Fall 2021 Bible Reading Plan, Week 1 - 7 Characteristics of the Antioch Church in Acts 11-14
7 Characteristics of the ANTIOCH Church in Acts 11, 12, 13 & 14
Our pastors have been praying and considering the Lord's will and direction for the future path of our church. If the Lord continues to give us numerical growth, and the Lord continues to confirm... the long-term direction and plan is to plant neighborhood or district churches here in the greater El Paso geographic area, rather than building a large congregation at our current location on Leeds Ave.
With this long-term vision in view, Ricky has identified 7 characteristics of the church in the city of Antioch, found in Acts 11-14, that are essential to building a church that is able to expand, grow, identify, and train leaders in order to advance the gospel into its community. He preached 3 sermons in August covering these 7 characteristics.
Below is a brief review of those 7 aspects of a healthy, growing and advancing church:
A - Advancing
The Antioch church had a heart and desire to follow the Lord's direction to advance the gospel beyond its current location. Acts 13-1-3: 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 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.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (ESV)
N - Neighboring
The church in Antioch was not just a church that cared about cities beyond it but that was deeply rooted and known in its own city. This one sentence is telling: Acts 11:26 - And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians. Kent Hughes comments, “Cosmopolitan, sordid, voluptuous Antioch could not fit this new people into any of its categories, so a new name was born.” But how did the city come to know this about them? The implication is that they were deeply rooted in the city enough that the city could see this about them. They did not live and stay within a Christian ghetto, their lives overflowed to the city.
T - Training
One of the things you see in Antioch is a continued training of the church into leadership. Here’s what you notice about Acts 11 -- that the church very likely has no clear or named leaders because no one is named and Barnabas doesn’t just visit he stays, and he doesn’t just stay, he recruits another leader in Paul. So when we leave the church at the end of Acts 11 it seems that Paul and Barnabas are the only two leaders. Acts 11:23 - When Barnabas came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.
So Barnabas is exhorting, teaching, etc. Acts 11:26 - For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. But then we read a year or so later in Acts 13:1 - Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. So we see in addition to Paul and Barnabas, three more people appear out of nowhere. And it seems likely that these are the elders of the church. So in a year Paul and Barnabas have raised up three more key leaders. And even more than that, in Acts 13 the church must be mature and stable enough that Paul and Barnabas can leave for good without destabilizing the church. That implies that the whole church has matured, that work like appointing deacons and other leaders has gone on.
I - Interdependent
Now one of the things you see in Acts 11 and 13 that is so counter-cultural to standard church culture is the way the churches here interact with each other and work to strengthen each other. The churches here aren’t just living behind their own walls, they are interdependent, living life and ministry with each other. We see an amazing and healthy relationship between the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Tarsus. Here we see three beautiful expressions of this in Support, Mission, and Theology. Acts 14:27 - And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.
O - One-to-One
An Antioch church is a church where one-to-one ministry thrives. It is one to one ministry on Sundays and beyond Sundays. Members ministering by pointing one another upward, encouraging us to think well. Members ministering by caring for practical and spiritual needs and carrying burdens of one another. Members ministering outside the church by sharing the gospel of Jesus with friends and neighbors and coworkers. Church life is characterized by intimate discipling relationships within the churches. Matthew 28:19 - Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... Acts 2:42–47 - 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
C - Christ-Centered
Acts 11:26 reminds us of our objective: For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.
1 Corinthians 2:2 - For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The aim of the church is to lift up Christ by following Him together. As we do this we help one another grow in Christ in every area of life and as we do this we proclaim Him to others who don’t know Christ. Our church should always keep the main thing, the main thing.
H - Hopeful
In Antioch, we see a church that is full of hope in God and it makes the church boldly confident in pursuing God’s mission on the earth. It is a hope that is resilient, unshakeable, sure, and steady. A hope in light of who God is. A courageous conviction that God reigns and is working all things for good, and holds our future. And in the midst of trial and persecution, the Lord powerfully sustains His church! Acts 12:24 - But the Word of God increased and multiplied.
We are full of hope because the Lord reigns!
We are full of hope because God himself is living and active among us!
We are full of hope because Christ preserves his church!
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Review the overall future direction and concept of planting churches in districts/neighborhoods of El Paso as we grow, rather than building a large congregation at our current location. It seems some of the members missed this main overarching idea.
- Applying and tying the 7 characteristics of the Antioch church to our goal of planting churches locally makes the teaching much more impactful than a general teaching on the strengths of the Antioch church.
- Review each of the 7 characteristics for clarity and understanding and ask which ones made an impact on them.
- It is important to discuss this as a long-term strategy for our church. One that will be fleshed out as we grow. No fast decisions will be made and there will be much prayer, training, planning, discussion, explanation, and input that takes place over the years to come as we walk this vision out.
- Different churches have different visions and methods of how to accomplish this goal of planting district/neighborhood churches in the same city. We will learn from those who are already doing this and we believe the Lord will give us the strategy that best fits our ability, emphasis, and understanding of what a local church should look like.