 17:16-17 (NASB) "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles,..."

Erwin McManus called Paul's first stop at the synagogue, 1st Space. I heard Pastor Kong Hee describe this concept in more detail at a conference a few years ago. He defined 1st space as the church. He reasoned the church has it's own sub-culture, it's own behaviors and even it's own language. It's a comfortable and safe place for believers and Paul made a habit of visiting 1st space first whenever he entered a new city. However, he didn't stop here.

Acts 17:17b-18 (NASB) "and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection."

He entered the market place. McManus and Hee call this 2nd Space. It's where we conduct our business, education, arts and entertainment, government, and mass media. It's where you work, live, and get your Starbucks. Although Paul started in 1st space, he immediately went out into 2nd space and began to teach and minister. And then something interesting happened.

Acts 17:19-20 (NASB) "And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean."

The Areopagus were the elite of society. They were the political, religious, intellectual, and arts leaders of society. It was a powerful group, and one that could only be accessed by invitation. Paul made such an impact in 2nd space that he was invited to share in 3rd space. We have 3rd space in our society as well. It's where the movers and shakers and influencers of our society meet. It's a place where you can only enter through excelling substantially in 2nd space.

When Paul enters 3rd space and gets the ear of the influential, he does something really odd. He complemented them on being religious! These were heathens who worshipped multiple gods and idols, and he compliments them!

Acts 17:22 (NASB) "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

And then he does something even more strange, he actually quotes one of their heathen poems and uses it to reference the one true God.

Acts 17:28 (NASB) "for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'"

The problem with this poem is that it was originally written in reference to Zeus.

"They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, For in thee we live and move and have our being." Epimenides of Crete

Paul's use of Greek poetry shows us that he was not afraid to use contemporary art to reach his target audience. And the result?

Acts 17:32-34 (NASB) "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed..."

The point of this chapter in Acts is that Paul left the comforts of 1st space and made an impact on 2nd space so that he received an invitation to 3rd space. What if the church left the comforts of it's four walls and focused on ministering with excellence in 2nd space? What if the church became a training ground for our true ministers, the business leaders, politicians, entertainers etc. to excel at their craft in 2nd space?

Question: Do you think the church should change it's strategy of waiting for the unchurched to enter 1st space before we can reach them?