An example of a missional church from the Bible is the mega-congregation of Antioch in Syria. Here’s a community of Jesus Followers who 2,000 years ago intentionally shaped themselves into a hub of activity for Jesus. There are several passages in Acts and one in Galatians that give us a glimpse into the missional-mindedness of this early church. I want to highlight some of the key components of what took place among the people of this church so that we can learn today how to shape and structure ourselves as a church. I’ll start with the first introduction of the church in the book of Acts:
Acts 6:5-7 They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Nicolas is the first name we are given of a Jesus Follower from Antioch. He was a Gentile (non-Jew) who had converted at some point to Judiasm and had recently then given his life over to Jesus Christ. He must have impressed the apostles like Peter and John, for Nicolas was chosen as one of seven men to help lead and serve the growing number of people who were turning to Jesus. It’s said that these men were "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." The apostles commissioned these guys as valuable servant leaders by praying for them and blessing them by putting their hands on them while they prayed. And it clearly was a significant group that Nicolas was a part of- as Stephen and Philip are two of the heroes of the early Church. Nicolas became immersed in the missional culture of the early believers in Jerusalem. He listened to the apostles, he taught the Good News to others, he cared for the poor, and he served widows. He was instrumental in spreading the word of God. And as a result he participated in large numbers of people coming to know Jesus. It’s also interesting to note that he would have seen many priests in Israel recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and becoming obedient to him.
Though we don’t know for sure whether Nicolas made it back to Antioch to help start a community of Jesus Followers there, it can be assumed that he played a strategic role in the identity and shaping of their future missional identity.
So, below is a list of some of the key aspects about a missional church that can be pulled from Acts 6:5-7. I suspect that some of these aspects will be universal and some will be contextual. Please feel free to add a comment if you see some more aspects that I’ve missed:
- Leadership teams made up of people full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.
- Leadership teams also consist of diversity of ethnicities and background faith.
- Leadership teams are based upon servant-hood.
- Initiating happens through prayer and commissioning.
- Sustaining happens through serving others.
- Practicing happens through spreading the word of God.
- Living this out results in seeing Jesus change many lives.
- Future missional churches are birthed through existing missional leaders.