I’ve been thinking about a few similarities between the early Church and what we’re experiencing right now.
In the first chapters of Acts, the church in Jerusalem was experiencing phenomenal growth.
The community was incredible.
People were selling their property and giving the money away to help the Church and the poor.
The Spirit was moving, and thousands became followers of Christ.
Then, persecution hit.
The word Luke used to describe what happened was “scattered.”
People fled their homes, their families, and their church communities.
While what we are experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions we are attempting to operate under are different from persecution, there are similarities.
We can’t function how we used to function.
For many of our churches, it feels like the momentum we had is gone and we are all attempting to figure out the way forward.
Part of the story of the early Church is a significant pivot that takes place.
It’s the pivot from Jerusalem, Judaism, and the Jewish people, to Antioch, all religions, and all people.
The church in Antioch may have been the most important in all history.
If you read through the list of church leaders at the beginning of Acts 13, the church was incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicity and geographic origin.
The church at Antioch looked like the diverse crowd of people in heaven described in Revelation 7:9.
Also, the church at Antioch was responsible for sending Paul into the Roman world.
Within a generation, the message of Jesus spread throughout the entire Roman world.
God used this church both as a model for what the Church should look like and what it should do.
And, the spark for all of this seems to have been pain and pressure in Jerusalem.
The pressure we feel right now could be the impetus of incredible ministry effectiveness in the coming years.
So, let’s look closely and see how we can learn from what happened in the early stages of the church at Antioch.
Move Toward the Mission
When persecution struck Jerusalem, we’re told by Luke in a couple of different places, that the early followers spread the message of Jesus as they scattered.
In chapter 11 we’re told they even brought the Gospel to Greeks living in Antioch.
This was revolutionary.
The best I can figure, these early followers heard Peter’s description of his interaction with Cornelius, the Roman soldier, and combined with the commission that Jesus had given them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, they decided that the Gospel wasn’t just for Jewish people but for all people.
As they moved away from their homes, their families, and everything they knew, they made a deliberate decision to move toward the mission.
They made a missional decision to take the message of Jesus to Antioch—the third-largest city in the Roman world, and if I understand the city correctly, a melting pot of cultures, religions, and people.
As we move away from doing ministry the way we always have, and move toward the reality of a fall 2020 ministry launch amidst COVID-19, what should we do?
Let’s do what the first generation of Jesus followers did as they moved away from their “normal” of Jerusalem–let’s move toward the mission.
If we focus on the mission that Jesus gave us, of making disciples of all people, we can’t lose.
Sure, we can’t do everything the same way we were doing them before, but we can make disciples.
Let’s remember that this focus led to what might have been the most influential church of all time—the church in Antioch.
So, how exactly do we do that?
Move Toward People
In Acts 11, Luke tells us, when the Jerusalem church heard about all the people turning to Christ in Antioch, including a bunch of Hellenistic people, they sent someone to investigate.
They sent Barnabas, which seems to have been a great decision.
Barnabas was ethnically Jewish but was from Cyprus.
He was knowledgeable in both Jewish and Greek/Roman culture. He could connect with both Jews and Greeks.
Upon arriving, Barnabas “encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.”
I think this statement is critical to understanding how discipleship happens.
If I’m understanding the original language here, the word “encouraged” is a compound word—parakaleo:
- Para: to come alongside
- Kaleo: To exhort
Here’s what Barnabas, and later Saul and Barnabas, did to disciple the new believers in Antioch.
They came alongside, journeying with them relationally for at least a year, and encouraged them and challenged them to be faithful to Jesus.
That’s a beautiful picture of what discipleship is—to move toward people and encourage and challenge them.
They invested in them, relationally and spiritually.
This process, guided by the Holy Spirit, led to one of the most influential churches in history.
And, it wasn’t rocket science. It wasn’t complicated at all.
So here’s the challenge:
There’s a lot we can’t do this fall.
We can’t do everything we were doing in early March.
Your church might not be able to offer all the programs you were before.
You might not be able to shake hands, have children’s ministry, or even meet in person.
However, everyone in your church could move toward people.
If everyone chose to come alongside someone else and journey with them, encouraging them and challenging them to be faithful to Jesus…what would happen?
What if, in the face of the pressure we are under, we returned to the basics of what Jesus called us to do.
Move toward the mission and move toward people.
In the case of the church in Antioch, the pressure and pain led to something powerful that changed the world.
This fall, let’s move toward the mission and move toward people and expect God to move in our midst, as he always does.