As fire exists for burning, the Church exists for missions. It is the only organization that exists expressly for its non-members. Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ was always meant for all his disciples (Mt. 28:19-20). His promised presence accompanying his mandate, ‘I’m with you to the end of the age’, clarifies His mission is to be carried on and expedited by all who seek to follow him (Jn. 20:21) and confess ‘Jesus is Lord’. Acts 13:1-7 is the story of the Antioch Church on the move. This local church was ‘born to reproduce’ (Acts 11) and to ‘go global’! It becomes the Centre for World Missions from where Paul begins his first missionary journey. Notice the 5 leaders mentioned. Everything, including missions, either rises or falls on leadership!
1. A Dynamic Church: ‘On the Move’: Given the necessity for the church’s global outreach, we find a variety of gifts at work in this local church – particularly Word-based ‘prophets and teachers. There is diversity in the leadership type: Barnabas means son of encouragement and he was a mentor to many! Although listed first, he took a back seat for Saul of Tarsus mentioned last, once the Church’s persecutor, now the Apostle Paul a preacher and church planter. Next is Simeon of dark complexion, probably an African Jew followed by Lucius, a Latin name, from Cyrene the capital of Libya. Finally we have Manean, the foster brother to King Herod, well connected to the aristocrats. Two aspects of this missionary ‘church on the move’ are noteworthy to emulate:
1.1. Their Way of Serving: The Antioch Church’s global outreach to the world stemmed out of their relation and ‘ministry to the Lord’. Their intimate worship triggered their missionary work and global witness. There was that selfless giving of oneself, indicated by ‘fasting’ and fervent prayers. Jesus’ precious Word and prophetic Spirit showed them His command was to ‘go’- they needed a special call to ‘stop’ or to thereafter ‘stay’!
1.2. Their Work of Sending: Trusting the Lord, this church went out telling the lost. Consider her response as well as responsibility to the Commission (Latin missio = to send). Her prayer and heartbeat was missions – sending or ‘thrusting out’ workers into His harvest (cf. Matt. 9:38). Note, not only how they served but who they sent – Paul and Barnabas! They gave ‘only the best’ for the Master who loved and gave himself for them. The ‘cream’ not was not kept for maintenance but sent for missions. Truly mission-minded churches give themselves before their service or substance.
2. A Deploying Church: ‘On a Mission’: People need the Lord. While there isn’t a single verse that asks lost people to ‘come’ to church, repeatedly the church is commanded to ‘go’ with the Gospel to them! Even as a local church is being established, its members must be intentionally equipped to ‘do’ evangelism in order to extend its mission into its community and beyond. If a church does not evangelize it will fossilize; when it fails being God’s mission agency it soon becomes a missing agency.
2.1. Set Apart to fulfill the Commission: In obedience to Jesus’ Word and His Spirit’s voice, the Antioch church separated or ‘set apart’ Paul and Barnabas for missionary service. A local church can ensure evangelistic outreach by teaching its members to obey Jesus’ command to ‘disciple nations/ethne’ i.e. Unreached People Groups. Mature members often move beyond local ministry to global missions. An effective method is to help such members detect, develop and deploy their spiritual gifts in preaching the Gospel and planting reproductive churches among least reached or unengaged peoples.
2.2. Sent Away to reach every Nation: Barnabas and Paul had been already ‘called’ by the Spirit, the local church needed to commission them for their task – to go to the nations. For instance, Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, now Paul, who personally knew that God had both chosen and called him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal.1:15). Jesus has ordained all of us to go, bring forth lasting fruit (Jn. 15:16). The question is not one of ordination but deportation from our comfort zones to that specific place and ethnic group He wants us to ‘disciple’! We read how Paul and his companions set sail to six cities: Seleucia, then Cyprus, from there to Salamis through the island of Paphos to Perga and to Antioch in Pamphylia (13:4-14). Being ‘on the move’, Mark records ‘as they went, the Lord worked and confirmed His word’ (16:20).
Conclusion: The book of Acts shows how obeying Jesus’ marching orders the Church as the body of Christ became a missionary organism. She must continue to be so today! Think about this: ‘God had only one Son, and He was a missionary par excellence. Further, the only disciple who wasn’t a missionary or die as one became a traitor – Judas! Jesus’ vision for His church was always that she be a movement and not become a monument! The moment we institutionalize the ‘church’ we kill her spirit of missions. In God’s sight there are only two categories of people: (1) ‘missionaries’ who exist to win the lost, at any cost and (2) ‘mission-fields’ those who need to be reached with the Gospel, and we must do this while we can! – His Last Command; My First Concern