I am convinced we are living at a time in history that has the potential to see a considerable number of people turn to Jesus. The words 'awakening' and 'revival' will hopefully be used by future generations to describe the twenties and thirties of the twenty-first century.
And those future generations will hopefully also thank us for how we pioneered the Church forward and laid foundations following the disruption and shaking caused by the global response to Covid-19.
The prophet Elijah lived in a time of national crisis and God was doing more behind his back than he was aware of, when he lamented being the only faithful servant left. Could it be that, similar to how God reserved thousands of prophets in the time of Elijah (1Kings 19:18), he is setting apart thousands of women and men in whom Kingdom dreams and visions are being incubated and whose time has now come. Ones on whom the Spirit of the Lord is resting and God is commissioning to rebuild, restore and renew (Isaiah 61).
Gospel innovation is needed in every town and city and it will require a new generation of gospel entrepreneurs to do that. But who are these people and how do we identify and release them?
Evangelists and entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They are easy to spot in a church gathering - they often look restless! Church meetings make them agitated, they are longing for something to raise their pulse rate and give them a challenge. They can come across as over confident or even quiet and disinterested.
In their younger versions (under 35) they are also longing to be noticed, affirmed and to receive the blessing of fathers and mothers in the faith. It is this blessing that is needed most and is also hardest to give.
Ronald Rolheiser, in Sacred Fire, sheds some light on why this might be the case: 'To bless another person fully is to give away some of one's own life so that another might be more resourced for his or her journey. And part of that is a dying; we must die so that the other might live. In that sense, a blessing is not just an affirmation, a simple exclamation of "You are a fine young person!" These affirmations are good and life giving but still lack something. To fully bless someone is to give up some life for that person, to die for him or her in some real way.'
This is hard to do even when the person in question meets all our criteria for someone who can be trusted with more and whose character we affirm. It becomes extremely hard when God is asking us (and I think he is) to bless those who don't match our criteria but God is choosing and anointing anyway. It requires a secure and mature leader to release them. One who isn't threatened by the rough edges and zeal or the potential that the gifting they perceive might soon eclipse their own.
Whatever the reasons, the Church in the West has, largely, not known how to 'handle' evangelists and entrepreneurs, never mind bless them. They don't fit the mould, are often low on compliance and agreeability – it is what makes them wonderful pioneers and terrible volunteers. They want to lead their way rather than prop up the systems and processes that massage the ego of conventionality. Sadly all too often, gospel entrepreneurs have been set aside rather than set apart.
Set aside, they are passive; set apart, they are passionate.
It isn't only the refusal to bless that is a barrier to identifying and releasing gospel entrepreneurs, it is because we have so many churches led by pastors and teachers with not enough input from apostles and prophets, and even less from evangelists.
The church has always pioneered and grown whenever apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic gifting has been recognised and released. It has declined whenever the gospel has ceased to be preached. It has maintained an equilibrium whenever the primary leaders have been teachers and pastors.
In Acts 13 we read, 'While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."'
When was the last time something like this happened in your church? This is not only a story to be preached on, it is a story to be enacted. God is still calling people, anointing people and commissioning people. Now is the time to set aside our risk aversion and with the empowering of the Holy Spirit boldly set apart those God is raising up.
It won't be long before the Covid pandemic is in the rear view mirror but the problems caused by it will remain for some time. Gospel entrepreneurs have a critical role to play in addressing those problems by pioneering the Church and Kingdom forward, re-imagining the world as God intended and helping build towards it.
New thinking is needed, new ideas must emerge and new structures housing businesses and communities must be built. And if we get this right, future generations will also thank us for how we set apart and released the gospel entrepreneur.
Rich Wilson is Fusion Movement Leader, author of 'a call less ordinary' and JustSow ambassador.