Important Things We Can Learn from the Antioch Church part 2
Jun 08, 2010 by Alex Mekonnen | 2 Comments
It was a lay initiative
The Antioch church not only gave vast scope to laymen, it was founded by laypeople. The nearest things to clergy were the apostles, and not one of them was to be seen at Antioch. The wandering refugees who put their lives at risk for Christ brought the exciting church into being. “Some of them …men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). The Lord blessed these early missionaries and “ a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
In the Western society, due to high emphasis in professionalism, there is minimal expectation from the pew to contribute to the planting, expansion, and growth of the church. In many ways the laity knows more about life, about celebration and friendship, about natural contact with their friends and families, than the clergy. The lay people are engaged in daily affairs of the society they live in. The challenges of parenting, the issues around schools, the impact of good or bad economy on their neighbors, the influence of media, etc., can be best contextualized and biblically addressed by lay people. Since every believer has direct access to God, the sovereign God can freely bestow His gift on those, whom He wants to use. The leadership in a local church has to be open and willing to see the people of God being used. The lay people can be trained, empowered, and unleashed to exercise their gifts. The platform for service and ministry has to be opened on various levels for the believers to engage according to their skills and gifting. The pastors and elders have to be intentional and deliberate to implement this point.
Timothy Tennent observed, “It was the unnamed disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene, who were the first to address the gospel to Gentiles who had no prior identity with Judaism. The early missionaries preached the gospel to Gentiles prior to Paul’s first missionary journey. They were used by God to foster arguably the most important missiological breakthrough in the entire book of Acts.” This is the origin of the church at Antioch, which some years later would be the sending church for the apostle Paul’s great missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3).
The apostles who were with Jesus Christ for three and half years, who witnessed his death and resurrection, who were the first recipients of the promised Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, were unable to make a significant breakthrough in the Gentile world. But laymen, whose name is not mentioned in the Book of Acts, were able to start a church in one of strategic cities in the Roman Empire. It was missionaries who were sent out of this church that made a significant impact in Christian history. The theology and missiology of Paul gave a different image to Christianity and made the religion global and universal in its scope.
When we teach and preach from the pulpit in monolog, it is difficult to know the talents, gifts, and backgrounds of the people on the pew. If we prayerfully and deliberately try to unleash the ministry of university students of different academic background in our church, allow teachers, medical doctors, lawyers, people in the army and governance, economists, scientist, agronomist, etc, to speak about their encounter with Christ in their work environment. All will have story of God’s grace, mercy, provision, and divine intervention in their lives that they can vivaciously share. Their story is a gospel lived and practiced not memorized. It comes out of their heart and it touches a hungry heart. The Samaritan woman is a good example.
In Africa, the involvement of the lay people in ministry is extremely high. It has made a significant contribution to the numerical growth of believers in the continent. However, depth, maturity, and discipleship is greatly lacking among the believers. Some African countries, who boast to have 80% of their population to be Christian, are the fourth or fifth most corrupt countries in the world. The incongruity between faith and action, orthodoxy and orthopraxy is alarming. As much as I encourage the ministry of the lay people, I will do injustice to the topic if I omit a precaution about the ministry of lay people who do not have adequate biblical training. Yes, the Antioch church was started by unnamed lay people. But the presence of Barnabas, Paul, prophets and teachers in the church had enabled the church to have a healthy biblical doctrine, Christ centered worship, kingdom centered outreach, Christ-like life, genuine love and unity among the believers. I’m a strong proponent of the ministry of lay people, especially those who are teachable, humble, and transparent, men and women of integrity.
Often, lay people are unpaid, are graciously and happily giving their time, and share their resources out of their love for Christ. Pastors and elders should rejoice if they have these kinds of believers in their congregations. They should honor and give proper recognition to all who love to serve Christ according to their gifts and calling for free. As the lord uses them, the lay people should remain submitted to the authority of their leaders and maintain the unity of the church. We don’t hear about those unnamed lay people struggling for power in the Antioch church.