Article 2018-08 Serious World Missions
Chapter 47: Serious World Missions
The Antioch church shows that an international church can provide good missionary training. Apparently, Middle-Eastern and African missionaries ministered before Europeans ever did. Antioch was partially an African missionary endeavor. It practiced holistic ministry, by sending missionaries and aid. This first international church sent the first international missionaries and these experienced that cross-cultural missions leads to opposition and persecution. They also saw that severe suffering leads to bearing spiritual fruit. Their practices show that missionaries should be passers-by, not ministers that stay for a long time and that appointing local leaders can best be done early on. Finally it is important that the sending church hears the missionaries’ stories when they return.
Then Barnabas went to … to look for Saul, and … brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul … taught great numbers of people (Acts 11:25,26)
The disciples … decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29,30)
Barnabas and Paul spent a year in Antioch. They taught, evangelized, debated, discipled and counseled many people, who for the first time were called ‘Christians’. They were of different nationalities and provided a good training ground for Saul and Barnabas’ future ministry. By the end of their year the church leaders sent them to Jerusalem on a short trip. They delivered an offering to the church, which suffered under a severe famine. When they returned to Antioch, Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, joined them. Mark was fascinated by the ministry and wanted to join his two older brothers to see it for himself.
Paul and Barnabas met regularly with Antioch’s church council to pray and plan. It was an interesting international group of leaders. Manaen was a civil servant at Herod’s court. That was not so strange; neither was the presence of Paul and Barnabas. But what about the other two? Lucius of Cyrene was a North-African, and Simeon Niger was a black African. Isn’t it amazing? The first missionaries were Jews and later we see a few that are black. That made the church in Antioch not only multi-cultural, but also multi-racial!
The gospel went to Africa before it came to Europe and there were already non-white missionaries before there were white ones! Yet, there are people who say that God is the white man’s God. Some non-white Christians believe that executing the great commission is the white Christians’s responsibility only. It is certainly not how it has been from the beginning! Since the outpourings of the Holy Spirit the church has become more and more international and so have its missionaries.
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So … they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3)
The story, continued
When the Antioch church council met for worship and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to set Paul and Barnabas apart for mission work. So, preparations were started for their journey. During a last church service before their departure the leaders laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and prayed for them. They sailed from Seleucia to Cyprus. John Mark went with them as their assistant. Paul’s first missionary journey had started.
They traveled all over Cyprus, preached Jesus everywhere, and led the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christ. This happened after a Jewish sorcerer opposed them, but ended up blind. Once they had evangelized the island, they sailed for Asia Minor, to Pamphylia. But John Mark left the team and went home. Why did he do that? What did Paul and Barnabas think about it? What would the consequences be? We will see this later.
Many conversions took place in Asia. One of them was Timothy, of whom we will hear more. The Jews in Galatia became jealous and stirred up persecution against the brothers. This became a pattern: persecution as Paul’s partner for life. He ended his ministry in Pisidian Antioch, shaking the dust off his feet, as Jesus had instructed and didn’t waste time ploughing on the rocks. They left for Iconium, where the same pattern occurred: first Jews, then Gentiles, much fruit, then jealousy and revenge. Because they discovered a plot against their lives they fled to the next city, as Jesus had also instructed. In Lystra the population wanted to worship them after a crippled man was healed, and the riot that followed after Paul’s refusal to accept that, led to him being stoned and left for death.
During the rest of this trip through South-Galatia the evangelized cities were re-visited and the disciples encouraged and taught. Leaders were appointed and left to the care of the Holy Spirit. Then they returned to Antioch, where the church gathered to hear their ministry report. Antioch, for the time being, would take precedence over Jerusalem as missionary-sending church. Soon, new problems would arise…
Trees bear fruit according to their nature and churches according to their spiritual nature. The multi-cultural and multi-racial church in Antioch bore fruit among many cultural and racial groups, thanks to the ministry of Paul and his teams.
As the gospel moved out of Jerusalem, via Judea and Samaria to Ethiopia, to Antioch, Cyprus and the African north coast, it took quite a while before it reached Europe. Therefore, stating that Christianity is a ‘white man’s religion’ is as foolish as stating that Islam would be a white man’s religion. Neither Christianity nor Judaism is.
The Antioch church did not shut its eyes for the physical needs of the Jerusalem church. This example helped Paul to see that extending the God’s Kingdom in the nations was not exclusively about preaching the Word. He learned about holistic ministry, serving man including his body. He perpetuated this by taking up another offering for the Jerusalem church from churches he planted in Greece, some ten years later.
Preaching the gospel where it was never preached before, extends the boundaries of God’s Kingdom at the cost of the kingdom of darkness. The devil does not give up his territory or people without a fight. Pioneer missionaries must count with suffering, meant to discourage them. The more strategic the ministry is, the fiercer satanic opposition is.
They preached the good news in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and … committed them to the Lord (Acts 14:21-23)
Missionaries are sent to establish beachheads for the gospel. Instead of building their houses on the ‘beach’ they should appoint ‘guardians’ over the conquered territory and move on to occupy new areas. Paul used such a pattern. He never stayed for longer than two to three years in a city. More often than not his stay lasted only some weeks.
Both church and missionaries need adequate debriefing times. The church must hear the results of their prayers and gifts for the missionaries. Stories about God’s great works encourage her and keep her alive. Missionaries who have been away for a long time, ministered and suffered, need the love, warmth and interest of their spiritual family. Otherwise they may become discouraged and tempted to give up.
Discussion & dialogue
- Discuss whether you agree (or not) with the thesis that missions should take place ‘from every nation to every nation’. Why, or why not?
- Discuss whether Jesus’ ministry was holistic, or spiritual only
- Explain how themes 3, 4 and 9 feature in this story