The Antioch Factor Pt.2: Farewell Pastor Paul

10 12 2007

They were two church leaders you couldn’t afford to lose…

One was a natural born pastor, an individual so given to the encouragement of other Christians that no one bothered to call him by his proper name – preferring instead to nickname him Mr Encouragement. He had a pretty impressive CV: effective small group work in a fledgling church, vital consilidation ministry in an interface area, one to one discipleship with difficult new disciples, and a reputation for generosity which would have turned any financial advisor a little green around the gills.

His companion’s background was no less impressive. He came from a city of culture and had studied in the very nerve centre of academic prowess in his given discipline (his supervisor was a household name in intellectual circles). He had an exciting testimony, with one of those ‘road to Damascus’ stories which stirred its hearers to the recesses of their souls. He brought to his ministry a profound grasp of biblical theology, hermeneutics, and pastoralia. He had also proven himself to be reliable with finance and demonstrated a level of personal accountability that was formidable.

Both of these men had settled in the same church, and had been co-opted on to the leadership team. They were bound to have brought stablility, humility, and vitality to the young church which they were leading, and been indispensable staff members and mentors for the Christians there. Now, unexpectedly, and some might even say tragically, they were moving on, moving out. These two leaders had received a ‘call’ away from local church ministry to ‘the mission field’. The remarkable thing was not that they had been called, nor that they were following obediently, but that their church was delighted with their decision, and sent them out with their full blessing. Little did the fellowship of God’s people know that they were unleashing a mighty ministry force upon the world; one which would be instrumental in seeing the Gospel advance right around the world, and whose influence would be felt millennia later.

The church was Antioch and the workers (surprise, surprise) were Barnabas and Saul. It is easy to read Acts 13 without grasping the pain and price attached to these two men being sent to serve in other lands. It is easy to imagine that their circumstances were different or less difficult than those of the contemporary church, or that this portion of Scripture cannot be directly applied to our own situation in the twenty-first century. This is what we always tend to do when the book of Acts gets a little uncomfortable…

But the truth is that the church in this area in New Testament times has set a sterling example for those fellowships which have followed in history. They epitomise (and gave birth to) the ‘Antioch Factor’ that I am propounding in this short series – that is a willingness to release local workers for global ministry, even when this hurts the ‘home church’ situation. They have proven to posterity that release can sometimes be right in ministry terms, and that the effectiveness of local ministry can be magnified by global generosity.

A number of features define this Antioch Factor. One is sensitivity. Acts 13:1-3 is a deeply moving passage. Here we see a local church (either in leadership or congregational terms) worshipping the Lord. Their seeking of the Lord is characterised by deep earnestness as they corporately covenant to fast, looking in faith to their Lord. In the midst of this meeting a voice is heard. It is not the voice of man or of committee; it is not the articulation of a wider world policy. The Holy Spirit Himself is speaking. His word is clear, concise, and costly: ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’. The Holy Spirit has called these men, and now He is calling the fellowship in Antioch to confirm that calling, and set these men apart. The church is sensitive enough to hear the Holy Spirit, and not to crowd out His counsel and command*.

The Antioch Factor is also marked out by selflessness. Here are two of the church’s most vital workers, and they are willing to send them out to work around the world, without any seeming hesitation. V3 is so rich. They don’t hastily paste together a response to the Spirit’s words; rather they fast and pray a little more, and then simply lay their hands on these men and send them out. V4 demonstrates the import of what has taken place in this simple act of sending: ‘so being sent out by the HOLY SPIRIT’. Here is the local church in step with the Holy Spirit for the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

As we look at the Antioch Factor in action in the next number of posts in this series, it will be clear that what happens in Acts 13 powerfully adumbrates the actions of countless other churches throughout the centuries, right down to our present day; fellowships who have freely sent their pastors and key workers with heavy but willing hearts. These are groups of God’s people who have sensitively and selflessly made men and women available for cross-cultural ministry, when the easier, happier option would have been to have kept them ‘at home’ for the benefit of local ministry. Bound up in all of this are the biographies of those who were willing to be sent, to suffer severance from the comfortable and familiar for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.

We will see that all of the individuals to be surveyed in coming months were the kinds of local church leaders that congregations could not afford to lose in human terms, but whom they could not afford to keep in spiritual terms; people whom the Holy Spirit had set apart to serve on different continents, in different cultures and countries, for the honour of Christ.

*We have been richly blessed to belong to an ‘Antioch Factor’ church. Armagh Baptist have embodied all of the sensitive and selfless attitudes that I am highlighting here, and we praise God for them.

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