Acts Lesson 33 - Phases of Effective Ministry
An effective church will always be birthing new ministries and at the same time reproducing itself around the world. That's what the early church did, and this lesson teaches you why they were so successful.
Several years ago I read Calvin Millers description of the different phases churches go through as they begin their growth and then mature.
He wrote, the first phase of a church’s life could be entitled, “Everybody over to my house for pizza stage”. If you’ve been involved with Colonial in the early years, you may remember how we could all fit into one classroom after Sunday evening’s service and a few liters of Pepsi and a box of donughts took care of it all.
Calvin Miller went on to write that the next phase could be called, “Do they have to be a member to sing in the choir?” That is also so descriptive of an early church life debate as you grow to the point that you don’t know everybody – and lo and behold, someone’s singing in the choir you’ve never met before. As we went through that phase, we chose to allow non-members to sing and usher and help in the nursery and just about anything else if they looked like they didn’t have a job at the moment. It was a dangerous thing to come to Colonial and look like you didn’t have anything to do.
One of the exciting things has been to watch Colonial go through the birthing process and began to develop – one of the exciting developments is our desire and ability to move to the next phase which could be called, “We’re a Daddy stage” - the reproductive phase of church life.
Conception, birth, maturation, and reproduction are all part of the living organism called the church. And an effective church will always be birthing new ministries and at the same time reproducing itself around the world.
Studying the last paragraph of Acts 14 is like taking a stroll through several of these phases.
Now Paul and Barnabas didn’t have Pepsi and pizza, but they did have purpose and passion.
You notice that right away – if you were with us in our last discussion, you remember how they preached the gospel in Iconium and Lystra – they endured rejection on one hand and on the other, they were worshipped as if they were Greek gods come to earth.
Their ministry was a roller coaster ride – notice again that discouraging crushing moment that Paul later alluded to in 2 Corinthians - Look back at v.19. Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. This was that overwhelming moment of despair 20. But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe “where they discussed quitting the ministry.” No! He went away with Barnabas to Derbe where they decided to come up with a new message that would be less life-threatening. No. The Bible delivers these startling words, “They went away to Derbe and preached the gospel.”
Incredible, Spirit enabling determination and persistence!
The preaching of the gospel could be considered phase one or stage one: INITIATION!
The Exclamation of Christs Truth
You’d think that after the responses they’d received – they’d change their message . . . no they continued to preach the gospel.
Just what is the Gospel?
Who defines the gospel? Tradition? Church fathers? Synods? Public opinion? Who has the truth of the gospel – who has the authority to define entrance into heaven or hell.
David declared in Psalm 119:160, “The sum of Thy word is truth”
Jesus Christ spoke of His words as truth as He said to his disciples, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. John 8:32
Paul referred to the gospel of truth in Galatians 2. In fact, in Galatians 1 he warned the church that anyone came to them, preaching another gospel, different than the one he preached, let him be accursed.
So then, the scriptures define the gospel – the clarion call of the church has and always will be sola sciptora – the scriptures alone which define the truth as opposed to the councils of men.
So, how do the scriptures, the authoritative word from God define the gospel which sets you free?
I Cor. 15 “This is the gospel which I preached to you, by which also you are saved” it’s time to sit on the edge of your seats – Paul is saying, “I’m about to define the gospel which I preached to you – and by that gospel you are saved – it is this definition that determines entrance into heaven or hell – this gospel definition makes the difference between freedom and bondage, here it is – “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Well the Greek word translated gospel is “euangellion” in I Cor. and in Acts 14. Euangellion literally means, “The good news” – it is defined in scripture as the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the dying, burying, resurrecting work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. His work is complete – you don’t add anything to it – you don’t take anything away from it – to do so would be to concoct another gospel.
Any other gospel is not good news – good works of men – you could never be good enough; adherence to a church – there will be more people who enter hell through the doors of a church or religion than heaven; baptism – philanthropy – good intentions – no – Christ died for our sins – the gospel is this – “Jesus Christ paid it all.”
Anything else would not be good news – anything else is bondage – works – enslavement. Whether it is the 9 practices of Hinduism or the five precepts of Buddhism or the seven sacraments of Romanism – they are all devised outside of sola scriptora and all have in common that fact that they lead devoted followers into religious bondage, not the freedom of Jesus Christ’s atoning cross work – alone!
The Gospel is good news that starts out with bad news . . . many people have never received the good news because they can’t get past the bad news – the bad news is all have sinned and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23; the good news is, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ Romans 3:24.
For those who’ve admitted they are sinners and ask for the forgiveness of the Savior accept the gospel and, as Jesus Christ promised, “you have been set free.” There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus Romans 8:1
Now back in Acts 14, I want you to notice the next phrase – v. 21 After
they had preached the gospel to that city and had
made many disciples...
Has it ever occurred to you that God did not call us to make converts – He called us to make disciples.
Matthew 28 is the command of Christ for us to go and make disciples from all nations.
Evangelism is simply the initial step in the journey – it is the initiation of the commission, not the completion.
Go and make disciples!
What’s a disciple?
-someone’s who’s asked for salvation
The word disciple throughout the Book of Acts is a term for those who placed their faith in Christ – those who believed the gospel message and acted upon it by asking for this salvation.
Their isn’t any distinction between a Christian and a disciple. They are one and the same. Disciple “mathetys” simply means follower, learner.
The idea that someone who has trusted in Christ for salvation is not yet a disciple of Christ is not found in the Book of Acts.
One author wrote:
READ PADDED DISCIPLE
So a disciple is someone who’s asked for it
2) a disciple is someone who’s immersed because of it
The mark of a disciple in Matthew 28 and throughout the Book of Acts is baptizomai – baptism by immersion is the literal translation of the word. It is the mark of someone who has already identified spiritually with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ -–so the burying in the water and the resurrection from the water is an outward physical demonstration of that inward spiritual decision that has already placed the disciple into the body of Christ.
You don’t get baptized to become a disciple – you get baptized to show the world you are one.
3) a disciple is someone who’s reformed in light of it.
Salvation is accomplished in a moment – discipleship is the adventure of a lifetime. It is an invitation to radical personal reformation! And you will never say, “I’ve mastered what it means to be a disciple!”
One author put it this way:
A DISCIPLE. . .
You say, well is it possible for a disciple to sin? Well, study the disciples in scripture and then don’t ask such a question. It isn’t a matter that we’re perfect, it is a matter of our progression.
I frankly believe the pews in our lands are filled with people who have no hunger for righteousness, no thought of glorifying Christ, no personal interest in Christ’s word, and no intention whatsoever in advancing Christ’s church – they are self-deceived – they are not disciples.
Paul exhorted his audience to examine themselves to see whether or not they were truly of the faith - on your own time, examine yourself according to the Book of First John and make your calling and election sure.
Don’t be deceived – a disciple is someone who’s in the process of reformation in light of his salvation.
4) a disciple is someone who is suffering because of it
We’ll hear Paul specifically deal with this subject in a moment.
But for now, here in Derbe – Paul and Barnabas are involved in making disciples – bringing people to faith in Christ, baptizing them and teaching them.
Now notice STAGE TWO: ORIENTATION!
They return to cities where the church has already been created – that is, people have already received the gospel.
The first phase is the exclamation of Christ’s truth through the gospel; This phase could be called The Establishment of Christs Church
There are several key phrases that come from these next few verses:
Notice v. 21. Again, “And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium
and to Antioch.
What astounding words – they returned!
Psidian Antioch – the place where they were driven from the city and more than likely beaten.
Iconium – the place where a plot to kill them was discovered and they narrowly escaped with their lives.
Lystra – the place where they were first worshipped as gods, then where Paul was stoned and left for dead.
They returned to all three cities. Why?
Because of the priority of establishing Christ’s church.
Notice how they did it: 22a. They strengthened the souls of the disciples.
This phrase is coupled with teaching the word in other passages such as I John – they strengthened by means of further teaching.
v. 22b. “they encouraged them to continue in the faith.”
Does this mean the disciples could lose their salvation?
No – in the N.T. you’ll discover the word faith referring to three different arenas.
- There is decisive/saving faith. - that is, the object of your faith for salvation is the person of Jesus Christ – saving faith is a transaction that occurs once for all time in a person’s life.
- Then there is doctrinal faith – the word faith is used to refer to a body of truth or doctrine – Paul told the believers in Corinth to contend for, or defend the faith.
- Finally, there is daily faith – this faith has to do with total reliance upon our Lord for the events of each day. Paul said, ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight” In Ephesians we’re told to take up the shield of faith in the daily struggle against the evil one.
Now, in Acts 14, Paul is exhorting and encouraging disciples – so he is not encouraging them to continue in decisive or saving faith – but in doctrinal and daily faith.
In fact, the next key phrase provides the context for the necessity of daily faith – notice the last part of verse 22. Continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom is presented in the future tense here – the coming Kingdom of Christ’s reign on earth and we His bride reigning with Him.
This phrase doesn’t mean you have to suffer in order to enter the coming kingdom, it simply means that suffering is to be expected.
We consider suffering a surprise event – the Bible considers suffering a standard encounter.
Peter wrote in I Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ keep on rejoicing.”
Finally, in this phase or stage of orientation as Paul and Barnabas establish Christ’s church – you read in verse 23. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The word elder here is the greek word “presbuteroi” from which we get our word presbyterian. I know it’s upsetting to see the word Presbyterian in the Bible, but their it is.
The elders were given the charge of the congregation –they were to lead the body, teaching them and guiding them.
So they established Christ’s church – with it’s leaders, ordinances, body of truth, around their commitment to their Lord.
STAGE THREE: EVALUATION!
The last part of this paragraph reveals The Excitement of Christs Work
The key phrases are, “What God has done!” and what God has opened – with reference to open doors of ministry.
v. 27. And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had
opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
The imperfect tense of the verb, “to report” indicates that the story Paul and Barnabas had to tell was so long and detailed that they didn’t accomplish it with one meeting.
This is the first missionary conference in the history of the church.
What excitement there must have been in the sending church at Antioch.
You notice that you did not read, “And when they gathered the church together, they began to report all the things that they had done – how they had opened the door of faith.”
No! Listen to what God has done with us – listen to how He’s used us.
Imagine the thrill in this congregation – the sending church at Antioch is sharing in the fruit and joy of it’s missionary enterprise.
Anything effective is going to be reinforced by human encouragement.
Paul and Barnabas didn’t breeze into town, preach an evangelistic sermon or two and move on – no, they became faithful encouragers, risking their lives even, in order to help the disciples deepen their walk, establish their church and appoint needed leadership – and commit to a body of truth.
Anything eternal is going to be accomplished by God’s involvement.
What is it about this church that can be explained only in light of God’s involvement?
I’ve been asked many times, what is it about Colonial that has caused it’s growth – I’ve been asked to teach a seminary course – a summer module in 1999 on the subject of church planting and growth – those subjects trouble me – because I’m fearful of reducing the miraculous to overheads and handouts.
I’m troubled by all the books on church growth – they tend to reduce the Sovereign to a sheet of paper with clever statements and charts.
Word got to me that a few months ago we had some preachers visit our services, listen to me preach and then leave and say, “We don’t know why that church is growing” . . . good – they came looking at the wrong things.
What is it about your life that can be explained only in terms of God’s leadership and direction?
What is it about our life as a church and our individual lives, where we are entirely depending upon Him, so that if anybody asks you about it – you have to say, “Oh let me tell you What He has done – let me tell you about the doors He has opened.”
That’s the only way to live.
The exclamation of Christ’s truth
The establishment of Christ’s church
The excitement of Christ’s work.
The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy duty model of the Christian – especially padded, streamlined and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. The disciple stands on the pages of the New Testament as the normal basic individual who is traveling toward the kingdom of God.
A disciple is a person who’s life is a conscious and constant identification with the Lord through words, behavior, attitudes, motives, and purpose, fully realizing Christ’s absolute ownership of his life, joyfully embracing the Savior-hood of Christ, delighting in the Lordship of Christ and living by the abiding, indwelling resources of Christ according to the imprinted pattern and purpose of Christ for the chief end of glorifying His Lord and Savior. This is not only the purpose of salvation, but this is the fullness of salvation – redemption from self and devotion to the Lord – and to this, every Christian is called.
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