What do you think our church is like? What other congregations would you like our one to be like? Perhaps you can think of one along the road or in a bigger town and wish that our congregation became like it. There is nothing wrong with having good models to follow as churches. Would others look at us and say, ‘I would like my congregation to be like yours.’
We don’t have to limit our search for good churches to contemporary ones. In addition, and in fact more importantly, we should look at good churches that are described in the Bible. And one of those churches was the church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30). What does Luke tell us about it in order for us to imitate it? Because that is one of the reasons he provides us with the details.
First, he tells us that it was begun by people with right priorities. They had lost a lot because they were Christians. Persecution had forced them to leave their homes and move to unfamiliar places. When some of them came to Antioch, they evangelised and worked to start a church. It is obvious that they put the gospel first, and therefore they produced, under God’s guidance, a healthy church.
Second, Luke tells us that those who came to Antioch stepped outside of their comfort zones and began to witness to Gentiles. Their comfort zone had been speaking to Jews. Perhaps we can say it is like us having as our comfort zone people brought up in church. But good churches are composed of people who step out of their comfort zones and witness to those outside. In doing so, the Christians who came to Antioch discovered that they were actually obeying the commands of Jesus. After all, he had told his followers to go into all the world. When the church in Antioch did this, they discovered that God blessed them with many converts.
Third, Luke mentions that God provided them with suitable teachers in Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas was the first teacher and his character is one that all pastors should imitate. It is said of some authors that they can pack a lot into a sentence, and Luke does so with regard to Barnabas in verses 23 and 24. He was a holy man, who only wanted to see God’s kingdom progress. And God gave him the privilege of contributing to it. He was also a humble man, willing to admit when he needed help, which he did when he arranged for Saul to join him in a team ministry. We can see that in Antioch Barnabas and Saul worked in harmony, and those are circumstances that God loves too bless.
Holiness, humility and harmony in the leadership usually result in a thriving church, one whose focus can be easily identified. So it is not surprising to discover that those outside the church decided to call the disciples by the name of Christian. It is an unusual thought to realise that we may not have the word ‘Christian’ in our vocabulary if it had not been for the effective witness of this church in Antioch.
Fourth, Luke mentions that the church in Antioch was marked by compassion on the needy. The example mentioned is the effects of a worldwide famine on the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps they took the opportunity of giving their pastors a break as well because it was Barnabas and Saul who were tasked to take the relief to that needy church. Compassionate acts are the main reason why churches have deacons courts to look after the needy, whether at home or elsewhere.
What is our church like? Which church would you like us to imitate?