Continuing in Acts chapter 8, we come to a series of events that directly challenge the modern idea of ‘successful ministry’. Philip the Evangelist has been preaching and performing miracles in the city of Samaria. The people of the city are listening intently to the gospel and believing in Jesus the Messiah. News gets back to the apostles at Jerusalem that Samaria is receiving the word of God, so they send Peter and John to Samaria. This results in the apostles praying for the Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit, and their prayers are answered. If ever Philip could have prayed for ‘successful ministry’, he is right smack dab in the middle of it. Philip’s faithful preaching has been used by the Lord to bring a significant harvest of lost souls into the kingdom of God in Christ. (Acts 8:5-25)
People are being saved. The message is being preached. Philip is told by an angel… to leave, to go somewhere else (Acts 8:26). What does Philip do? He is in an amazing series of events in Samaria, with the gospel bringing the blessings of life and joy to the people. What does he do? Without hesitation, he immediately rises and goes where the angel of the Lord directs him. (8:27) In the middle of what gives every appearance of ‘being in the will of the Lord’, the picture changes. Can the Lord be trusted to know what is best?
Oh, dear reader, eager obedience to your Master is successful ministry no matter the outward circumstances. (Sidebar: this is not an endorsement of Francis Chan bailing on his church.) Philip lives out his love for Christ through active obedience. How active? As the scene continues, the Spirit tells Philip to go up to the chariot waiting on the road. Philip runs to the chariot. I love that picture. Obedience. Eager obedience. Philip has traveled from the city of Samaria, to the south of Jerusalem and sprints the final stretch. He has moved from ministering to a city to preaching to a single person. Without hesitation.
We are tempted, even counseled these days, to think ‘successful ministry’ is about numbers, new buildings, larger programs. Philip’s ministry was successful in the truest sense of the word, whether he was ministering to a city or a single person, whether there were disciples made or only seed sown. Success was not the number of converts, or the harvesting, but rather his eager obedience to the Lord.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)