Last weekend we began our annual Global Missions emphasis. Usually, these month long celebrations of missions and missionaries come packaged to church leaders to provide a supporting structure for the challenge to pray, give, and go. For some time I’ve personally been frustrated with missions promotions because they seem to polarize and distance the local church from the foreign field. So rather than speak on the routine subject matter associated with missions and missionaries, I chose to do some foundational work on the missional church strategy and how missions works within that model.
I chose as my text Acts 13:1-3, which reads as follows: “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.’ So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way” (NLT).
The first observation about the text that I shared in worship last weekend was that sending was in the DNA of the church. The church at Antioch had been founded by disciples who had fled Jerusalem due to persecution. You can read about it in Acts 11:19-26. As the Holy Spirit had sent these disciples to Antioch to share the gospel, the Holy Spirit was again sending disciples from Antioch into more marginalized locations. I believe this act of sending was reflexive and natural for them because missions was in their DNA.
I’m fascinated that the church was so willing to embrace a new direction, especially given its limited history. I suppose they could have said, “We’ll engage our world when we are more established,” but they didn’t. As a people who had been together for less than 24 months, they were quite willing to respond to God’s leadership and join Him where He was at work.
I believe the more established something becomes, the more prone it is to exclusion. I can remember when my wife and I began dating. We were both in college and had a lot of friends. In the early stages of our dating relationship we could easily maintain and manage our friendships. But as our relationship deepened toward engagement and ultimately marriage, the more limited our relationships with friends became. In other words, the more established our relationship became, the more exclusive it became.
That principle is not just true of human relationships, its also true of organizations like the church. Within the DNA of the church of Jesus Christ lies the principle of sending. Regardless of its history, the church is rooted and founded with that essential component.
Tomorrow I’ll post my second observation about this important text. In the meantime, make sure to remember that establishment does not necessitate exclusion. Be true to your DNA.