The Significance of
Antioch and Jerusalem
To the Christian Church Today
By Philip A. Matthews
Published by Christian Challenge Ministries,
A ministry of the
Church of God (Southwest Los Angeles), Inc.
© 2007 Philip A. & Segatha R. Matthews
Unless noted otherwise, all scripture quotations are from the
King James Version of the Holy Bible (KJV).
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means-electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise-without prior written permission from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Scriptural Foundations
2. History Of The Church In Antioch
3. Lessons For Us Today
4. "Antioch" Starts From The Preaching Of The Gospel
5. Ten Real-life Examples Of "Antioch"
6. How To Revolutionize Your Church In Thirty Days
Over the centuries, God's Church in the world has continually changed. However, its basic message has not changed: We are all under condemnation as sinners, and Jesus Christ gave His life to save sinners if they will believe, repent, and make Him Lord of their lives. How to present this message to each new generation or society, without changing the message itself, has presented an age-old problem to the church. The tendency has been to hold on desperately to our various religious, cultural, and social customs, even if such policies cause the church to become irrelevant, out of touch, ineffective, and completely unable to fulfill the ministry of Jesus Christ.
However, Christians should easily know that God never intended for His church to become irrelevant because of cultural hindrances, but since the times of the Apostles, He has seen to it that His Gospel message transcends time and culture by continually adjusting the vehicles carrying the message from society to society. In other words, the Holy Spirit keeps up with the times, presenting the message of the Gospel to each current society in its own language, media, music, social applications, and other cultural attributes.
God's New Testament model has always presented a huge problem to the established church. Even in the Apostles' day, this was a major, watershed moment: "How can these Gentiles in Antioch be saved and they don't keep the customs in the law of Moses?" asked the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem (Acts 15:1). But it has always been God's intention to have and maintain an "Antioch," because the "Antioch" model of the church is the only model that does not become time and culture bound, and thereby irrelevant.
In this booklet we discuss the local church's desperate need for Antioch-type ministries. But all successful ministry is dependent upon two absolutely essential spiritual qualities: Spiritual vision and spiritual freedom. Spiritual vision is essential because it drives ministry, receiving new direction, purpose, and motivation from God through the Holy Spirit. Without spiritual vision, the church stops moving and starts drifting. But with spiritual vision, the church gathers itself and begins directing all of its gifts, burdens, resources, and spiritual energy in the direction dictated by the vision.
However, spiritual freedom is also absolutely essential. When the Holy Spirit wants a church to move, that church must possess an environment of spiritual freedom that will permit the church to make the moves God dictates. Too many times the vision is there, residing in various congregational visionaries, but the lack of spiritual freedom prevents the church from acting on the vision. "We never did it that way. We'd have to change all of our paradigms to make that happen. That sounds good, but that's against all of our rules. What will the old folks think?" These are the indications of a lack of spiritual freedom. Such attitudes will be sure to kill the vision and chase off all the visionaries, insuring that the church will lose its relevance.
Some churches have vision but no freedom. Some have freedom but little vision. Others have neither vision nor freedom. Still others-thankfully-have both vision and freedom. The prophecy in this booklet is for each of these churches, but especially for the first three categories. May God bless.
Act 11:19-26 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Act 13:1-3 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Acts 14:26-15:6 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, "That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." And the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
Act 15:22-29 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised, and keep the law:' to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul... For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
Gal 2:9-10 And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward (eager) to do.
History of the Church in
Antioch of Syria
The church in Antioch of Syria began originally as a ministry of the disciples from Jerusalem escaping the persecution following Stephen's death. Evidently at first, according to Acts 11:19, the disciples preached to the Antioch Jews only, meaning the Jews that spoke Hebrew. In verse 20 some of the disciples from Cyprus and other Greek areas began preaching to the Hellenistic Jews in Antioch, i.e., those who spoke Greek. The work grew so fast that Barnabas, a Cypriot, Greek-speaking Jew, realized they needed help and went to find the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus to bring him to Antioch.
Later, after Paul's and Barnabas' first missionary trip, in which they oversaw the conversion of thousands of Gentiles (complete non-Jews) in another city called Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14), thousands of Gentiles began flooding into the church at Antioch of Syria. It became the center of Christianity in the Greek world, filled mostly with Gentile Christians, with the original Hellenistic Jewish Christians in the minority.
Notice that Antioch of Syria was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. According to John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, "The account Josephus gives of it is that it is the metropolis of Syria, and that for its greatness... it has, without doubt, the third place among the cities in the Roman empire; meaning, that it was the next to Rome and Alexandria, Egypt." So in essence, the Christian church had established a large, thriving center in the third largest city of the Roman world. The church in Antioch thus became the second focal point of Christianity besides Jerusalem, which could rightfully be called the "Mother Church." Antioch was in essence a "mission ministry" of Jerusalem, a "daughter church," which God developed to reach the non-Jewish world.
At the beginning, there was quite a lot of interaction between the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch. Barnabas and others would shuttle back and forth between the two. However, the influence of certain factions in Jerusalem soon began to cause major problems in Antioch. Antioch, being predominantly Gentile, did not observe much of the law of Moses and the traditions of the Jewish religion. They were saved, not by Jewishness, but simply by faith in Jesus Christ, without any adherence to Jewishness.
By contrast, a large component of the church in Jerusalem continued to keep the Jewish laws, customs, and culture, although they were Christians. They believed that most of those customs were still necessary, even to be a good Christian. Some of them, the "Judaizers," went too far, even teaching that one could not be a Christian at all without keeping the Jewish laws. This attitude wreaked havoc in Antioch, so the ministers' meeting in Acts 15 was convened to settle this issue.
The final result was that the Mother Church in Jerusalem agreed to fully accept the Gentile converts in Antioch "as-is," with only the stipulations that they believe in Christ and not participate in or support in any way the prevailing practices of idolatry, which in the Gentile world was accompanied by sexual immorality, unhealthy dietary habits, and other acts of impurity. Also, as Paul summarized in Galatians, they were instructed not to forget the poor, i.e., not to cut off their interaction with and financial assistance to the poor saints in Jerusalem.
Thus, the church in Jerusalem did two very significant things: (1) It accepted the fact that the Antioch converts were true Christians, although different in many respects, and (2) It offered the "right hand of fellowship" to the leaders of the Antioch church. In other words-and here is the greatest point of all-they all learned that it is possible to be saved and approved of God without being exactly like the "Jerusalem" model.
Lessons For Us Today
Much can be said about the relationship between the church in Antioch and the church in Jerusalem because in many Christian circles we find similarities. Jerusalem was the origin and center of Christianity among the Jews. However, as the Gospel spread throughout the world, Antioch became the center of Christianity in the Greek or Gentile world. Jerusalem was characterized by an emphasis on religious traditions, doctrines, Jewish historical influences, and Moses' law, even though the church was Christian. Jerusalem was more traditional, more closed, targeted to and appealing to mostly religious people. Antioch was open to all, especially to Gentiles, less traditional, open to new paradigms, relevant and much more meaningful to non-religious people.
Here are some of the lessons and principles to be learned from the biblical history of the Antioch and Jerusalem churches:
1. God Never Intended for His Church to Be Culture-Bound.
God spent a couple of thousand years preparing the Jews to introduce Him, His way, and His Christ to the entire world. However, many scriptures prove that His plan, "from the beginning of the world," was never to limit Himself to the Jews, but to bring all people into a relationship with Him (Genesis 12:3; Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:15-18). Eventually, Jesus Christ arrived, the Holy Spirit arrived, and the church was established, with the instructions to "make disciples" out of every nation (Matthew 28:19-20). Of course, God Himself recognized from the beginning that what the church was to spread was His salvation, the personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, not the Jewish way of life. He knew that Judaism and Jewishness were not what He really wanted exported. He knew that the Jewish religious culture, even the Jewish Christian culture, was not really exportable in the real non-Jewish world.
So in addition to the church in Jerusalem, God established a church in Antioch, thus creating two distinct centers or models of Christianity. God knew that sooner or later, the center of Jewish Christianity would cease to be relevant to the rest of the world, and eventually cease to exist. Only Antioch would survive. Only Antioch would go worldwide. When we really think about it, we, meaning every Christian of today, are all products of the Christian center in Antioch, not Jerusalem.
2. The Church Applies the Principles of the Gospel to Each Individual Culture.
The method that God used to get His salvation out from Jerusalem into the world was to disperse His disciples out into the various cultures and communities of the world. He did not bring everybody to Jerusalem and try to assimilate them into Jewish Christian culture. He did not try to force every Christian community throughout the non-Jewish world to become a Jewish Christian community. Instead, He sent the church out into the various cultures and had the church present the message of the Gospel to those people in their languages with their specific social and cultural applications. In other words, they took the church to the world. The church adapted itself to the various cultures, of course keeping intact the truth principles of the Gospel. That is the only way the church has remained relevant and survived the three acid tests of (a) time, (b) changing societies, and (c) new evil inventions from Satan.
3. "Jerusalem" Represents Any History-Based Religious System.
"Jerusalem Christianity" now symbolizes any established or entrenched religious system built on years of history and tradition. This includes denominations and groups based on moves of God in the past, great men who introduced great visions long ago, a pet doctrine or interpretation of scripture, a differentiating method of doing things, a certain set of religious rituals, a set worship style complete with ancient worship songs, etc.
The process of becoming "Jerusalem" goes like this:
Step 1 Revelation and Inspiration-God's Holy Spirit moves in a mighty way among a group of people, often using a special man with a special vision and a special message to serve God in a special way.
Step 2 Evangelization-They start out spreading the Word with spiritual fire and enthusiasm, driven by the spirit of love to fulfill the Great Commission.
Step 3 Organization and Education-But as the work grows, they soon acquire a desire for more structure to solidify their gains and positions in the church. They desire to see God's move among them continue to grow, so the human tendency is to reach out and start helping God do it.
Step 4 Stagnation-However, as time moves on, society changes, new generations appear, a new social language arises, new sub-cultures become prominent, and new scientific and ethical challenges are presented, but that religious group continues to follow that man, that vision, that message, and that way of doing things. Eventually that religious group loses its anointing and ceases to speak to its world. This happens because that church is so determined to hold on to what God revealed in the past that it can no longer keep up with what He wants to say or do in the present.
This cycle-revelation, inspiration, evangelization, organization, education, and stagnation-has happened with almost every move of God since the time of Moses and the Ten Commandments.
"Jerusalem" survives mostly by two means: (1) biological births, not evangelism, i.e., through the members having children and retaining a small percentage of them loyal to the church or denomination; and (2) transfer growth, i.e., Christians from other churches joining the congregation. Very little truly "new blood" or true proselytes exist. This is because "Jerusalem" only appeals to those who either have a similar history or have the stomach for "Jerusalem"-like church traditions.
"Jerusalem" focuses on maintaining the church, not on maintaining a relationship with Jesus Christ. "Jerusalem" focuses mostly on in-reach, not on out-reach. The main purpose of "Jerusalem" is to gather people together mostly for the sake of keeping like-minded people together. This explains why in every denomination in America, churches that belong to "Jerusalem," the "religious establishment," are largely groups of older Christians trying to hold on to the history, traditions, glory, and accomplishments of that church in the past. In general, though they preach out of the same Bible and still offer a helpful Christian message as always, they have lost touch with today's culture and become irrelevant and marginal to today's society.
4. "Antioch" Represents Culturally-Relevant Christianity.
The Antioch church of the Acts represents "Antioch Christianity," symbolizing newer, culturally relevant ministries planted in the non-religious world. "Antioch" grows by focusing on the Spirit, on the Word, on "fasting, praying and ministering unto the Lord" (Acts 13:1), and on fulfilling the Great Commission. Its main emphasis is not on inviting people to "come to church," but on taking Christ and the church to the people. The definition of "church" in "Antioch" is Jesus' own definition: "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The goal of "Antioch" is simply to enable people to gather around the presence of Jesus Christ, with or without the formality of what we call a "church," i.e., meeting in a building around an organized system of religious practices. "Antioch's" main vision is to transform people by preaching the Gospel in the social and cultural language of the people being reached, offering the benefits of salvation as it applies to their lives today.
5. God's Prophetic Word to All "Jerusalem" Churches:
This, therefore, is the prophetic word that God wants to come through to everyone reading this booklet: "Every 'Jerusalem' church today must begin to prepare itself to establish 'Antioch-type' mission ministries in the larger, non-religious, even post-Christian world. This is the only way any church survives and prospers spiritually."
In American society, most churches currently are viewed as "Jerusalem." This is especially true of churches and denominations that have strong religious cultures, traditions, practices, and somewhat exclusive attitudes. Some of this may be good, even god-given at some time in the past, but it is not necessarily mandated by God for all times and all places in the future. This does not imply that God is no longer working at all within established churches and religious systems, but that the future of Christianity in general will move away from established, religious systems into less formal, "Antioch"-type ministries that are more directly responsive to the Holy Spirit and the needs of the people involved.
Christian pollster, George Barna, has already noticed the rapid growth of this shift. In his book, Revolution, he states that at the current rate of change, by 2020 or 2025, two-thirds of Americans will no longer receive their primary spiritual experience and expression from organized religion in local churches but from alternative ministries that enable them to meet God and experience Him without all the usual religious trappings.1 This will be quite a radical change in the American religious scene in just a few short years-less than fifteen years from now. The days of American "churchanity" are nearly over.
This prophetic word is being heard by other Christian leaders all over the world. Here is a quote from W. Joe Ingram, founder of Zerubbabel Ministries of Western Australia: "For a number of years God has been showing me His desire for a different type of church to the one most of us have become accustomed to. If we were to study the book of Acts, we would find two church models that have particular significance for us today. The Jerusalem church and the Antioch church. The church in Jerusalem was a great and successful church and much can be learned from it, yet it missed the mark. Clearly it was God's original church of choice, yet by Acts chapter 11 it had ceased to be the front line church of its generation, and was no longer central to the main theme of the book of Acts. It was replaced in the central purposes of God by the vibrant church in Antioch, which did not even exist in the first ten chapters of Acts.This process has a real application for all Christians today."2
The unfortunate truth-and this is what puts urgency into the prophecy that God expects Christianity to begin moving towards "Antioch"-is that "Jerusalem" doesn't simply cease to be central in God's plans or merely lose its position on the front lines. The truth of the matter is that "Jerusalem" dies! Eventually, "Jerusalem" ceases to exist.
6. How the Church of God (ELS) Should Apply These Principles.
As just one example out of many, the present-day Church of God (Evening Light Saints) falls into this "Jerusalem" church category. We, like hundreds of other denominations and church movements, are a church entrenched around our history, traditions, past revelations, church founders, 100-year-old worship style and customs, etc. As such, we must recognize that our religious culture is not to be exported, but Christ. God is expecting us to begin actively and aggressively taking the church to the world, but in a "language" and medium the world can understand and with applications that make the message of Christ relevant to those receiving it. He is expecting us to begin actively establishing "Antioch-type" ministries, even within our established churches, that will reach this generation.
The object is not to bring all of them into our church. Everybody does not have to be forced into our "Jerusalem" mold. When we plant churches or start ministries, we must be prepared to view them in the same way the mother church in Jerusalem viewed the daughter churches of the Gentiles centered around Antioch. They viewed them as "mission" ministries that didn't necessarily feed new converts into the Jerusalem mother church.
The religious and cultural traditions of us "Jerusalem Christians" are not to be imposed upon the "Antioch Christians" we reach, although we "Jerusalem Christians" may continue to practice those traditions ourselves. Thus, those churches or ministries established through the missionary efforts of the church would not be required or expected to obey every Church of God tradition or cultural practice. They would not need to be taught all about our Church of God history and background. But they would be taught and expected to obey every doctrine the New Testament clearly teaches. They would be expected to make Christ the absolute Lord and center of their lives and to possess the Holy Spirit to make them able to live a life of holiness and Christian discipleship. Of course, this is the standard "Jerusalem" itself should be living by.
"Antioch" is not about the feel-good, invent-your-own spirituality that is so rampant in America today. Nor is it related in any way to the "emerging church" movement which has abandoned many of the orthodox Christian beliefs (e.g., truth is absolute, not relative) and is now often associated with liberal theology and post-modernism. No truth should be watered down or neglected. But people ought to be able to meet Jesus Christ and experience Him fully without having to know a lot about our religious background or adopt all of our religious traditions. We need to recognize that people can be saved and get to heaven without being exactly like us.
7. "Antioch" and "Jerusalem" Can Peacefully Coexist.
This "Antioch-Jerusalem" relationship would thus allow those who are now comfortable with the "Jerusalem" (e.g., Church of God) traditions to continue to observe them, not forcing them to change beliefs that they feel are god-given convictions. At the same time, it would not force new believers in the mission ministries or daughter churches to observe anything not clearly taught by the Bible, allowing them the chance to get to know Jesus Himself without distraction or hindrance. It cannot be emphasized just how critical it is for all "Jerusalem Christians" to know this and to buy into this vision. They don't have to change all of their own religious practices, but neither should they expect everyone to be exactly like them in order to be saved.
"Jerusalem" should accept and support those leaders called by God to minister to "Antioch," i.e., "give them the right hand of fellowship" (Galatians 2:9-10). "Antioch" should not write off or reject those God has called to minister or remain in "Jerusalem." "Jerusalem" should actually jump at the opportunity to sponsor "Antioch" as its best method to help build the Kingdom in a changing world. "Antioch" and "Jerusalem" can peacefully coexist, as the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates.
8. Key "Antioch" Characteristics:
Following are several key, foundational elements that any "Antioch-type" ministry should possess in order to be biblical (and these would be good in "Jerusalem" also). "Antioch" should be characterized by:
(a) An atmosphere of spiritual freedom.
(b) Complete and honest openness to God regardless of religious traditions.
(c) Humble seeking for a fuller baptism and anointing of the Holy Spirit; a focus on prayer and hungering for God.
(d) Holiness based on and motivated by the Spirit instead of passed-down doctrines;
(e) All practices driven by the Spirit and the Word, not by selfishness, fleshly desires, and worldliness.
(f) Recognition of and reconnection to the larger Body of Christ in the world, i.e., refusing to be denominational and isolated by becoming "kingdom" Christians; actually maintaining true fellowship with "every blood-washed one," those both within and without "Jerusalem;" the practice of a greater degree of true Christian community.
(g) Determination to build the church around Christ alone, not some religious system.
(h) Determination to understand the main purpose and vision of Christ-the Great Commission, that targets the community and the world-and adopt it as the ministry's main burden and purpose for existence. The purpose of the Great Commission is to bring to pass the Great Commandment in as many lives as possible, i.e., to "go and make disciples" who will love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and physical strength.
(i) Free and expressive praise and worship, biblical but not limited by traditionalism.
(j) Fearless, single-minded determination to emphasize and worship no doctrines, traditions, or religious systems unless they are clearly and definitely mandated by the Word and Spirit. This would eliminate making non-essential beliefs and practices a test of fellowship or the basis of Christian unity.
9. Other Key "Antioch" Characteristics:
Following is a list of several other key characteristics of the "Antioch" church model, borrowed from Jim McCracken of City Hill Church:3
(a) Antioch churches are born out of the shaking and scattering of the Jerusalem Church. (Acts 8:1-3).
(b) Antioch churches are characterized by a willingness to operate outside of the Jerusalem model. (Acts 11:19-20).
(c) Antioch churches are open to brothers and sisters of all backgrounds, styles, personalities, and races. (Acts 11:22-25 through 13:1-3).
(d) Antioch churches make room for the Sauls of yesterday to become the Pauls of today (Acts 11:26).
(e) Antioch churches work with God's provision of teams. Furthermore, they both birth and adopt ministries. (Acts 11:22; 13:1-3).
(f) Although Antioch churches recognize ministry gifts, their identity is in being Christians. Since Antioch leadership teams are willing to function as peers, they can leave their titles at the door when it is necessary. (Acts 11:36, 13:1-3).
(g) Antioch churches define ministry by the present definition of the Holy Spirit instead of past accomplishments. (Acts 13:2).
(h) Antioch churches realize that togetherness is not their only purpose. There is a purpose for their togetherness. (Acts 13:2). [In probably 90% of American churches, coming together is the main purpose of the church.]
(i) Antioch churches revolve around ministry to the Lord. (Acts 13:2).
(j) Antioch churches embrace new wineskins and they are willing to die afresh to accomplish this (Acts 11:18).
(k) Antioch churches work together on a foundation of relationships not just organization (Acts 11:25; Galatians 2:1,9).
10. Immediate Conclusions:
In the true New Testament church, both "Jerusalem" and "Antioch" are necessary because both have very different spheres of influences and target audiences. Neither should disown or disfellowship the other, nor treat the other as if it is a sub-par, semi-Christian step-brother. Both are full-fledged Christian church models. God needs them both because they reach different people. God used "Jerusalem" to reach "Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria," and "Antioch" to reach "unto the uttermost parts of the world" (Acts 1:8). A church for religious folks and a church for non-religious folks.
They should both be aware of this and act like it, i.e., treat each other like they each know God's true design. What is God's design? His design is that all men come to a life-changing experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and if one church or ministry cannot reach certain people, then He will create another ministry to reach them. And He will allow the original ministry to continue reaching the people they are already reaching without labeling them as defective. This is a perfectly normal, God-ordained mode of operation that has operated in the church since its official beginning. This is not division. This is not outside of God's will. Indeed, this is the only way the world will ever be reached: It will take different groups of Christians having different spheres of influence using different means and methods to win and bond different groups of unbelievers to the same Christ.
So let's recognize this as God's plan and quit pressuring each other to fit into the same religious mold, then disowning each other when we don't. Division is refusing to recognize and accept other Christians as our true brothers and sisters in Christ. Unity is recognizing our many differences and fully accepting each other in spite of them.
What does it mean now that we know God ordained freedom to exist in His church by giving us both the "Jerusalem" and "Antioch" models of Christianity? It means that leaders with vision can immediately seek Him for direction and inspiration on expanding the influence and effectiveness of the Gospel using the "Antioch" spirit, methods, and ministries to reach our world. It means that leaders with vision no longer have to spend prodigious amounts of time and effort on trying to change "Jerusalem" and make it more relevant to this generation, but instead can spend their time and energies on building "Antioch"-with the approval and support of "Jerusalem." It means that more and more of God's people can get along together and quit charging each other with either being "old fogies" on one hand or "always trying to change things" on the other hand. And all of this is definitely pleasing to God. He promises to bless and be with those who do His will His way.
In Acts 15, the conclusion of the ministers' meeting was not that Jerusalem should change or quit observing the various traditions they were already observing, but that those traditions should not be imposed on Antioch. So here it should be emphasized: We are not trying to change "Jerusalem," but to cause "Jerusalem" to accept "Antioch." Indeed, "Jerusalem" should not merely accept "Antioch," but actively support and even sponsor "Antioch." That is the message of this booklet. And it is scripturally supported by Acts 11:22: "...They (Jerusalem) sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch..." (Acts 11:22). "Jerusalem" must sponsor mission ministries using "Antioch"-type means and methods but emphasizing the same orthodox Christian message of the Gospel.
Since the early days of the church, God has successfully moved His Gospel and His people into positions that keep them relevant and effective in whatever culture they live in. Those who will follow the Holy Spirit today will allow Him to do the same thing with them. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Amen.
Antioch Starts from the Preaching
of the Gospel
In the Acts, we find that the church in Antioch began when the believers from Judea were scattered abroad during the persecution that arose after Stephen was martyred. It happened when those believers preached the Gospel to the Greek world around them. Acts 11:20: "And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spoke to the Grecians (Hellenists), preaching the Lord Jesus." So the important thing to do is to "preach the Lord Jesus."
That is, preach the Gospel. Mark 16:5: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," Jesus instructed in the Great Commission. References to the Gospel are found in Acts 14:7; Romans 1:16; Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Peter 1:25; and dozens of other passages.
A lot of today's "Jerusalem" churches, like the Jerusalem of long ago, no longer make preaching the Gospel their primary focus and activity. Instead, a lot of emphasis is placed on maintaining church doctrines, supporting denominational efforts, and promoting their brand of Christianity. But the church is called to preach the Gospel.
It's not about the church-any church-but about Jesus Christ. Christians tend to see Christ and the church as being synonymous, so we think that promoting the church automatically promotes Christ. This is not necessarily true. Unfortunately, it is not usually true. Inviting people to church is not necessarily inviting them to Christ. Telling people what the church teaches is not necessarily telling people what Christ teaches. They are not one and the same thing. God never called anybody to preach the church, but He calls us all to preach Jesus Christ. Preaching Jesus Christ is preaching the Gospel.
Most of the doctrines, religious practices, and ways of doing things that churches promote to make their brand of Christianity unique are not the Gospel. Requiring a certain style of worship or mandating a certain way to conduct church services is not the Gospel. Worshiping on certain days or in certain ways is not the Gospel. Not using instrumental music in church worship services is not the Gospel. The Gospel is not some certain set way of interpreting prophecy or eschatology (teachings about the "end times"). Dietary rules against eating pork or drinking coffee, tea, or wine are not the Gospel. Teachings about the wearing of ties and decorations, or cutting hair, or wearing head-coverings, are not the Gospel. Requiring a certain manner of dress is not the Gospel. Histories of denominations and reviews of God's glorious dealings in the past are not the Gospel.
These practices and teachings may be good, but they are not the Gospel. This does not mean that they are not important or not mentioned in the Bible. It does not mean that belief in the Gospel will not affect one's practice regarding these various teachings. It merely means that they are not absolutely essential to salvation, but most "Jerusalem" churches want people to believe that they are.
In "Jerusalem," these kinds of things may continue to be taught and practiced by those involved there as long as they like. Remember, most of the Jerusalem Christians in Paul's day continued to practice avoiding certain meats, worshiping on certain days, putting their sons through the rite of circumcision, and other Jewish cultural traditions. But in "Antioch," these kinds of things do not need to be introduced at all. The emphases must be on getting to know Jesus Christ intimately, on living a life of absolute surrender to Him, and on helping build His kingdom in this world. Preach the Word, the Gospel, and if these issues and traditions are mentioned in the Word then it's fine to dwell on them. But most of them, for example, the issues involving specific worship styles, are not directly emphasized in the New Testament, and some are not even mentioned in the Bible at all.
Defining the Gospel
What is the Gospel anyway? The word comes from the Greek word, euaggelion, meaning a "good message" or "good news." What is the good news? First of all, we might need to ask, What is the bad news? The bad news is what we see, hear, and experience every day in this world: No matter who we are or where we live or what we have, our lives in this world are bound to be touched with varying degrees of pain, suffering, helplessness, vulnerability, fear, frustration, struggle, loss, discomfort, unfulfilled longings, and insecurity. In addition to what we have suffered as children because of circumstances beyond our control and in addition to being victimized by events that we have nothing to do with, we ourselves also make selfish decisions that produce many negative and hurtful consequences that we have to live with, although we can sometimes barely do so.
Then, after all the junk that happens in this world, everything is capped off with everlasting death, darkness, and separation from everything "good" when we leave this world. In other words, although the hell we have created here on earth is nothing when compared to the eternal hell awaiting us after this life, still our time of endless frustration here is the best stage of our existence. This dismal condition is all a result of our own sins that separate us from God and the blessings of love that He originally intended for us to enjoy forever. And there is absolutely no way in the world that we ourselves can fix this situation. It is permanent and inescapable. No amount of trying to be good from now on can ever erase the consequences of our prior sinfulness. Nothing we can do will ever restore that connection human beings once had with God, where we experienced only love, joy, peace, and perfect security. We are inexorably lost, in a world of darkness and injustice, without hope. That is the bad news.
And now for the good news. Into this hopeless situation God Himself arrives, in the form of Jesus Christ. He appears, with outstretched arms, announcing to all of us miserable wretches that He loves us and actually wants to have an intimate relationship with us after all, in spite of our sinfulness. While His loving arms are still outstretched, we crucify Him just for showing up in this world, but He expected it and actually planned it: His death serves as a substitute for our sentence of death, and His blood erases our sins so that we can now be reconnected to a holy God. It doesn't matter what we have done or how awful we have lived-He still loves and forgives us. This inexplicable love from the God of the universe lets us know how valuable to Him we really are.
Then after dying for us, He conquers everything evil by rising from the dead, thus enabling us to live a new life above the evil instead of being bound down under the evil (Romans 6:4-14). We can experience love, joy, peace, and security from another world, right here and now, despite the fact that this world continues to be just as hateful and evil as always (Romans 14:17; John 14:27; Titus 2:11). We can live righteous lives, no longer helplessly forced to keep sowing evil deeds and reaping their destructive consequences (2 Corinthians 5:14-19). We have the power for transformation, the ability to experience radical change and healing, spiritually, emotionally, personality-wise, even physically (Luke 4:18-19). We can experience freedom from fear (1 John 4:18). We can face each new day with confidence, assurance, purpose, and significance, no matter what our circumstances happen to be (Philippians 4:11-13).
That is the good news-the Gospel. To vulnerable human beings, living in this selfish, loveless world that we live in and doomed to enter an infinitely worse world in the next life, the Gospel is not merely the "good news," but the absolute best news that could possibly be presented. It is our job as Christians to preach this Gospel to this world, in whatever language using whatever medium available to get this message across.
Therefore, we are obligated by God to do whatever is necessary to present the Gospel. Pulpit preaching inside the church is only a very small fraction of what we are required by the Lord to do. How we do it should not be the main issue at all. Just do it. Utilize the media. Use the internet. Use all the modern methods, materials, and resources at our disposal. Use sports, use contemporary worship music, use child-friendly means and methods. Use education: Learn how to effectively reach this generation for Christ. Use every evangelistic tool available, depending, of course, on how the Spirit leads us to reach a specific target group.
Network with other Christians and ministries that are already successfully taking the Gospel to the people. It's not about how it gets done but if it gets done. Take whatever steps are necessary. Forget about if the methods are unorthodox or outside of your paradigms. Nothing is off limits but sin, that which is clearly forbidden by the scripture. And, remember, the limitations of "Jerusalem" should never be allowed to hinder ministry in "Antioch." If you can't do it inside the church, then do it outside the church. That is the lesson from Antioch.
The question of how the "old saints" did it should never be broached in Antioch. The truth is, the "old saints" mean absolutely nothing to the "gentiles" living in "Antioch" today. Besides, the "old saints" didn't live in "Antioch" and didn't have to deal with the post-Christian heathens of today. The "old saints" lived in a world where even sinners had morals and society had certain things it would or would not allow. The majority of the people had received some religious training in Sunday School as children, and Christianity was more or less accepted as the "normal" way to live. But today we live in a world where millions have absolutely no religious background, no concept of acceptable or unacceptable behavior, no innate sense of propriety, and a great resistance to anybody telling them what they should or should not do. If they are going to be reached at all, "Jerusalem" will not be the church model to successfully do so.
Sometimes the "Jerusalem" and "Antioch" concept is formatted as rural versus urban areas. As an example, much of our Church of God movement has always been, and still is, largely rural in nature. But it is entirely unrealistic to expect rural religion to work in the urban inner city. Accordingly, rural "Jerusalem" should not try to force its methods over on urban "Antioch." Sometimes this almost gets racial, simply because most of our urban churches are made up of minorities. Some messages and methods are ethnicity-bound. What works in the white American culture may not work at all in the African-American and Hispanic cultures, and vice-versa. Some messages and methods are age-group-bound. What works for middle-aged and elderly target audiences may not work at all for the young. Thus, it is foolish to make blanket policies and iron-clad rules to apply to all cultures. It is not wise to formulate official church policies and doctrines based on cultural issues. Sometimes this conflict might look like a conflict between young and old, or between races, or between rural versus urban areas, but the real issue is "Jerusalem" religion versus "Antioch" religion.
As a quick example of the above conflict, look at the area of music. Some church music nostalgically harkens back to the good old late-1800s, campmeeting-type, country music-inspired, harmony-rich revival songs and traditional hymns. Some of this music was sung a cappella. But none of this would go over at all in the urban inner city or in youth ministry, and it's no use to try forcing them to accept it. There is no scripture establishing traditional hymns and country revival singing as the only acceptable, "real" Christian music. Paul merely instructed us to "speak to, teach, and admonish each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with grace in our hearts to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Because music is an integral part of the prevailing social and cultural language, the church should use the music that successfully presents the gospel message to the culture it is targeting. If it does not speak the right language, its message simply will not be heard.
The Gospel must never be culture-bound. It must transcend culture-times, peoples, social customs, religious customs, etc. The Gospel must remain relevant to all times and all people because it is the only pathway to eternal life, and therefore must be accessible to all people. The human need and craving for the eternal God remains just as great in every time and place. So the Holy Spirit Itself finds a way in every culture and every time period to make and keep the Gospel relevant to that time and place. If and when the Gospel ever appears to become irrelevant, it can only be because the church, in its constant tendency to depend on human leadership instead of Holy Spirit leadership, fails to keep following the Holy Spirit.
In other words, failure to follow God is the only reason a church becomes irrelevant and no longer efficiently speaks to the hearts and minds of the people around it. God Himself would never allow His church to become irrelevant, stagnant, out-of-touch, inefficient, dispensable, etc. Those conditions overtake a church when it allows humanness-denominational attitudes, loyalty to great men's memories and past visions, fear of losing one's position or influence, reluctance to leave comfort-zones and favorite paradigms, desires for the easiest, most familiar, less threatening paths-to take over the leadership. So if your church is irrelevant, just assume that it's not God's fault but yours. Then figure out where you went wrong, repent, and start following Him.
Ten Real-life Examples of "Antioch"
Following are just a few of the literally thousands of ways a church can sponsor "Antioch"-type ministries. The guidelines to use when deciding what kind of evangelistic efforts are right for your church include: Follow the Holy Spirit's leading, know the needs of your target audience and how to communicate with them, make sure you have a leader with a burden and/or gift for that ministry, etc.
1. Go to Dual Services-Implementing this might mean that some churches need to begin using dual services-a traditional service and a more contemporary service. This is sometimes the simplest resolution for cultural accommodation, although it has its disadvantages. Thousands of churches have been doing this for years, simply because it enables the church to reach two different crowds. What determines the church's policy would be the spiritual needs of those it is targeting and trying to reach and minister to. The "blended" service idea, where elements from both the traditional and contemporary approaches are mingled together in one service, can sometimes be too revolutionary for the traditionalists to endure and at the same time too religiously culture-bound for the contemporary members to endure. So it is often wise to have dual services at two different times and even two different locations. As it has always been, it is still fairly difficult to house "Antioch" and "Jerusalem" in the same building.
2. Move Into "Antioch" and Start Something- In this scenario, the church rents an apartment in an area of the city in which it wants to do evangelism. The residents in this area might be completely different in race, culture, income level, etc., than the majority membership of the church. Use that apartment as a house church, a base to minister to that community with things like food ministries, kids clubs, family/parent support ministries, Bible studies, prayer, counseling, and fellowship, discipleship classes, educational ministries, and other felt-need ministries. Not only would the apartment house the missionary, but it could house any new convert who needs 24/7 discipleship training and a change of environment. The apartment thus becomes a tool and vehicle to reach into a needy community and set up Antioch-type ministries for the people living there. Use the tools, means, methods, and social language necessary to communicate with that culture. The beauty of this all is that a church is birthed right there in the middle of the neighborhood, down on the people's level, for the price of a cheap apartment.
But it is important to remember that the goal is never to eventually bring those new converts into the mother church, which still does not "speak their language," but to help those converts grow and reproduce in their own element. The goal is to build a core group of believers and train up leaders from within who will make the new church self-sustaining and self-reproducing in that culture. Fellowship among the similar house churches-or even with the mother church if it can be done without trouble-should occur periodically.
3. Make a Concentrated Effort to Reach College-age Young People-An "Antioch" approach must be taken to reach today's college-age young people (millennials). Schools are the steering wheel of our society, says Curt Harlow, West Coast area director with Chi Alpha Ministries (www.chialpha.com). Someone once said, "As goes the campus, so goes the culture. Our leaders are shaped in university lecture halls." It is during the college years, right at the threshold of adulthood, that millennials struggle to develop their own worldview. Here, in the university setting, at a time in their lives when most are faced for the first time with competing worldviews, is when the Church has the best chance to reach or risk losing them.
The more automated and technical our society becomes, the more we long for relationships, human touch, and someone to listen and care. Failure to find community in a church, or simply not thinking of the Church as a place that could foster relationships if they were to try it, causes a decline in church involvement among this age group. Though this generation is "highly interested" in spiritual things, a 2003 Barna Group study of today's young adults shows that they aren't necessarily looking to churches for answers to their questions. "These individuals are making significant life choices and determining the patterns and preferences of their spiritual reality while churches wait, generally in vain, for them to return after college or when [parenthood] comes," says David Kimmaman, strategic leader of The Barna Group (www.barna.org).
So what's keeping them away? In many cases, the problem lies with churches and the way in which they approach ministry, as well as the teaching in worship services. This group wants to be challenged intellectually and spiritually. But most church leaders are content to stay status quo, creating worship services that are merely watched and stale ministry programs that require little sacrifice or effort from those who participate in them. Millennials, who as a whole are estimated to spend 10 hours online weekly and receive six to 10 text messages per day, also want meaningful relationships with other people-another clue as to why college students are leaving the Church. Thus, the college years are often an optimal time for introducing unchurched millennials to a new community that shows them the love of Christ in ways that resonate with them: relationships, service, and global awareness.
4. Evangelism Website-www.christianitytoday.com/outreach/features/ideas.html. At this website you can find several new ideas for evangelism: organize a chaplaincy ministry, sponsor oil changes for single moms, marriage enrichment night, couples date night, family movie night, ESL classes, kindness challenge, gas buy-down, etc.
5. Make a Concentrated Effort to Reach Teens-Greg Stier is president and founder of Denver, Colo.-based Dare 2 Share Ministries (www.dare2share.org). After 10 years as a senior pastor, Stier realized the evangelistic potential in youth and developed Dare 2 Share to teach kids and youth workers how to share Christ. He's trained more than 30,000 teens. Youth outreach philosophy: "Effective youth ministry is Great Commission-focused. We need to give kids a mission and a vision beyond themselves."
Rudy Carrasco is the executive director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. (harambee.org) and serves as an associate pastor for Northwest Fellowship in Pasadena. For 13 years, Carrasco has focused on indigenous leadership development of Latinos and African Americans. Youth outreach philosophy: "We have a broader philosophy called 'Christian community development' that doesn't segregate youth from the rest of the body. We want to involve the whole community-with its multiple generations and ethnicities."
Len Evans has been in fulltime youth ministry since 1994. He's a regular contributor to Interlinc's Leaders Guide, Youthworker Journal, and has presented seminars at Youth Specialties' conventions. Youth outreach philosophy: "You can't have youth evangelism without discipleship. Without it, evangelism becomes event-based rather than relationship-based. Events can be a draw, but they can't be the only draw. Whatever you use to bring in a student is what you have to use to keep a student. The only things the Church has to offer that are better than the world's offerings are love and truth. Recently, 170 students came to a battle-of-the bands event we hosted-our church's biggest-ever youth event where 160 kids were non-attendees. Two weeks later, we had a follow-up event, and not one of them returned despite our sending e-mails and fliers."
Wayne Highland is the director of ministry for youth and young adults at Ridgeview Christian Church in Kansas City, Mo. For 20 years, he has worked with at-risk youth and believes that "throwing away youth" is one of the new trends in society. He's often in the courtroom with kids who need an advocate. Youth outreach philosophy: "We see our youth ministry as a port of refuge in stormy seas. We identify Jesus as the source of those safe waters." Says Highland, "I think the way to these kids is through the Gospel of hospitality, which invites young people to bring their pains, failures and insecurities to a place where they're unconditionally accepted and, over time, are brought to understand sin and the forgiveness of God."
More on this topic can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/outreach/ articles/nextgreatgeneration.html.
6. Use MOPS to Reach Mothers-To date, one of the strongest and most intentionally consistent women's outreaches in local churches is targeted to mothers of small children. Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS; mops.com) is collectively 2.5 million strong, with 40% of the women involved reportedly non-Christians. As MOPS President and Founder Elisa Morgan points out, the ministry is unique in its push to look beyond the congregation to women in the community. Says Morgan: "We want to reach the woman who is the furthest away from Jesus and have her feel comfortable in MOPS."
MOPS leadership trainer Stacie Maslyn notes how easy it is to invite a friend, a neighbor, even a complete stranger to church through MOPS: "I was at Burger King one day and saw a woman with two babies," Maslyn recalls. "She looked frazzled and exhausted. I just looked at her and said, 'You need MOPS!'" When Maslyn gave the woman a card with MOPS information, she not only showed up, she went on to become a leader, planted another MOPS group and currently works for MOPS International.
Spokane Valley Nazarene Church in Spokane, Wash. (SVNC; svnc.org), takes MOPS to a new level, seizing every opportunity to love mothers with no strings attached. At the first meeting of the year, men in the church wash, clean out and vacuum every mother's car. It is this kind of creative ministry to mothers that earned SVNC the MOPS International 2004 "Love Never Fails" award. She credits SVNC with truly understanding the MOPS ministry and assigning its own energy toward its success. Morgan believes SVNC, like many other churches with MOPS programs, is reaching beyond their walls in a significant way.
7. Organic Church-The pings of a hammered dulcimer fill a suburban American living room with worship choruses. Metal folding chairs creak. The aroma of coffee wafts through the air. A longhaired dachshund settles on the sofa with two teenage girls and their father. A toddler wanders among the knees of the group as they sing together. "Can we do a hymn?" someone asks. Used Baptist hymnals are passed around, and the group begins a cappella. By the fourth verse of "Fairest Lord Jesus," the hammered dulcimer has joined the melody line, and the singers have broken into parts. A few minutes later, the worship time ends, and the group begins to share: business successes, mission trip plans, stories of outreach during the week, the heartache of a 16-year-old boy battling leukemia. Then they pray. Elder and teacher Tom LeCompte announces a break. A few people trickle into the kitchen for coffee refills or corn chips-a taco lunch is soon to follow. When the group of 17 reassembles for the teaching time, LeCompte asks, "In what ways can our families bring glory to God?" A cell phone rings and someone steps out the front door to take the call.
Meet New Covenant Fellowship in Louisville, Ky. It's casual. It's free-flowing. It's organic. An "organic church" can be held any place where life happens, meaning . . . anywhere and anytime. In someone's living room. A neighborhood park. Even a local coffee shop. Once heard of a church started in a brewery after the manager got saved. It met at 2:00am on Tuesday mornings!
Organic church can be called many other things: house church, simple church, a huddle, etc. That's part of the beauty of organic churches-they're hard to define and generalize. They follow Jesus' own definition of a church: "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). In many ways, they are closer to the original New Testament model, although this does not mean that the institutional model is wrong or outdated. It's been estimated that over 45 million Christians meet in house churches in China, according to Operation World (www.gmi.org/ow), a Global Mapping International partner. So "church" is not necessarily some spectator event held within the walls of a large building. The most easily reproduced churches are outward-focused and group-oriented-two key characteristics of the organic church.
LeCompte's New Covenant Fellowship started six years ago with four families fellowshipping in the Louisville, KY, area. They began to gather in a different member's home each Sunday because they craved the intimacy of relationships that can, in their opinion, be better sustained in a simpler church model. Today, the church of 130 people is too big for one house, so they've divided into a number of groups that meet in 20 different homes.
LeCompte says he's excited about the potential of organic churches to adopt a more missional paradigm. He and his family spent seven years as missionaries in Kenya-where he experienced the church as a close community, a family. It is the best model for church, he says, though he doesn't believe God is done with the institutional church. "If we're going to start reaching this culture, we're going to have to start thinking about church like missionaries do."
More on this story can be found ate: http://www.christianitytoday.com/outreach/ articles/homegrownchurch.html. Several other organic church websites: House2House (http://www.house2house.com/), House Church Central (www.hccentral.com), and Church Multiplication Associates (CMA; www.cmaresources.org).
8. Multi-site Churches-A multi-site church is one church that meets at multiple locations, usually through the use of satellite and video technology. Churches began to embrace the multi-site church model shortly after 2000, and the concept is becoming increasingly popular. However, the ideas behind the current approach to the multi-site church began to stir in the 1990s, with their roots in the 1970s. Today's approach makes use of satellite and video technology to reproduce a sermon from the church's speaker, usually the pastor, geographically unrestricted.
Community Christian Church, a suburban church of Naperville, Illinois, broke the barriers of culture, race, and geography to start a remote campus in Pilsen, a troubled neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods make up the second-largest concentration of Hispanics in the United States. Because a multi-site church is actually one church at many different locations, all of the sites adhere to the same topic or "Big Idea." Community Christian's "Big Idea" is designed by church people in the suburbs. However, in the case of the Pilsen location, the music, the examples and illustrations, and some of the videos, sketches, and other materials all have to be contextualized to fit into an urban, inner city, Hispanic setting. This is "Antioch" in action.
9. Develop Men's Ministries Outside of the Church-
Men's ministries must be developed outside the typical concept of church because of the prevailing attitude that church and religion are not "manly" things to do. What does it mean to be a man, and what does it take to reach him for God? The world has messed up what it means to be a man, and it certainly doesn't care about reaching him for God. So churches have begun to create productive relationships with men through the use of the things that most men are greatly interested in: sports, hunting, fishing, adventure, cars, and relationships with women.
Through the car connection, Pastor Craig Hall of Opportunity Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington, has forged inroads with a group of men who have very few ties with any faith community. Pastor Hall says, "I've become their token minister or chaplain," he explains. "When tragedies happen in their lives, they start to open up to me and to each other...These are rough, tough guys with grease under their fingernails who don't trust the Church. But they seem to feel less threatened when they see that there are people of faith who are interested in the same things they care about and that it's okay to come into worship and begin to talk about spiritual issues in their lives. It's an absolute revelation to them that Christian men who have committed their lives to Christ can understand how they feel and what they think."
On the other side of the country, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on the outskirts of Atlanta, has deliberately focused on reaching men with the following guideline: "A church must do at least two things right if it is to reach men. First, the pastor must meet with men without women present. Second, the pastor must be open and honest if he expects to see change in the lives of the men in his church. Real men addressing real issues can bring real Kingdom change."
Nation of Jesus is New Birth's primary men's ministry, open exclusively to men. Seminars and conferences throughout the year help instruct men on living godly, Christian lives. And New Birth's athletic ministry has proven an integral tool in engaging men and youth, although programs are available for women, as well. Based on the belief that a strong body and mind equip Christians to lead strong spiritual lives, the athletic ministry is closely connected to Samson's Health and Fitness Center, located on church property. Fitness equipment, personal trainers, athletic leagues and organized classes build strong bodies, but also serve as outreach tools and healthy pastimes.
To further reach young men and youth, Bishop Long meets monthly with area school principals to discuss issues facing them and their students. When needs go beyond school resources, New Birth steps in to help, and church programs address youth issues like gangster rap, sex, crime, addictions and self-image.
10. Be Serious About Children's Ministry-Of the estimated 160 million Christians in America today, 70 percent of them accepted Christ during their childhood years. And according to Barna Research Group, eight out of every 10 of these kids who become Christians make their decision to follow Christ before age 14. These are encouraging statistics for churches with active children's ministries and sobering for those without.
When you consider these realities, the role of children's ministry, which can so often be pushed to a church's back burner, suddenly takes on new significance. What is your church doing to make the most of its opportunity to share Christ with this most valuable and impressionable age group? In order to build a solid biblical foundation that lasts into adulthood, churches need to partner with parents in working to reach kids. We have to stop thinking of children's ministry as second-hand and get parents involved in order to continue growing the Church in the future. Some churches have "parent-teacher" meetings similar to schools, where leaders and parents can partner together to pinpoint a child's needs and meet them. Other ideas include parenting classes for new parents, classes for parents of elementary kids and classes for parents of teens. By teaching everyday skills and principles, churches can help parents build community and fuel overall church growth.
Most churches with thriving children's outreach programs agree that a vision and enthusiasm for capturing children's hearts starts with the senior pastor. From there, children's directors need to change their workers' mindsets from childcare to missions work. Churches continue to abandon archaic tools like puppets and music tracks. Instead, to capture today's kids' attention and keep them excited about coming to church, many churches are using video presentation software to display clips from popular movies. The use of technology is growing in children's ministry. One suggestion is to use video clips from popular movies such as "Toy Story 2" to drive a message home, recognizing that kids often have the same videos at home and will remember the point every time they watch it.
Involving kids in missions work, both locally and abroad, not only evangelizes the unreached, but it can also teach kids how to express their faith. Plus, they experience first-hand the joy that comes with leading someone to salvation. One church hosts a "Movie Madness Event" where kids invite their friends to church to watch the "Jesus" film. Teaching the kids how to do effective evangelism is a critical part of the event. Four weeks before the event, the kids begin thinking of who they would invite. Two weeks before movie day, kids make invitations to give to their friends. Right before the event, they learn how to lead their friends to Christ.
It's all about discovering and meeting community needs. The key is not to base church programs only on what is best for the church, but instead, to take a look at what needs to happen in the community. Does this area need a preschool, parenting classes or a recreation center where kids can come after school, get help with homework and play Nintendo?
Another important idea is to give your children's ministry an exciting name and logo. This "identity" makes children feel like they are entering their own special world. Outreach (outreach.com) offers "LogosToGo," a selection of professionally designed children's ministry logos with fun names like "Promiseland," "Kingdom Kids," "Kids' Celebration," and more.
Vacation Bible School continues to be a successful way to reach unchurched children and families, although many churches only use VBS to target mainly church children. Originally, however, it was an outreach ministry. Vacation Bible School as we know it today began in a saloon as an outreach to foreign-born, unchurched, impoverished children. The program-structured around music, Bible stories, Scripture memorization, games, crafts, drawing and cooking-drew neighborhood kids and their families who had never before stepped foot in a church or opened a Bible. And as children brought the Gospel home, its impact reached beyond the kids. VBS founder, Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes of New York City's Epiphany Baptist Church, cared for the children and their families, eventually impacting other families living on the city's East Side.
What does your church's Vacation Bible School look like? Could you call it an outreach, or has it become ingrown? How can you transform an annual summertime ritual at your church into a neighborhood revolution?
Traditional VBS-promotional methods of attracting attention, including notices in local newspapers, neighborhood yard signs and fliers passed out at kid-related places like parks, pediatricians' offices or even schools still remain effective.
A 2003 United Way/University of Georgia study examining the childcare needs of two-parent and single-parent families with school-aged children indicates that 67% of all parents need some form of summer care for their children. And while this concept of VBS as daycare does have its critics, it is one way churches can connect with, and meet the needs of, unchurched families. One church recognized the need and the opportunity. They sent 10,000 fliers to kids via local schools which read, "Day Camp: Your kids will be on summer break for six weeks. Let us entertain them a week for FREE!" The phone rang off the hook from 6 a.m. until midnight for days. The 200 VBS slots filled up almost instantly-with only 40 of the kids from the church itself. As a result, 151 of the participating kids received Christ and eight new families now attend the church.
While VBS has traditionally been a daytime offering, more churches are moving to an evening format-and they're finding that an after-5 p.m. timeslot affords more opportunities for reaching out to both unchurched kids and their families, as well as other advantages, including availability of more volunteers, specifically men, increased parent involvement, higher energy levels among children, and cooler temperatures. To attract both unchurched children and parents to its evening VBS, one church erected a large tent-donated by a local party rental service-beside the church building. Underneath the enormous canopy, church volunteers served dinner to both children and parents before each evening's activities. The event drew 20% more unchurched kids than in previous years, turning VBS into more of a family event. It created a family-friendly atmosphere where both parents and children could come together to worship God.
Just as the promotional efforts and formats for today's VBS outreach have undergone a strategic makeover, VBS programming-what children see and hear when they get there-also requires a new approach. Today's children have grown up in a tech-savvy, interactive world and consequently require the same type of activity to retain their attention. Interactive programming is highly effective. One church created a Jerusalem marketplace where children interacted with boothkeepers. A field trip to a nearby sheep ranch re-created a trip to "Bethlehem."
Another church used the curriculum theme "Hooked on Jesus." On its one-acre plot, the church erected eight stand-up swimming pools and stocked them with trout. Excited kids fished all week and kept whatever they caught. By the end of the next year, their VBS drew 400 kids, most of which were from the community. The years that followed saw a mining camp with water troughs, a medieval training obstacle course, Sherwood Forest, an Indiana Jones-style archaeological dig, and a spy adventure. By 2003, that church was drawing 900 kids to its VBS-almost double the number of the church's adults-and had changed the name from Vacation Bible School to "Vacation Bible Adventure."
Follow-up is critical. Within two weeks after VBS, one pastor visits the family of every child who attends and presents them with a gift Bible. While only a few families with children have joined the church, still it has grown from 25 to 40 worshippers each week. But the best result , the pastor reports, is the 180-degree turnaround he's seen in his congregation's attitude toward outreach. Virtually every member is now playing an active role in reaching out to his or her community. Even when VBS is simply reaching the children it's designed for, the impact is eternal and revolutionary.
For more on this subject, go to the following website: http://www.christianitytoday.com/outreach/articles/neighborhoodrevolution.html.
How To Revolutionize Your Church
In Thirty Days
I have directed this revelation specifically to churches that are dying, drifting purposelessly, or plateaued. However, it would also help even churches that are apparently prospering. The two things they must all possess first are (1) a living intimacy with Jesus Christ and (2) the desire and willingness to do God's will and follow Christ's burden. With that said, here is how they can revolutionize and revitalize their congregations in thirty days.
The Prophetic Word
The Great Commission is the charter of the church of Jesus Christ. It must be at the forefront and center of every Christian congregation. If it is not, then the church loses its proper, only legitimate focus, and begins to flounder and die, even if it takes decades to do so. The church makes an effective impact on society only when obedience to the Great Commission is its driving force and reason for existence.
The main point of the Great Commission is that our focus must be on mission and kingdom-building, not on maintenance and church-building. God's prophetic word to those churches that are ineffective and floundering is this:
Quit trying to have church and start having mission. Let mission be the church's ONLY goal and motivation. Everything else that a church should be responsible for will fall into place after mission takes preeminence. It's about being loyal to God and doing what is best to build up the Kingdom, not about the survival of the church. Church maintenance will take care of itself when the church does mission.
So pull out all the stops (literally) to direct all church efforts, resources, gifts, prayers, facilities, burden, and everything, toward the mission Jesus Christ gave the church: "Go, Preach, and Make Disciples." Overwhelm the church with the mission of Jesus Christ.
(1) The first thing to do is "Go." This means that the church is to concentrate on going to find the needy, wherever they might be, whoever they might be, and whatever condition they might be in. Don't wait for them to stumble into your church. Go find them. Literally go into the highways and byways (Matthew 22:9) to find them: down-and-outters, unreached people groups, oppressed, urban ethnicities, those most victimized by society's ills, etc. Go find the "sick" that Jesus said "need a Physician" (Mark 2:17) and which He came to save and deliver. Believe me, they are not hard to find-especially if we go looking for them. Let the church begin to single-mindedly concentrate on finding people who need Jesus and the blessings He came to give. Don't just find and take in one or two, but find hundreds, even thousands, of the needy, so that the church is literally overwhelmed with them. Do whatever God leads you to do to come in contact with needy souls. Pull out the stops.
(2) After finding the needy, the church is to "Preach" the Gospel to them. This includes preaching by word and deed. Ministering to their needs is preaching by deed. Feed, clothe, shelter, educate, rescue, deliver, cleanse, and heal them. This is what Jesus told His disciples to do: "Go... to the lost sheep... And as you go, preach, saying, 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:6-8 NKJV). And this scripture applies both physically and spiritually: Heal the spiritually sick, clean up the spiritually unclean, give life to the spiritually dead, and deliver those under the influence of the devil.
While preaching to them by deed, also present to them the word of the full gospel: You may be hurting and victimized, but it is only because you have violated the Law of God through sin. We preach the Law of God so you can be convicted of your sins. The wages of sin is death-in this life and after this life. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and deliver them from its deathly consequences. He is offering life and hope to you right now if you will (a) Believe in Him, (b) turn away from your sins (repent and "deny yourself"), and (c) completely dedicate your life to Him ("take up your cross and follow Him").
(3) The third thing the church must concentrate on is "Making Disciples." A disciple is a person who imitates another, in this case, Jesus Christ. A disciple learns to be, act, think, speak, feel, look, and live like his leader. The "converts" of most Christian churches don't act, think, speak, look, or live like Jesus Christ at all. That is because most churches don't make disciples. They just get people to make decisions and repeat the sinners' prayer, then leave them free to discover who Christ is and what He is like on their own. Most churches hope their converts will assimilate the doctrine of Christ and the Christian life by osmosis that occurs once a week through the Sunday sermonette. In our post-modern world, where the typical person has absolutely no idea of what it means to be like Christ in every aspect of life, once-a-week osmosis will never happen. Hence, the pervading lack of real disciples of Christ that plagues the Christian church today.
Thus, what churches need to do is to concentrate on making disciples. Teach people the Word without diluting it for fear of offending someone. Better still, operate discipleship programs to train people out of their old lives and habits of thought and behavior into the lifestyle and ways of Christ. Open up discipleship homes where converts can undergo "24/7" immersion in the Christian faith. I am not talking about brainwashing or cultism, but true Bible-based, Christ-centric living. Actually, this was the New Testament method: "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine," "all who believed were together," they were "daily in the temple," and they "had all things in common" (Acts 2:42-47).
The Revolutionizing Results
When the church quits trying to have church and instead concentrates on mission, these are the liberating, revitalizing, revolutionizing results:
(1) The most important result is that the church aligns itself with the mind and desire of God and the burden of Christ. It becomes a reflection and expression of the heart of Jesus. This assures the church of His divine assistance for success, because it is now doing His will, not its own. Through prayer the church will discover what His mind is.
(2) This will give the church a purpose, mission, reason for existence, focus, vision, and unifying cause other than church maintenance and denominational preservation. The mission drives and motivates everything the church does. A church with a mission moves and grows. A church without a mission drifts and dies. But even though we know this, still the purpose for mission is not simply to insure the church's growth and survival, but to fulfill the will of God.
(3) Operating under mission gives the church the chance to preach the Gospel. A lot of what is preached in Christian churches today is not even the Gospel. Too much time and energy is spent honing the saints, giving them more and more head knowledge about Jesus, while the world around the church goes to hell having never heard the real good news.
(4) Giving the church a real mission will overwhelm the typical nitpicking, infighting, and emphasis on non-essentials found in the average church. These faults are the direct result of spiritual idleness. The overwhelming needs of those around us, to whom we are ministering, eclipses the need, time, and desire for dwelling on trivial matters. This is why I keep saying, "Overwhelm the church with the mission of Jesus Christ:" A church that is overwhelmed with the mission of Jesus Christ finds time only to minister to the needs of people and to maintain its relationship with God.
An overwhelmed church loses control, which can be a very good thing: It must then depend on God and the Holy Spirit rather than its customs and man-made structures just to keep its sanity. Witness this happening to the apostles in Acts 6: The church was overwhelmed, the apostles couldn't keep a handle on it, so they had to delegate ministry responsibilities to seven Holy Spirit-filled deacons to keep things from collapsing.
(5) Ministering to a different clientele-truly needy people rather than our flourishing fellow Christians-will require the church to do whatever is necessary to reach, minister, and speak to their hearts and lives. This will accomplish two things: (a) It will eliminate the tendency most churches have to stick to their traditions no matter how much those traditions hinder God's cause, and (b) It will make Bible-based doctrines the only rules to follow, practice, preach, and enforce. Whenever real ministry is done, Christians always find that mere traditions have to be circumvented because they get in the way of providing the needs of the needy. Jesus Himself offended the Pharisees by ministering outside of their traditions. Ministering Christians will find themselves forced to teach and preach Christ only, which is what they should have been doing all along.
For example, one church has a tradition that refuses to allow musical instruments to be used in the worship service. But just one attempt of trying to sing and worship with a motley group of a few hundred new converts who don't know the songs and who really can't carry a tune would convince that church that using musical instruments in worship would be nice after all. Other churches refuse to allow women to minister in their pulpits. But just one instance of a God-gifted female, willing and ready for the Holy Spirit to use her while most of the men hold back or don't come to church at all, will convince that church that women ministers are just great-and necessary.
The rule of a church operating under mission is this: Do whatever is necessary to reach, minister to, and speak to the hearts and lives of the people needing your help, as long as it does not violate plain scripture.
(6) Listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit will become tantamount when the church operates under mission. Listening to and obeying church rules would become secondary and actually disappear. Spiritual creativity, new gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and moment-by-moment working with God would become absolutely essential just to carry on.
(7) Mission gives everyone in the church a directly productive job to do, thus providing an outlet for their spiritual gifts, burdens, spiritual energy, money, physical strength, and other abilities. Harnessing and releasing the spiritual energy of every member makes the church incredibly powerful and efficient. Bivocational pastors will disappear; full-time ministry is required. In fact, operating under mission will require several members of the church to be full-time ministers. This is how it should be, because, in the light of eternity, "ain't no business but God's business." A church under mission practices this daily.
The older members will give themselves to organizing prayer efforts (praying with a definite purpose), giving, calling, administrative/clerical duties, fundraising, etc. The middle-aged members will teach discipleship Bible studies, pastor/mentor new converts, train disciples, manage homes, do public relations and fundraising, administrate, instruct, write, publish, envision and dream. The young people will lead children/youth Bible ministries, evangelistic activities, learn another language for cross-cultural ministry, do physical labor, academic instruction, transportation, advertisement, etc. Absolutely no one will be idle.
(8) Mission eliminates half-hearted shirkers, talkers, sleepers, hypocrites, dreamers, self-centered idolaters, complainers, maintainers, comfort-loving thumb-twiddlers, et. al. When the church starts moving under mission, those who have been sitting for decades either jump on board or jump off. A moving church has always run over and eliminated the "Ananiases and Saphiras" of the day. Only in a church without mission can half-hearted idlers safely survive unnoticed for years.
The pastor and leaders of the church should formulate their vision and plans based on mission, then stand up one Sunday to announce and describe it, serving notice to everyone that church as they know it no longer exists. It now exists only to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ. Any other distracting purpose is going to be neglected from henceforth. Then they should invite everybody who wants to sign on to the vision to meet together after service to pray, discuss, plan, and begin. This is guaranteed to take the church from "square one" to God-pleasing productivity and growth in one to three months.
1 Barna, George, Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the
Sanctuary. Tyndale House Publishers: Carol Stream, Il (2005), page 49.
2 Ingram, W. Joe., "The Antioch Church," http://www.zerubb.com/antioch_church.htm. Retrieved January 1, 2007.
3 McCracken, Jim, http://www.angelfire.com/mn/mcc/antioch.html.