When considering the gospel message, it is clear that there is a call for global discipleship. How can local churches be a part of this mission? In this message on Acts 11, David Platt examines ten characteristics of the church at Antioch and how this applies to churches today. He challenges us to be a part of global discipleship in two ways.
- Make disciples through small groups.
- Make disciples through multiplying churches by sending teams.
One Church with a Global Gospel
If you have a copy of the Word of this God, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Acts 11. Last week we had the opportunity to think about one life with the global gospel, and how each of our lives can impact nations for the glory of God and by the grace of Christ. And we talked about the Radical Experiment; the challenge for our faith family going into 2010 with five different components on it.
I want you to look at that card with me. I want to – especially if you weren’t here last week – to review, to bring everybody up to speed. I want to emphasize again that I want to stay as far away as possible from moralism—reducing Christianity to a list of things to do, to check off a box. I want to stay as far away as possible from legalism—thinking that our standing before God is based on what we do.
Just as we sung about a second ago, our standing before God is based on the finished righteousness of Christ. And our righteousness is found in Him, not in what we bring to the table. So this is the working out of His righteousness by His grace at work in us.
We talked last week about five different components that we desire to give ourselves to as a church and as individuals and families in this church in 2010. The five components you see on the front there. I want to pray for the entire world. We talked about how we can impact, be involved in the work of God in every single nation on the planet from our knees. So why would we not do that? So we want to pray for the entire world in the next year. Intentional prayer focus that we will go through.
Second, I want to read through the entire Word during the next year, starting in January, going through Revelation. Just go from cover to cover and look at the story of scripture as individuals, families, small groups, and as a faith family. To walk through the Word so that we might know God deeply and we might be conformed into the image of Christ through His Word.
Third, I want to sacrifice my money for a specific purpose. It’s what we’re doing as a church as a whole during the next year. Next week we’ll present to the faith family a budget that we finalized this last week where we have sought to sacrifice and spend less on ourselves so that we can free up resources for the sake of urgent spiritual and physical need in the world.
So that’s what we’re doing as a church. To say we’re going to do that in our individual lives and our families for one year in our Christianity in this culture. To put a cap on spending on ourselves; spend as little as possible on ourselves and free up as much as possible in our own lives and our families for the sake of urgent spiritual and physical need around the world.
Fourth, I want to spend my time in another context. We talked about how we spend 98% of our lives right here in Birmingham, making disciples of all nations from this context. But then what would it look like for each of us to give a long weekend, a week – about 2% of our time – next year in another context. If we’re not able to travel well, somewhere in Alabama. Maybe somewhere in the United States, or maybe somewhere around the world.
There is urgent spiritual and physical need around the world in other contexts, so to give our lives to spreading the gospel in those contexts. I want to spend some time in another context.
Then finally I want to commit my life to a multiplying community. We want to do this not as Lone Rangers, but as members who are committed in a local church, and even deeper than that, to a small group of believers that we’re sharing life together with.
And so we talked about this last week, and hopefully have been praying through these things over this week. Us saying in 2010 these are the ways we want to intentionally surrender to Christ. Now the question I want us to ask this morning is what happens when a church is doing this? When a community of faith made up of brothers and sisters who are locking arms to take the community in which they live, the city in which they live, and the nations for the glory of Christ?
I am convinced that when brothers and sisters lock arms in this kind of picture the very gates of hell cannot prevail against them. And so what I want us to talk about tonight is one church for the global gospel, and how this all comes together for us as a community of faith.
I mentioned last week that during these two Sundays – last Sunday and tonight – we were going to spend some time thinking about and talking about where we are headed in the days to come. And that’s what I want us to do tonight based on Acts 11 and the chapters that follow, and the picture of the church at Antioch.
But before we get there, I want to step back and I want to tell you about the church in Cuba. I spent some time in Cuba a few months ago, and Cuba totally messed me up. And here’s how. Amidst a variety of things, here’s one primary way.
We were in Cuba – Communist nation – and we were in one small impoverished Cuban house church. And this small impoverished Cuban church had planted 60 other churches. And so we go visit one of these other churches that they had planted. And this church that we visited, they had only planted 25 other churches. And the picture is the gospel is spreading all across that island through churches planting churches. And they looked at me, us, over and over again – it was like their mantra. They said it over and over and over again.
They said, “A church is not healthy if it’s not reproducing.” And I nodded my head, but then I had this sinking feeling inside me, because I had to realize that the church that I have the privilege of pastoring is not reproducing. Not reproducing churches. Even in the history of Brook Hills there have been attempts to plant churches, but nothing like the picture we see in these impoverished churches in Cuba.
And the way they described it, it was so enlightening. They said – these are their words. They said, “We live in a Communist context, which means there is a ceiling over our heads. And the goal in every area of life is to stay below the ceiling. And as long as you stay below the ceiling, nobody notices you and you’re okay. As soon as you stick your head above the ceiling, things are not good. So you keep it low.” And so they said, “That’s what we’ve done in the church.”
You will not see big empires, big buildings, big programs associated with the church that would draw attention to them. In fact, looking from the outside in in Cuba, you would probably not even see the church at all. You would not see the church until you get to know the people. And when you get to know the people, you would realize that they are multiplying the gospel like wildfire. It’s the same picture I’ve seen before in context in East Asia, where believers are doing the exact same thing.
And so I get on a plane and come back here, and we were talking as elders and looking through the Word. And begin to think, “Okay. In our church culture in this context, there are many different ways that churches are going about multiplying. Multiple campuses. Multiplying via DVD—put the pastor on DVD as many places as we can. Multiplying via satellite. There’s all kinds of different ways. Sites, campuses, satellites, DVDs.
And I want to be careful here, because I have friends who pastor and use, are using, leading their churches and using some of these different means, and I’m not saying that some of these means are bad in and of themselves. And I’m not saying that they’re totally off the table when it comes to Brook Hills. But I couldn’t help but to ask the question, “What if we didn’t have DVDs, and what if we didn’t have high-dollar budgets to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into satellite?”
Would we still be able to spread the gospel? And I came to the conclusion that the Word of God and the Spirit of God and the people of God are enough to accomplish the mission of God. They’re enough to accomplish the mission of God, particularly in places around the world where there are very few resources, and yet the gospel is spreading most rapidly. So maybe there is a relationship between making disciples and planting churches.
And maybe the way to multiply the church is to multiply men and women who are equipped to lead the church and plant churches in many different contexts. That’s the picture that Cuba, the picture’s in East Asia – it’s the picture I want us to see tonight in the church at Antioch. And then I want us to think about the Church at Brook Hills.
The Church at Antioch…
Acts 11 gives us the first spotlight on the church at Antioch, and what I want us to do is we’re going to kind of fly through this. Ten characteristics of the church at Antioch. And this is not to say that whatever the church at Antioch did we have to do the exact same thing. It’s not necessarily prescriptive here. But there is a precedent in the church at Antioch. And I want us to see a profile, basically, of the church at Antioch, and then think about how that relates to us as the Church at Brook Hills.
So we’ll start in Acts 11:19.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:19–30).
They Were Born in the Context of Mission
Characteristic number one I want us to see in the spotlight on the church at Antioch: first, they were born in the context of mission. They were born in the context of mission. Verse 19 tells us that this church at Antioch was started by those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen.
So I want us to turn back a few pages to Acts 8, and I want you to see how this came about. Acts 8, here’s the deal: when you get to the end of Acts 7, the gospel is basically stuck in Jerusalem. The gospel is being preached primarily to Jewish people in Jerusalem, but it’s not really gone beyond Jerusalem at this point. Until Stephen is stoned, and when he’s stoned at the end of chapter 7, listen to what happens in 8:1, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:1–4).
I love this. Satan’s attempt to stop the church through the stoning of Stephen only served to advance the church to the ends of the earth. Hah! God is sovereign, and He even uses the suffering of His people for the advancement of the gospel. This is what propels the church into Judea and Samaria, which Jesus had said in Acts 1:8 was where they were supposed to go. From Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, by the power of the Spirit in them.
So we’re seeing the Great Commission basically unfold in the book of Acts as a result of persecution – the stoning of Stephen. And it says over here in Acts 11 that those people scattered, and they went to Antioch, some of them just preaching to Jews. But then there was a group of folks who had been scattered who were preaching the gospel to Greeks. And many Greeks, Gentiles of Antioch, began coming to Christ. Barnabas comes, and more people are coming to Christ. Saul comes, and the church is established. Don’t miss this. The church at Antioch is established because some men and women left their comfort zones and went to people and places they had not gone before to proclaim the gospel. This church was born in the context of mission. Really born in the context of persecution.
They Were Radically Identified with the Person of Christ
Second characteristic: they were radically identified with the person of Christ. Radically identified with the person of Christ. Did you catch the end of verse 26? “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). I love this!
For a time, people looked at Christianity almost like it was a sect or segment of Judaism, and that’s how people responded to it. But here’s what happens. This group of people who have come to Christ at Antioch, unbelievers look on at their lives, and they see something that is so distinct that they say, “That is not Judaism.”
These are literally “Christ-followers”. Christians. Of the household of Christ. And this was actually, humanly speaking, not good news for these Christians because Judaism was a protected religion in the Roman Empire in that day. To be called a Christian, Christianity not protected, and this would pave the way for more persecution – to be associated with Christ as opposed to be associated with Judaism.
But the picture is this new church, these new believers, these brothers and sisters were willing to identify themselves so radically with the person of Christ. Even when it cost them, they were identified with Him. God, may it be said of your people in this church that there’s something distinct. That unbelievers looking on would say, “Those are people whose lives are radically identified with Christ. They do not look like the rest of the culture around them. “They are set apart. There’s something distinct there.” Radically identified with the person of Christ.
They Cared Sacrificially for Local Churches Around the World
Third characteristic: they cared sacrificially for local churches around the world. Cared sacrificially for local churches around the world. Verse 27–30 talk about some prophets who came to Antioch. Agabus, one of them, stands up and predicts, prophesies about a severe famine that would spread over the entire Roman world. We read the rest of the New Testament and we find that this was common news in the days to come, and this famine would particularly have an effect on the believers, the church in Jerusalem, in Judea.
And so what we see is, in the letters of the New Testament, the church taking up an offering for the believers in Jerusalem and Judea. And what we see at the very beginning here of this church at Antioch is these brothers and sisters coming together and pooling their resources for the sake of other local churches around the world. And it’s the same picture, by God’s grace, that God has been doing among this body over the last couple of months. To say to our brothers and sisters in India, “You are not going to starve alone. We are with you. We are going to send our resources to you. We are going to partner and serve together with you so that your children can live.”
I got an email this last week from a missionary in West Africa, and I want you to hear what he said. He wrote,
Dear Pastor, I wanted to let you know how encouraged I was when I heard that Brook Hills is getting involved in the lives of children in India and those in foster care. It is remarkable to hear about an entire church rising up together to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. The needs in these kinds of places are real. The other day I walked out of a friend’s house only to see coming down the road what looked like a small, strange parade, with one man in the middle of the crowd carrying what seemed to be a small bundle of sticks wrapped in a cloth. It took a second to register that he was carrying the body of a small child to the graveyard. My heart sank, and I stopped in my tracks as the parade passed. I said a prayer because I didn’t know what else to do, and started back toward my house. As I rounded the corner, not 30 seconds later, another crowd was coming my way. Another man carrying another small bundle. Both toddlers died for lack of food and cheap medicine.
One might think that we here in Africa would be jealous of the support that your church is positioning itself to give to the children of India. Not so! By doing this, you are giving the utmost encouragement to others around the world who are involved in similar work. The passion and desire of those in your faith family to reach the weak and dying in India will spur others of us on to do the same in other impoverished and tumultuous places. So I pray that the spiritual and physical support your church gives in India would be a testimony to the intensity of Christ’s grace and love. I pray that lives of children will be saved, and they will be. I pray that your members would become more and more invested emotionally, financially, and spiritually in the lives of those who are groaning and crying out for a Savior. I pray that the impact of your church’s obedience would be tangible, intense, and far
This is the picture of the New Testament church from the start, and it must be the picture of the church today.
Shift the spotlight over to Acts 13. I want us to see the next time Antioch is mentioned. Acts 13:1–4 – follow along there.
“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 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.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus”
They Were Diversified in their Leadership
Now I want us to understand what’s going on here. Fourth characteristic of the church at Antioch: they were diversified in their leadership. They were diversified in their leadership. Luke, the author of Acts, tells us about five prophets and teachers. You got Barnabas – he’s a Levite from Cyprus. Cyprus is an island not far from Antioch, so that’s Barnabas. You’ve got Simeon, called Niger – literally, Simeon called the black one. Dark-skinned, very possibly from Africa. Then you have Lucius of Cyrene, and you have Manaen. When it says he was brought up with Herod the Tetrarch it likely means either he was close friend of or maybe even foster brother with Herod the Tetrarch. Herod who beheaded John the Baptist.
Herod who played a part in what led up to the crucifixion of Christ.
And then you have Saul – persecutor of the church extraordinaire. That is quite a group of people. Isn’t this – just think about this for a second. Saul, leading in the church at Antioch. Just a few chapters earlier, what was Saul doing? Acts 8 he was going from house to house imprisoning – dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. And so here’s Saul – praise God for His sovereign grace! He turns some of the gospel’s greatest foes into the gospel’s greatest advocates. That’s grace!
And it’s sovereignty that Saul would have a part in leading this persecution where everybody’s scattering. They end up going to the church at Antioch, starting a church at Antioch. And one day he ends up at that church leading it. Hah! God has this thing rigged! Like that… You can’t make up stuff like that. That’s good! Saul!
So you’ve got this group of guys – this is a diverse group of guys. A diverse tapestry of grace that has been woven together from different backgrounds, different cultures, different struggles, and brought together.
I pray – I pray that in the days to come, both here in this location as well as… As we are intentional about multiplying churches around the world, that God will weave together in leadership in this church a diverse tapestry of grace. Different stories of grace from different backgrounds that all come together and show a picture of the beauty of the gospel. That’s what we’re seeing here in Acts 13. They were diversified in their leadership.
They Blessed the Lord Through Corporate Worship
Next – fifth characteristic: they blessed the Lord through corporate worship. They blessed the Lord through corporate worship. I want to emphasize this because it cannot be overemphasized. We’re about to read from Acts 13 all the way to the end of Acts – Acts 28 – about the expansion of the gospel throughout the Roman world. And I want us to see that it started when a church was worshiping the Lord, fasting and praying.
When it says they were “worshiping,” the word literally means they were “blessing” the Lord or “ministering” to the Lord. Think about this. When we talk about doing ministry, our primary concern is not to minister to the lost. And our primary concern is not to minister to the poor. And our primary concern is not to minister to the church. Our primary concern is to minister to God. He is the primary audience in ministry.
And in worshiping and in blessing Him – don’t miss the connection here. Worship fuels mission. A people who are enthralled with the glory of God will give their lives to spread the gospel of God. People who are enthralled with the glory of God give their lives to spread the gospel of God. That’s what we’re seeing here in Acts 13. And so fundamentally we as a church must be about blessing the Lord, worshiping the Lord, ministering to – oh, what a privilege! We bless God. Minister to, worship God; bless the Lord through corporate worship.
They Were Desperately Dependent on the Holy Spirit for Direction and Power
And that leads to the next characteristic: they were desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit of God for direction and power. Desperately dependent on the Spirit. Who’s directing this whole deal in Acts 13? “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’” (Acts 13:2). Verse 4: “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 13:4).
Let me show you something. Go to the right a couple of chapters to 16:6. I want to show you how the Spirit of God was directing the mission of God. How the Spirit of God was determining how this whole thing played out. Look at Acts 16:6. Follow along:
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by” – who? “Kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus” – there He is again – “would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6–10).
Does that not look like a pinball machine to you? I mean Paul starts to go one place – the Spirit says, “No, don’t go there.” And so he starts to go to another place – the Spirit of Jesus says, “No, don’t go there.” Then he goes to bed one night – where am I going to go? He has a vision, says, “Why don’t you come to Macedonia?” So he gets up and he says, “I’m going to go there.” The Spirit of God is directing the details of how this looks.
This is not dependent on Paul’s ingenuity or creativity. This is dependent on Paul’s intimacy with the Spirit of God. Get over a couple more chapters to Acts 18:9. Paul’s in Corinth. Corinth was not an easy city to be in, and there was not a lot of immediate fruit in Corinth. He was struggling in Corinth, wondering, “Do I need to stay here? Is this the best place for me to be?” Listen to what happens – Acts 18:9, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18:9–11).
Paul’s thinking, “Do I need to leave?” And Jesus comes to him and says, “No, you stay – I’ve got this picture of the sovereignty of God here. I got people here who are going to come to Christ.”
Oftentimes what we see right in front of us is a poor measure of what God is doing behind the scenes. And when it seems like there’s certainly better places Paul could be, he stays right there, because Christ told him to.
Then you go over one more – look at Acts 20:22. In this one, Paul is headed down to Jerusalem, and the likelihood is when he gets to Jerusalem, he could be arrested, imprisoned, maybe even killed. Why are you going to Jerusalem, Paul? And so listen to what he says, “And now compelled by” – who? “By the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (Acts 20:22–23).
Hah! Like Paul, don’t you know the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will? No! The most dangerous place for you to be may be right in the center of God’s will.
The Holy Spirit is leading him to a place where prison and hardships are facing him. God, rid us of the idea that that which is the most comfortable and the easiest to accomplish must be the will of God! Absolutely not! So why is he going? The Spirit’s telling him to go, and listen to this verse—if it’s not underlined in your Bible, underline it—“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
God, raise up Acts 20:24 in the hearts of men and women across this faith family, that we would say our lives are worth nothing to us if only we may finish this race and complete this task that Christ has given to us.
I want you to see how the Spirit of God is directing this; how the Spirit of God is good to direct His people. Let this comfort you. Let this encourage you as you think about how can my life be a part of God’s global plan? Where does my life fit into this picture? Be intimately close with the Holy Spirit of God, and He will guide and lead and direct you to the people, places, positions where you can most effectively make disciples of all nations for the glory of His name. He will not lead us astray. As we abide in Him, we can be sure He will lead us, even specifically lead us.
They were desperately dependent on the Spirit for direction and power. If we had time, I’d go through Acts 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 16. I could show you every major breakthrough for the gospel in the book of Acts comes as a direct result of a people who are praying and a Holy Spirit who is empowering. Every major breakthrough. The gospel in the book of Acts comes through people praying and the Spirit of God empowering.
And this is where I certainly want to remind us as a people that if our future as a church and our plans and dreams as a church are dependent on my ingenuity or others’ creativity or what we can come up with together with our collective ideas, then we are sunk from the start.
But if we are a people – when we are a people – this is part of the purpose of praying for the entire world next year. Us having intentional times of prayer and fasting during the context of next year, because we want to be totally dependent on the Spirit of God to direct and empower the mission of God. That’s what the church at Antioch was.
They Nurtured an Atmosphere for Sending People Out
Next, they nurtured an atmosphere for sending people out. They nurtured an atmosphere for sending people out. The “Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). So they placed their hands on them, fasted, prayed, and sent them off. This is the picture we reference just about every time we bring someone before our faith family who is about to go overseas.
We talked about how over the last six months we have more and doubled the number of our members who are living in other contexts around the world proclaiming the gospel. Each time we send one of them out, our family out, we bring them before each other and we surround them and we pray for them. This is the picture here, and this is where we’re reminded – we’ve talked about this before, but just to remind us – that success in the church is not determined by how many people are coming into a building.
But success in the church is determined by how many people are leaving a building to take on the world around them with the gospel that’s been entrusted to them. And they nurtured an atmosphere for sending people out. And I would even take it a step further – they weren’t afraid to send their best out.
Paul? I mean if you got Paul on church staff, you’d do what it takes to keep that brother here! Barnabas? He’s the one who came and led all these people to Christ. We can’t let Barnabas go! The Spirit says, “Paul and Barnabas,” and the church celebrated it. So let’s pray that God would create in us an atmosphere that says, “Spirit of God, you do whatever you want, and lead any of us wherever you want us to go.” We want to nurture an atmosphere for sending people out.
They Advanced the Kingdom Through Multiplication
And the result is next characteristic: they advanced the kingdom through multiplication. What happened as a result of even this day – Paul and Barnabas being sent out?
We could go through verse by verse by verse and just show you the whole story in the rest of the book of Acts. But I want to show you – let me illustrate it to you on the screens with some maps that hopefully will give us a picture of what happened as a result of Acts 13 right here. What happens – let me show you this first map on the screen.
On the far right portion of this map, you’re going to see – you won’t be able to read the text. But the far right portion, middle of the map – so central eastern part of the map – you with me?
The blue and red come together, and that’s Antioch. That’s Antioch. Now the blue arrows coming out of Antioch trace Paul and Barnabas leaving Antioch. They go down to Cypress, that island – that’s where Barnabas was from. Then they head up north into places like Pisidian Antioch, some other cities, and basically what they do is they go into a city, they find the synagogue. They’ll preach in the synagogue, oftentimes get kicked out of the synagogue. Preach in the community, they’ll get stoned, and they’ll move on to the next place. And that’s kind of their routine. They’re just preaching the gospel, planting churches, facing persecution, and doing it again and again and again and again and again.
So that’s the story. The blue arrows are them going out, and the red arrows are them coming back. After they had gone – this is what is sometimes referred to at the first missionary journey. They go out and they come back to Antioch – it’s kind of their home base.
That sets the stage for missionary journey number two. Let me show you this next map. It’s going to be a little broader. Again, Antioch is on the central eastern portion of the map – far right. And what you’ll see is Paul and new companions this time go up north into those places where they had already planted churches. But then that’s where Acts 16 – you see the Macedonian call. “Come north and help us here. We need the gospel here.” So Paul travels to the north into places like Thessalonica up there, Athens, Corinth.
Comes down the middle of the map is Ephesus. And then comes down to the bottom right portion of the map, which is Jerusalem, and then he and those who are with him head back to Antioch. Again, this is home base. Camp out there at Antioch for a while. That’s the second missionary journey. Churches being planted all over the place. Leads to the third missionary journey. Looks very similar to the map we just looked at.
What Paul did is he sent out from Antioch; again, he’s going to all these places. All those cities where they’re stopping – churches have been formed. Disciples have been made. He makes his way down to Jerusalem in the bottom right portion of the map again. And this time he’s not going back to Antioch, because he wants to get the gospel to Spain, and so he wants to go to Rome. What actually happens when he gets done at Jerusalem is exactly what we had heard about in Acts 20 – he is imprisoned; arrested and imprisoned there in Jerusalem.
And he ends up going to Rome, but not quite the way he had planned. He ends up going to Rome in chains. But I want you to look at this map for just a second, and I want you to realize – I want us to realize that there were churches planted all across the Roman world on this map as a result of the work of the Spirit of God at the church where? At Antioch. The church at Antioch was advancing the kingdom through multiplication in places that some members of the church at Antioch never went to.
But planting churches all over the Roman world. God, may it be said of the Church at Brook Hills that there were churches multiplied and planted all over the country and amidst the nations that we may never even see. But we are advancing the Kingdom through multiplication. That’s the picture. And don’t miss this – this is where it gets even better. It’s already been good, but even better…
They Grew in Christ at Antioch Because of Their Ministry
Ninth characteristic: they grew in Christ at Antioch because of their ministry around the world. They grew in Christ at Antioch because of their ministry around the world. Let me show this to you. Look at Acts 14 – it’s the next time we see a spotlight on Antioch. Acts 14:26 – listen to what it says there. This is after the first missionary journey that we just
saw on those maps. Listen to what happened in verse 26. “From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch…” – here it is, after that first missionary journey, first map we saw, listen to what happens – “where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:26–28).
Can you just imagine that? Paul and Barnabas come back, and you gather the church around and you sit there and you listen to them talk about how the gospel is going to Gentiles all over the place. Does that encourage you as the church at Antioch? Absolutely it does! In the same way that when our brothers and sisters that we’ve sent out – the Wagners or the Ws or Dwight and Mary Kay Martin, who are here right now. The sister who is serving in central Asia that we commissioned out as few months ago and had to unexpectedly come back for a couple of weeks because of some very difficult things going on in central Asia. She’s now back. We need to be praying for her in a very hostile location that she is in as a single girl. She’s serving there.
This is the picture. We’re encouraged by them, and we have the privilege, the opportunity to encourage them, and we grow in Christ here because of our ministry around the world, and vice versa. This picture – some would think, some would even say, “We don’t want to get too busy doing stuff in all these other places. You’ll fail to minister to one another here.” But here’s the beauty: we will grow in Christ most here when we are most abandoned to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is the great picture here.
I’m convinced it’s the opposite we’ve got to be really careful of – if we’re not taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, we will plateau here in our growth in Christ. We will miss out on a global God who is making His global glory known in all the world. We want to know this God deeply. We grow where we are as a result of ministry around the world. And obviously, obviously not everybody at Antioch packed their bags and moved to another context. Some did – Paul and those who went with him did. And so there’s a picture here. Some don’t pack their bags. Some do pack their bags. But there is a mutual edification in Christ that’s going on here.
They Were Ultimately Renowned in Scripture for Reproduction
It all leads to the tenth characteristic that really sums everything up. They were ultimately renowned in scripture for reproduction. The church at Antioch was ultimately renowned in Scripture for reproduction. When you look – just think about it with me. When you look at the pages of the New Testament and you see letters to the church at Corinth, and you see letters to the church at Thessalonica, and you see a letter to the church at Ephesus.
And you realize that these churches were planted because the Spirit of God appointed men to be sent out from the church at Antioch, brothers and sisters, to leave their comfort zones and go into these other places. And what we’ve got is a whole picture of churches across the Roman world because the church of Antioch was serious about following the Spirit’s lead in planting churches all over the place.
Truly, truly we need God to deliver us from the idea that success in the church is about how many people we can get into a certain place. Success in a church is about the unstoppable, uncontrollable Spirit of God and the people of God advancing the gospel of God to the ends of the earth. That’s the picture. They were known for reproduction, and I’m convinced that it’s God’s design for us as His church.
The Church at Brook Hills…
So what does that look like at the Church of Brook Hills? And here’s the picture I want to put before you. It’s simple, intentional, I hope biblical, reproducible, cross-cultural, radical picture of reproducing the gospel.
Making Disciples Through Small Groups
It starts fundamentally with making disciples through small groups. And when I say that, I want to encourage you not even to think of small groups in a programmatic sense. I want you to think of brothers and sisters locking arms together to multiply the gospel with their lives. That’s the picture.
Every member equipped for ministry. This is the picture of the church in Ephesians 4, and I pray that it will be the picture of this church, this faith family. Not ministry in the hands of a few. Not a staff who do children’s, preschool, college, singles, senior adult ministry, but every member equipped for ministry. Students equipped to share the gospel where they go to school. College students equipped to share the gospel on their college campus. College students the ministers on college campuses. Stay-at-home Moms equipped to do ministry
with stay-at-home Moms. Corporate executives equipped to do ministry with corporate executives.
All of us equipped for ministry, and as a result of being equipped, every member engaged in ministry. Every member engaged in ministry. This is where I want to remind us that – I want to remind us why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them. Because it’s easy to lose sight of this, particularly in a church culture that replaces disciple-making with all kinds of different things. That we expect when we think church. We’ve talked about this. Just a reminder.
But if you want to grow the church today, then you need certain components. You need a performance that will draw the crowds. In order to have a performance, you need a charismatic communicator who will bring the crowds in. And in order to bring the crowds in, you got to have a place for them to come to, and so to accompany your performance you need to spend millions on a place to house the crowds. And once people come to the place, you need top-of-the-line state-of-the-art programs to keep them coming back. Programs every age, every stage, keep them coming back. That way people can drop their children off and somebody else will do the disciple-making for them.
And in order to have top-of-the-line state-of-the-art programs, you need professionals to run the programs. And if you put this equation together, then you can grow the church. But when I look at the New Testament church and I look at many of our brothers and sisters around the world, I see nothing of performances and million-dollar places that have been built with great programs and professionals who are running them. Instead, I see an emphasis on people. On the people of God equipped with the Word of God to multiply the gospel of God.
This is where I want us to realize that the goal here is not to bring as many people as possible into this building. If our goal even in reaching Birmingham is to bring as many people as possible into this building, then we’re not going to – most people in Birmingham are not going to come into this building.
Why would we want to do that when there are 4,000 people from this building today who will go into this city this week and rub shoulders every single moment of every single day with people who are in need of Christ? Wouldn’t it be better for 4,000 people to be equipped in this building to take on this city with the gospel? And now it’s not dependent on professionals and a performance and a place; it’s dependent on the Spirit of God and the people of God accomplishing the mission of God for the glory of God. May it be so!
Every member equipped for, engaged in ministry. You won’t find the state-of-the-art programs here and many places around the world where the gospel is spreading most rapidly. Instead you will find men and women who are giving their very lives to spread the gospel of Christ. And this is what we want to pray together that God would raise up. So we’re making disciples through small groups so the gospel multiplying that way, through believers who are doing community together and mission together, in the context of where we live and in other contexts.
Multiplying Churches by Sending Teams
So making disciples through small groups, and then second part – now this is the part we’ve not talked about. Second part: multiplying churches by sending teams. I want you to follow with me here. Multiplying churches by sending teams. A church is not healthy if it’s not reproducing – okay. I hear you, Cuban brother or sister. So how can we most intentionally, most effectively multiply churches?
And we’ve been thinking, talking about this for the last couple of years, and talked about all kinds of different options. Even built some things into planning, but I’m convinced God by His grace according to His Spirit has checked us pinball-machine like. Redirected and brought back this picture of if we are doing disciple-making here, and we’re raising up men and women who are equipped for ministry and engaged in ministry. Then could it be that the Spirit of God wants to say in our midst, “Set apart these people to go to this place with the gospel? Set apart this man, the leader in the church. Set apart these brothers and sisters to go together,” just like we’re seeing here at the church of Antioch?
And so elders, leadership have been praying through, studying through, thinking through what would it look like for us first to take a church planter trained at Brook Hills. Picture in the New Testament is the church is raising up pastors. The church is raising up leaders. Here in Acts 13, the church is raising up leaders who are planting churches, and they’re planting churches by sending men, so why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we, instead of coming up with all kinds of organizational strategies for planting churches, why can’t we pour our energies into raising up men who are equipped to lead church, to plant churches?
And so elders, personnel, leadership again talking about this. We’ve put word-of-mouth out. We’ve had an application online for a little over a month, and are in the process of praying through about six men. Praying that God would raise up six men, identify six men who beginning next year will begin a process where over the year during 2010 they would pour into them. Biblically, theologically, practically.
That picture in Cuba of this one church that had been planted by the first church where it started then it planted 25 others, this pastor said, “The reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because this pastor and the leaders in that church poured their lives into me. They showed me what it meant to follow after Christ and lead the church for the glory of Christ.”
And so what happens when we take a year and we pour into a brother and equip him so the end of that year – this time next year – he is equipped to go into another context to an unreached people group in the world that we have identified as a church; to go into an under-reached context, maybe in North America, where there are few churches, and to lead out in planting a church there?
But not just to go alone, or not just to go with his wife or his family, but to go with – second part – church members serving at Brook Hills. To go – Luke 10 – remember we talked about this in Luke 10? To go with a team of brothers and sisters from this faith family—individuals or couples or families, college students, businessmen and women, semi-retired, retired brothers and sisters. Maybe even a multi-generational team that we would send out as a church into a context to go together, where during this next year they would be doing disciple-making together here in the context of Birmingham, in the context of this church, and equipping one another to then go into a context in the world to plant a church for the glory of God.
And not just to plant a church, but to plant a church that is passionate about planting churches that is passionate about planting churches and so on and so on. You can’t stop multiplication that way. Now there’s a lot of details to be worked out still yet in this picture. But I want to encourage us at this point to do exactly what they were doing in Acts 13. Let’s intentionally pray as a people. Let’s pray that God would raise up leaders to plant churches from within this faith family.
Let’s pray that God would take all of our blank checks and show us in the days to come who He wants to go in different contexts. Again, some people stayed at Antioch, some went out. And so God, you, by your Spirit, raise up who you want to go out, and show us where you want us to go. You direct us. You empower us. But the picture is this time next year we have potential then to plant six churches in context around the world. And the year after that, and the year after that, and those churches planting churches. You can’t stop that.
The Bottom Line…
The bottom line is we will most effectively multiply churches when we most intentionally make disciples. Disciple-making, church-planting go together. That’s the bottom line. Now I want to show you up here on the screen a few maps that I’ve referenced before, but they’re so appropriate here I want to show them again to you.
I want to show you this first map on the screen. Now what this map shows us is regions that were known to contain Christians when the church at Antioch was founded. So Antioch is on the far right over there – Jerusalem and Antioch – and right in the middle is Rome. And you’ll see a little bit of yellow around Rome in the very middle of the map, bright yellow,
and you’ll see a little bit of bright yellow on the far right portion of this map.
That’s regions that were known to contain Christians when the church at Antioch was founded. So you’ve got a few Christians there at Antioch. Now in just a second I want to show you a second map, and the second map is going to show you regions that were known to contain Christians at the end of Paul’s ministry. So basically at the end of these three missionary journeys that were sent out from Antioch.
I want to show you the regions that were known to contain Christians then, and I want you to see if you can tell the difference. Look at this second map with me. You see that bright yellow light up right there? If you compared it with the maps we were looking at earlier, you would notice that’s exactly where Paul and those who were sent out with him from Antioch had gone and had proclaimed the gospel and had planted churches.
The effect of that one church on that map was huge. But obviously there are places on this map that are still not yellow; still not reached with the gospel. Even Spain, far left on the western portion of the map, is still not reached. So what does that mean? Does that mean the church of Antioch was a failure? I mean you tried, church of Antioch, to impact nations. All the peoples for the glory of Christ. But you didn’t make it.
Maybe you were a little too idealistic – talk about going to the people groups and the nations of the world. But before we draw that conclusion, I want to show you in just a second a map that shows the regions that were known to contain Christians within two centuries – about two and a half centuries after the founding of the church of Antioch. And I want you to see if you can tell the difference. Look at this last map with me.
Church, do not underestimate what God will do with the spread of His gospel when a church is radically committed to taking it to the ends of the earth and multiplying churches who will multiply churches who will multiply churches and take it to the ends of the earth. The question I want to ask us as the Church at Brook Hills in little Birmingham, Alabama, tonight is what kind of impact are we going to have on this last map on the screen?
Those places that are dark are most unreached with the gospel. So God, do a work in our midst, and set apart whoever you want to set apart. And do a work here among those who stay and those you call out to go that has a radical impact on that map for the glory of your name.