In my previous post, I mentioned that I was going to cover two different aspects of the ways in which God uses people to serve the church. I covered the first aspect in yesterday’s post “Speaking and Serving“. Today, I am covering the second aspect “Local and Itinerant”.
It seems, as we study Scripture, that believers offered two types of service to churches: itinerant service and local service.
When I say “itinerant service”, I’m talking about service offered by those believers who travel from place to place, sometimes staying in one place for an extended period, but never with the intention of remaining in one place. Paul and Barnabas would be included in this group (following the events of Acts 13:1-3. Similarly, many of their travelling companions would be included in this group (i.e. John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke).
“Itinerant service” included many types of giftings, and it would be difficult to distinguish some giftings as only itinerant. However, it seems that the apostolic gift was intended as an itinerant gift. Even as an apostle and even with the desire to go where there was no gospel witness and no church, Paul did return to the same areas many times in order to strengthen the churches there. So, “itinerant service” is not limited to travelling to areas where there are no churches.
Several passages of Scripture refer to this type of “itinerant service” to the church. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, Paul seems to point to a group of people who are travelling from place to place. Similarly, we see that Paul did not intend for Timothy and Titus to remain in Ephesus and Crete, respectively. Finally, John commends Gaius for taking care of those brothers who were travelling through his area.
Besides “itinerant service”, there seems to be another type of service offered to the church as well: “local service”. In this case, I’m using the word “local” as an antonym for “itinerant”. Those who offer “local service” intend to remain in one place, serving the church in that place. In fact, this would probably be the predominant type of service recognized in Scripture.
Before Acts 13:1-3, it seems that both Paul and Barnabas intended to remain in whatever place they were in, serving the church there. Similarly, Paul intended for the elders in Ephesus to remain in Ephesus caring for the people there (Acts 20:28). When John writes his third letter, he distinguishes between those brothers who are travelling, and Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius, who apparently remained in the same location.
However, just because someone offers “local service”, this doesn’t mean that that person never travels to another location. However, it does mean that the person intends to return to their home location. For example, Epaphroditus brought a gift to Paul from the church in Phillipi, but intended to return. Those who travelled for a short time (to help Paul, for instance) would often serve alongside Paul while with him, but they still intended to return to their home location.
Do you think it is legitimate to distinguish between itinerant service and local service? Do you this distinction is helpful? Why or why not?