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Clarity for Healthy Missions & Ministry

August 6, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 14:21–28

Clarity for Healthy Missions & Ministry – Acts 14:21–28

PRAY & INTRO: Building anything of consequence takes hard work and persistence. Looking for shortcuts just isn’t an appropriate approach to handling things of importance, to do them well and to make them last. Do you want sloppy design or shortcut labor on the bridges you plan to drive on, or the house you plan to live in?

How much more in the case of building something according to God’s command, and to do so in a way that honors the glory of his great name. If we know God is placing us as living stones in the church he is building, if he is making us into useful members of his body, then we know our role is to take care how we function, how we build, how we serve as under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd.

Here’s what I am getting at in our study of the last part of Acts 14 today. The pattern of the missionary ministry in Acts provides us with a model for missions that we aim to follow to this day. As Paul & Barnabas now revisit the believers where they’ve preached, and continue proclaiming Christ in the places they pass through, and return to their sending church, this section in particular gives us clarity for healthy missions (and can be applied in some ways to all Christian ministry, more broadly).

Acts 14:21–28 ESV

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 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. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

I want us to walk away from the text today seeing that the pattern of these missionaries is the healthiest way to approach missions. And there are certain principles from church planting that we can and should follow in any local church, and there are aspects of this missionary approach that we can apply to any ministry situation that the Lord already has us in.

To that end, I’ll break this into three parts based on P&B’s movements and ministry, and seek to answer the question, “How might this give us clarity for a healthy missions model (and even inform ministry where God has us)?

As Paul & Barnabas  revisit  the communities with converts, how might that give us clarity for a healthy missions model (and inform ministry where God has us)?

If you were a recent convert in any of these largely unreached areas, how would you want missionaries to handle the new conversions for the sake of the church’s stability and ongoing outreach in your area? - You’d want these more mature Christ followers to take the time with you to see you established as a healthy local church (although a younger one).

[map] P&B not only take a longer way home in order to see this accomplished, but at great personal risk. Paul was nearly killed (stoning) by the angry crowds in Lystra because of those who had pursued them in their jealous wrath all the way from Antioch and Iconium. They could have headed from Derbe south to Cilicia, passing through Paul’s home town of Tarsus on their way back toward Antioch in Syria. Such a route would have been closer, more personally convenient, and possibly much safer.

No, this is not personally advantageous, but it is what is needed for the health of the churches being established in these communities, and becomes a pattern for Paul’s practice. We’ll hear this mindset again in Acts 15:36 after the Jerusalem council.

Acts 15:36 ESV

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

And how can we tell that their concern is for the health of the local community of believers as they returned to each location (end of v. 21)?

First, the series of three interconnected things in v. 22 are about helping them have the maturity and courage to withstand hardship. P&B are striving to strengthen the souls of the disciples (people who have believed in Jesus to forgive their sin and be made right with God, now and forever… and who are therefore following him with their whole lives and have become his witnesses). As believers, whether new or old, we need God’s strength to be his people. On our own, we are fickle and finite and feeble. But through Christ, we are given the Spirit of God, and we need not fear those who can only kill our bodies (Lk 12:4-5). Can you hear P&B encouraging them with the words of Jesus, encouraging them to persevere, to continue, to keep their confidence in Christ and to keep proclaiming him? We are His (and nothing they can do to you will change that). Him we proclaim (because in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. 2:3).

So too they encourage them to continue in the faith, and tell them that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. How can telling them “suffering precedes glory” be a continuation of strengthening and encouraging them? This was the path of our Savior and it is the path of his people: through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (in this case referring to the final and perfect culmination God’s kingdom). How is telling the truth about suffering strengthening and encouraging? I can think of at least two reasons:

  1. You don’t prepare people for battle by telling them there’s no war. “I know I was just nearly stoned to death for being a faithful minister of Christ, but I’m sure that won’t happen to any of you.” … “Don’t worry, if you just have enough faith in God he’ll give you plentiful cash and plush comfort, and your loved ones will be healed of cancer. Don’t worry, there will be no persecution in America (or anywhere) if God’s people will just pray.” (Such thinking and teaching twists the intent of God’s word and his will.)

No, you get people ready for battle by providing them with training and weapons. “This isn’t even really a battle against other people. This is a cosmic battle for who gets glory in the universe, against the forces of evil for control of people’s hearts. So we must be equipped for ministry (Eph 4:12), trained for godliness (1 Tim 4:7-8), and put on the full armor of God, Eph. 6:10-18.”

  1. You are reminding them that this suffering is not a sign of God’s abandonment or lack of ability to keep his promises. No, this is the path of his people, by which he is most glorified, and the Savior has already gone before us, so the victory is already won. Therefore, our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor 4:17). We just aren’t there yet in time, … but in time and through this tribulation we will in fact enter God’s perfect kingdom and dwell with him forever. - That is rousing the hearts of the troops! “Some of us will die today, and some of us will suffer harm. But such is not defeat, because God cannot lose. Through Christ Jesus he has already proven his victory.” — “When our Captain returns, may he find us on the battlefield for people’s hearts!”

Not only did Paul revisit these churches, but he even made a practice of writing letters to the leaders and churches to help them mature, to help them deal with error and persecution (tribulations, v. 22). So on this return trip P&B would have desired that each community of believers be encouraged and strengthened to stand firm against persecution or falsehood.

And to help make sure this would last, and that the progress would continue in their absence, they appointed elders (plural) for the believers in every church (assembly, congregation). The job of the elders was to shepherd the group to stay the course. In God’s wisdom, he has determined for us that shepherding a church in the way that the Good Shepherd (who is our owner) would do it and wants us to do it, is best accomplished by a team of shepherds working together, being accountable to one another and to the congregation, working together to lead and feed, to protect and to pursue health (according to the Great Physician), to give preach and guide and provide for this body so that it is clicking on all cylinders, and every member is ministering and doing her part, or his part.

That sounds overwhelming if not impossible for anyone or any group, honestly. It’s no wonder that the next and final thing they prioritize for these local churches is prayer, entrusting them to the Lord. They had believed in Christ alone, and they still desperately need him. I just want to encourage you to pray desperately and dependently for yourselves, and for your elders. Pray that they will depend on God’s power and wisdom and not their own ingenuity or pragmatism. Pray for them that they will, in any situation, do what is most faithful to the principles in God’s word, that best represents the heart of God, that most honors God’s holiness as well as his initiative to reach lost souls, that prioritizes the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit of God in the lives of his people. Pray for God to show them what is the healthiest path forward.

And pray for the church with fervency/desperation, like P&B praying for the church with fasting (which in the NT usually accompanies seasons/moments of intense prayer). Look to Paul’s letters for examples of prayers for the church.

Here’s just one example from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Colossians 1:9–12 ESV

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Look also for such prayers in the introductory verses in Ephesians and Philippians. (also Eph 3:14-21)

P&B would depart each community having established elders and having entrusted that church to the Lord’s care.

What we are saying then is that in each place they essentially made it their aim to see the local church established and growing, able to stand firm against persecution and false teaching, faithful to Christ’s call to be set apart as his people and sent to be his witnesses (that they would be faithful disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus, who call others to follow Jesus).

This brings clarity to the objective of the missionary endeavor in specific locations: There is no quick fix, no shortcut to success. 

Imagine leaving a bunch of babies and toddlers, even young children in a house, in a town. - Welcome to the family of Christ; from here you’ll have to figure it out on your own…

Planting/establishing healthy local churches is the objective, because healthy communities of believers are the vehicle God has given us to achieve the goal of proclaiming Christ to the ends of the earth. Not the Apostles, nor one church, can reach the every ethnicity, every language group and community on the planet. This is a task for all believers. To see that achieved, we must continue this pattern of establishing healthy local churches who will grow to maturity and continue the work.

Now to our second and third questions of the text, which we can answer more briefly but are still of great importance.

As Paul & Barnabas preach the word in places they  pass   through , how might that give us clarity for a healthy missions model (and inform ministry where God has us)?

If you picture yourself on the other end of this (being someone who still needs to hear the gospel), how would you want Christians to behave while passing through your area, while encountering you on life’s path?

You’d want them to behave like P&B. In between the travel logs (star date... circa AD 47) in vv. 24-26a, they speak the word in Perga. It seems that for some reason they didn’t remain there long on their first journey through, so they take the time now on their return to preach Christ in this community.

Don’t miss this: They were proclaiming, as they have been all along, that Jesus is the only answer to the human condition and longing, our need to be right with God. - Maybe that’s why God has you here today, so that today you will repent of sin and self and respond in faith to Jesus as Lord.

What P&B do in Perga serves as a reminder that the work (the missionary endeavor) is not complete until Christ says it’s complete, and he will make that known by his glorious return. Such an understanding brings clarity to the scope of the missionary endeavor. There are more people and places yet unreached with the word of Christ, which is a healthy perspective of the grand objective of the Christ’s Church.

Imagine thinking that the game is over after one goal scored, one run scored, one basket made… but there’s still a whole lot of game left to be played.

The goal of reaching every ethnic group on the planet should motivate us to go and send more, and to cooperate together with likeminded believers in this endeavor. So our healthy missions mindset must be that the task is not complete until the final whistle blows, and there are people around us and across the globe who need us to tell them that Jesus is Lord.

And we’ve seen too that the primary missionary objective is not simply that some people would trust Christ when we evangelize, but that we work to establish healthy local churches who can stand firm for Christ and continue the mission.

And now finally, what about the missionaries? How will they be able to continue in this rewarding but difficult task? Notice what we learn here from there pattern as a healthy practice for them in their relationship to those who have sent them out.

As Paul & Barnabas return to their sending church to  report  and  refill , how might that give us clarity for a healthy missions model (and inform ministry where God has us)?

If you picture yourself as one of these missionaries, what would you need in order to remain healthy in ministry?

You’d need to do what P&B do here. They go back to “where they been commended to the grace of God for the work” (v. 26b),  “the work to which [God had] called them” (Ac 13:2), and which “they had [now] fulfilled” (v. 26). And they gather the church (v. 27), which apparently is (in this city) able to meet all together in one location, and they report summaries and specifics of things that had taken place on their missionary endeavor, and they emphasize in particular the open door of faith to the Gentiles. - This is not to say these were the first Gentiles saved in Christ, but more about how widespread and effective such ministry was becoming among the Gentiles. The cracked door has been flung open. (The success of conversions among the Gentiles will generate conversations and confusion about what is expected of these new converts… and lead to the Jerusalem council on the subject in Acts 15.)

What a time of joyful reflection for both missionaries and those who had sent them out, entrusting them and their ministry to God’s gracious working!

The second thing P&B do in the Antioch church is remain “no little time,” which is a figure of speech for saying they stayed quite a while. They needed rest and refreshment and rejuvenation and refocus. In short, they needed to report God’s work through them, but then also to replenish their tanks, to refill after an exhausting and extensive season of ministry. So they had an extended stay to refresh and rest, no doubt also plugging back into ministry there some during this extended stay. (But if you’ve ever been in this type of position, even ministry feels less stressful and more refreshing in a place where the load is carried more widely and the maturity level is shared by more coworkers, and so on.)

What a time of joyful refreshment for both the missionaries and their sending church, to have them back for a season!

This pattern of returning to the sending church brings clarity to the need for the missionaries to be healthy, to be in community, to be accountable to the body of Christ (which is accountable to Christ himself, the head his Church).

The missionaries themselves need the community and support of the church.

Imagine feeling like a stranded soldier, abandoned by the lines of support. God is sufficient to sustain us, but one of the primary means of his grace to accomplish this for us is through the church.

All of us need this is ministry. To know the prayer and support and teamwork and oversight and accountability of the community of faith working together as Christ commanded us, for our own good. - Here’s my challenge to you: If you feel disconnected or not quite connected enough, be more proactive to get connected. If you prefer to just kinda “attend” things but keep to yourself, you’re really missing out on God’s grace to you through the body of Christ as he intended it.

There’s a healthier sense of the presence and care of the Lord in our lives when we stay close to the church as the means of his grace to us. You can’t hear from God without the Bible and you won’t experience the fullness of his tender care without being with his flock.

Conclusion? - Perhaps the key thought we might conclude with is...

Notice the Emphasis on Health

Nothing happens (or everything unravels) without clarity on needing to establish healthy local churches, and without a healthy perspective of the grand objective, and without careful attention to our own spiritual health (even physical health) in ministry.

Clarity - Health in ministry for stability and longevity and productivity (like a healthy tree)




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