Antioch – a missional example 1

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.


  1. There was definitely a difference in the OT as far as the viewpoint of believers was concerned. Faithful people looked forward to Christ. They lived in a Joel 2:28-32 time. NT believers now live in an Acts 2:14-21 time. In fact, Peter’s words in Acts 2:14-36 explain much of the difference.
    I suppose, however, that the question that arises from these passages regards the difference between the Spirit being “poured” out being “filled by” the Spirit.

  2. Well, as I read Paul’s letters I understand that the OT people lived and died under the law, they were in many ways condemned by it. The outstanding people like David seemed to understand something special about the relationship of the Law to the people. His Psalms, as Ken has been pointing out, are about a love for the Law and the Lord. We are freed from the burden that is the upholding of the Law in Christ, while those who did not know of it would be judged by the amount of light that they recieved.
    I suggest then, that we do experience God differently because of this relationship we have through Christ and the cross, most the resurrection. If God does not speak to us differently, then we at the very least have been granted special revelation which gives us newer and deeper insight through the person of Christ. This is mostly a corrective agreement though. Christ changed what was there, he did not set out to make a new system, or so I have been told, I have yet to really take a look at that.
    As for Christ as the Holy spirit, yes and no. The doctrine of the Trinity speaks of one God, in that sense yes, but three ‘distinct’ persons in that sense a very strong and profound no. Agree? disagree?
    Thanks for the thoughts by the way. you are keeping me thinking.

  3. yes, but, the people in the Old Testament, we have to think, were able to obey God, please Him and live according to his commands, just as we are called to today.
    I am curious as to whether there is a connection with the issue of forgiveness/atonement/expiation between the reality of ones standing then (OT) and now (NT and beyond); that sin was then covered over and looked over, but now, through Christ sin is dealt with, gone, forgiven, forgotten, finished.
    Do we today encounter God, because of the efficacy of the cross, differently via the Holy Spirit because of what Christ has accomplished in contrast to the experience of those in the OT?
    Some suggest Christ’s Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but then who comforted Christ, and who hovered over the waters with “us” in Genesis.
    And perhaps indeed we have complicated the issue itself…but the intention is one of clarity so we can not only teach correctly but also know why we are filled with the Spirit today.

  4. I was told once that Jesus sent the Spirit when he ascended, but that did not mean that the Spirit was not in the world until then. There was that prphet in the temple when Jesus was taken to be baptized and that man was supposed to be filled with the spirit. Also, the Prophets at the least were filled with the Spirit, or at least had interaction with Him, when they received their oracles. However, I believe that the finality of it was that the Spirit is now available for all, but at that time it was a select few of a more chosen nature than today when it is an accepted gift.

  5. I suppose I’m still struggling with the people of the Old Testament who lived by faith…many of which are named, remembered, and were given promises by God himself and were called friends of God. These were people who did not know Christ (but they knew the Father) and participated with God as he worked in history. So, to what degree are we different today, after Christ’s resurrection, in regards to living by/in/through the Spirit than they were?

  6. If not synonymous then at least a requisite. I do not think that it is possible to live life to the fullest without Christ as it was He who came to give it to us. When we live life to the fullest through Christ we then have access to the Father and that is only made possible through the Spirit’s presence in our life. So, synonymous no, but definately necessary for. how does that sit?

  7. It is interesting to think of it as Christianese. Did the origins of filling of the spirit have its first appearance in the New Testament. I hav e never considered that before.
    However, reading today suggests to me that I might be really creating a mountain out of a molehill. God breathed ruach is described throughout the old testament, but most specifically around the areas where the spirit is entering, has enterd or manifested itself in an individual. This is begun in Genesis, surprise surprise, when God breathed life into Adam. MAybe, being full of the spirit is Christianes of the New Testament referring back to the Old Testamental ideas of living as God has called and guides. Basically, filling of the Holy Spirit implies living life to its full! Good, bad and ugly.

  8. Thanks Rick. And no, please don’t keep your thoughts to yourself. I smile at the idea that the early church had Christianeze. I’m sure you’re right about that. Makes me wonder how Paul or Peter might have explained it to a non-Jewish seeker… Then again, they often didn’t get finished trying to explain things and the Holy Spirit just decided to show up anyways…

  9. If I may weigh in on this one. Are we making a mountain out of a mole hill? It seems that Occam’s Razor, “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one,” might come into play on this one. Could the reference to being Spirit filled simply refer to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it was early church Christianese. Paul and Peter sitting around shooting the breeze, talking about how Jesus is just oozing out of so and so, then Peter pipes up…yep, He’s Full of the Holy Spirit!”
    I Don’t Know…
    Ken, would you rather I kept my thoughts to myself?

  10. Fried worms, mashed worms, gummy worms, tape worms… I don’t even know where to begin responding! Paul, you’ve actually asked a couple questions I’ve never specifically asked before…

  11. Andrew, I think I am more confused myself! This whole Spirit thing seems to have brought about more confusion than clarity over the centuries and I’m hopeful that we can get some helpful conversation surrounding the issue.
    There are a few questions I suppose we have to deal with.
    First, in the Old Testament people were filled with the Spirit as well…only it seems more rare than after Pentecost. These were people like kings and prophets and the like; people who were in leadership or had a significant or circumstantial place of leadership for the people of God.
    Second, some suggest Jesus’ baptism (and the dove thing) meant that Jesus was then filled with the Spirit. being “led into the desert” by the Spirit does imply that Jesus was obedient to (following) the Spirit. However, how did Jesus live a perfect and sinless life without the Spirit previous to his baptism?
    Third, if receiving the Spirit is something secondary to faith then how do we know when we have received it? I recall a number of somewhat questionable “experiences” that have been justified and embraced because of, what seems to be, an unclear understanding of this “filling of the Spirit.”
    Fourth, what makes us different from people in the OT who were apparently not filled with the Spirit, but were obedient to God through faith?
    Ok, maybe we’ve opened a can of worms here…

  12. I am not sure exactly what the filling of the Spirit would be, but I Think that what you have described would be more akin to Faith. Trusting God to the point of actually putting their lives on the line. I think that filling with the Spirit could possibly be revealed in the second half of that wherein the faith is lived out. Is that what you mean? I am a little confused.

  13. albeit somewhat simplistic, could being filled with the Spirit of Jesus to be one who obeys the Father and was dependent on Him as Jesus was/is? Yes, miracles could be proof and/or presence of kingdom reality, but cannot Satan as well perform out-of-the-natural things in peoples’ lives as well?
    The men chosen were filled with Jesus-Spirit…and within the context of the time, to be a follower of Jesus by his spirit was a rather new concept (reality?) from the time of Pentecost. Therefore, those who baptized into the name of Jesus (proving their allegiance and His Lordship) and were obedient as Jesus was, were filled with the Spirit.
    Is this too simplistic in terms of being filled with the Spirit…is it the same thing you’re already saying only with different words?

  14. That is a great question. I think Spirit-filled goes beyond abilities… These men weren’t chosen because they were good accountants or administrators or table-saw-operators. They were chosen, like Andrew said, BECAUSE of their spirit and faith. Something about these men revealed a unique depth of connection with God’s Spirit.

  15. You know, that is a really good question. When I said that I did not mean a degree of spirit-filledness associating a rank, but rather just that, like was said by both Ken and the passage that people had the spirit. The difference I meant, from what Ken said, is that the seven leaders were picked because they have both faith and the holy spirit within. Not just that there were teams of people with the spirit and faith, but that they were picked BECAUSE of their spirit and faith.
    As for what it means … I suppose there is always the Pentecostal answer of signs revealed in the speaking of tongues and prophecy. But again, that does not answer what it means. I don’t know. Do you?

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