In the past couple of years, The Austin Stone Institute has grown from a single development program (The Austin Stone Development Program) and a residency program to an entire ministry seeking to train leaders in many different ways, from written resources and seminars to classes and new development programs. In many ways, we’ve been in the startup stage of the business lifecycle. We have—and still are—constantly trying new things and adapting to feedback and input from those we minister to.
Perhaps that’s why, when I began my study of Acts for an upcoming ASI Bible class, my first thought was, “The church was brand new in the first century. I wonder if there are any principles for startups that I can find in the book of Acts.” If I had followed through with this train of thought, my article might have been titled, “5 Lessons for Startup Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Peter and Paul”—maybe even with a click-bait subtitle like, “(You Won’t Believe Number Three!)”
Approach the Bible
It is always tempting to read the Bible this way. We often want to start with the things we are most concerned about and try to glean some wisdom or insight for that issue from the Bible. But we can’t approach the Bible the way kids approach a Magic 8 ball. One of the principles we teach in all of our Bible study tools, from REAP journals to Bible classes, is that we always first seek to understand what message the author is communicating to his original audience. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture to write with a specific meaning in mind, and we must understand that meaning before making applications to our lives.
For example, in Acts 1, the disciples gather around the risen Lord Jesus and ask Him a question: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The nation of Israel had long expected the Messiah to come and restore their kingdom to the political glory and power of King David. Thus, the disciples were utterly confused and disappointed when the movement apparently failed with Jesus’ crucifixion. But now, on the other side of the cross and the grave, their lives seemed full of hope and promise again. They thought Jesus would finally take His rightful place as King of Israel and make their nation flourish.
Be Changed by the Word
But Jesus confounds their expectations. He refuses to answer their question. He instead says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Three things stand out to me in Jesus’ response:
- Jesus does not say they should not want the kingdom to come. He could have said, “Guys, you’ve completely missed the point.” The disciples are not wrong for wanting this good thing, the restoration of the kingdom, to come. They are not wrong for their eagerness, either.
- Jesus reminds them they are not in control. He points them to the sovereignty and authority of God the Father, guiding them to trust Him and wait on His timing.
- Jesus instructs His disciples to follow the Holy Spirit and work in His power, being witnesses for Christ. The disciples must wait on the Father’s timing for when the kingdom will be restored. However, this is not a passive waiting, but an active one. As they wait, they work in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Jesus with all.
The promised Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. From that moment on, the disciples go out in His power and guidance to build the kingdom. The kingdom, though is a very different kingdom than they originally expected. This is the meaning of this text: believers are to trust God, and they are to work in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom.
Follow the Spirit’s Leading
This one meaning has a lot of possible applications for people in startup mode. People who want to start something new all have big hopes and dreams. Whether the new thing is a business, an overseas church plant, a committee at a high school or college, or a small group at church, they all come with expectancy attached to them. When we encounter those things in our lives, our prayers to God often fill with big questions like these:
“God, is it at this time that our church plant will be self-sustaining through internal tithes and offerings?”
“God, is it at this time that our small group will move past surface-level conversation and talk about real life?”
“God, is it at this time that our business will finally be in the black?”
“God, is it at this time that our PTA fundraiser will bring in enough funds to support our teachers?”
Hoping and asking for these things is not wrong. God will not chastise us for these prayers, just as He did not rebuke the disciples for wanting the kingdom to come immediately. However, I do think God wants to redirect our attention to something greater. God is in control of the timing of all our events, hopes, and dreams. We can trust Him with those things. As we trust and wait on Him, we can do the important work of following the Helper, the Holy Spirit. And, we can be witnesses for Jesus through our words and actions, wherever He has called us to lead.
What does this look like for you, in your leadership? Perhaps it looks like more time in prayer before diving into the day’s work. Or maybe God wants you to be bolder in witnessing for Him as you lead others. Or maybe it looks like trusting God enough to take a day off each week from your work for rest, reflection, and time with family and friends. As Christian leaders, we have access to a power, a Person, that non-believing leaders do not. Let’s not neglect Him when starting new things or remaining faithful to the old ones!