by Ken Kilinski
The church in Antioch became the vehicle for two areas, first the vision and second the strategy.
A minister was exhorting his flock to support foreign missions. One man loudly objected, "I don’t approve of foreign missions."
" But surely," the minister countered you know the Bible tells us to feed the poor and the hungry."
"Maybe so," the cheapskate replied, "but can’t we find something cheaper than missionaries to feed them?"
Such is often the attitude people in the churches have toward world-wide evangelization. The foremost issue seems to be money, and as a result many people are turned off toward missions, because they have never faced the real issues and answers.
What are the issues and answers raised by world-wide evangelism, and what applications can be made to these in the churches today? To that we can only reply, "When all else fails, read the directions." The first century church in Antioch (Acts 13-14) provides five basic issues and answers as they relate to foreign missions.
PHILOSOPHY OF MISSIONS
The first issue has to do with the philosophy of missions. The philosophy is the outgrowth of the mandate for missions in Acts 1: 8, where the Lord Jesus said, "You shall be witnesses unto me . . . unto the uttermost part of the earth." The issue is the Great Commission based on the mandate. The means of carrying out the Great Commission is the Great Condition, beginning in Acts 13. The answer to the issue is that the local church becomes the vehicle for the mandate, and the means of missions which is the heart and core of the philosophy.
The church in Antioch became the vehicle for two areas, first the vision and second the strategy. The church at Antioch was a great church. It had tremendous leadership. It had a significant ministry of fasting and prayer, and the believers were in tune with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God was able to communicate a vision: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (13:2).
The means of carrying out the mandate came in establishing a strategy. The strategy involved releasing Barnabas and Saul for the work to which they were called by the Holy Spirit. The leadership of that local body became involved in a spiritual strategy for carrying out the Great Commission.
The issue is still the same – philosophically, the church has a mandate and the local church must provide the means to carry it out. Local churches must get involved in the vision and strategy of world-wide evangelism. Some churches are doing with missions what Americans have done with the elderly. They have turned over to the "social security" commission of mission boards the work that belongs to the local church. The right answer is a stronger joining of mandate and means in establishing vision and strategy to fulfill the philosophy of missions.
The second issue has to do with personnel. If the issue was to be a witness to the ends of the world, someone had to plant the seeds. This required people, people who would make disciples. Where do you get the people? Usually, the appeals are made at schools- Bible colleges and seminaries – but is that the right strategy?
The church at Antioch found the answer: "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, Menaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul" (13: 1). If you. need personnel to carry out the mandate of missions, you look for men and women who have demonstrated responsibility in a church.
In this case, there were those who demonstrated spiritual gifts of prophet and teacher. They were all in the church at Antioch. They were exercising their gifts. They were not novices or unproven, but they came with the credentials of recognition by believers in a church.
The application to the issue and answer of personnel for worldwide missions is to go to the churches. Churches need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and challenge men and women for the Great Commission. The last three missionaries our church has "set apart" were all men who had a good track record in our work.
If the philosophy of world-wide missions demands people, then it becomes quite obvious that people demand provision. One of the great issues of missions is the matter of provision or support. Proportionately, it was as expensive to send a missionary to another country in the first century as it is now. Someone has to pick up the tab. In some cases, missionary support for the first year amounts to as much as $40,000 for outfitting and salary. Where will the money come from?
The answer is the churches. In Antioch the church was exhorted to "set apart" Saul and Barnabas. That actually means the believers released them to go. They released them from the responsibility of ministry in the church and the responsibility of having to support themselves.
The account in Acts 13 doesn’t say directly that they supported them, but it is certainly understood. They laid hands on them and identified with them. This involved some sort of support. It should also be understood that many times the individual missionary was required to support himself, such as the apostle Paul did in Corinth.
In application to the answer for provision for living, the churches should be involved in the support of missionary personnel. As a church we "release to the Holy Spirit" for service. We free them from obligations of service to the church and provide for them.
A missionary should be considered part of a church staff, simply serving in another area. A church should support fully those whom they send. The believers should be obligated to them. It is ridiculous to require missionaries to run around the country raising money for their own support, when it is the obligation of their own church to care for them as they would the pastor.
Churches today are often involved in the area of personnel and provision. But, sad to say, the issues and answers often stop there.
Once a church has released a man for service, that man is accountable to the church. No man is a law unto himself. Accountability is being responsible to another for one’s activity and actions. The issue then is in regard to performance. To whom is the missionary accountable? And, for what?
The answer is his home church. After their journey of eighteen months Paul and Barnabas "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" (Acts 14:26, 27).
The missionaries were responsible and accountable to the ones who sent them out, their church. They had to report the bad news as well as the good news. In this case, the bad news was what God had done with them. They were open and honest and transparent.
They told, no doubt, of John Mark’s failure. They probably reviewed what happened at the city in Antioch, how they were driven out of the city. Paul related how he was stoned and left for dead in Iconium.
But there was also the good news, how that in Paphos the proconsul believed. In Antioch the word was well received, and in Iconium they were able to demonstrate the power of God through signs and wonders. They told how in Iconium, after being stoned, Paul was raised from the dead, and that elders were appointed in every church. They were responsible and accountable to share the successes as well as the failures of their performance.
How can we apply this principle today? In our church we have weekly staff meetings and monthly board meetings to provide accountability. We are responsible to each* other for successes as well as failures. Should our missionaries be any different? If they are simply an extension of the church staff, the church needs their regular reports, monthly letters, tapes, periodic visits, so they can be accountable for their performance.
The last principle, coming to us from the church in Antioch has to do with participation or presence. The issue seems to be "out of sight, out of mind", or "absence makes the heart grow fonder for someone else." Most missionaries become a forgotten lot by the end of their term of service. Oh, they come under the great umbrella of missionary prayer, "Lord, bless the missionaries, " but they have lost touch with the people who stand behind the lines and who hold the ropes.
The church at Antioch found the answer to that problem. "And there they" (that is, Paul and Barnabas) abode long time (about a year) with the disciples" (Acts 14:28). This was a missionary furlough, not a furlough in the sense that Paul and Barnabas came home and did nothing, or simply showed a few slides, but rather they came home and reported what God had done with them; and they spent quality time with the believers in Antioch.
There is an important application of that answer, that is, missionaries need to spend time with their supporting congregations, not just a service, or just a day, or even a week, but they need to spend a long time of quality activity with the church that supports them. No missionary should need a year of furlough in the sense that we often think of it today, that is, time to travel, relax, or simply have one presentation that they give over and over again.
What they do need is integration and saturation into a church family. They need a vacation time just like any other staff member of that church, but they also need to have a responsibility, and to minister to the body as well as to be ministered to.
One of the ways our church has sought to accomplish this is to provide two missionary homes that are used by our missionary families during their furlough time. They are completely furnished. The purpose is to provide a place where they can spend a long time. They can involve their children in the local schools. They can begin to assume a ministry in the church. They can become acquainted with people who have prayed for them and make new acquaintances for prayer support in the coming years.
We have found that our best missionary relationships are with those who spend quantity and quality time with our church family.
The local church is God’s appointed means of world-wide evangelism. It is necessary to reflect on the church’s basic role in fulfilling the mandate "to be witnesses to the ends of the earth."
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