19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).29 So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Persecution Spreads Faith
The stoning of Stephen scattered the fledgling church and people started traveling back to their own countries. One such group had to pass through Antioch on their way to Cyprus. Also people from North Africa were in the city. Antioch was one of the great Metropolises of the ancient world. It was named after the Greek rulers of the region, but was a town of much diversity. That such a city would be affected by the gospel was a huge step in the success of the church. The central church government in Jerusalem needed to certify that this was not a cultic heresy, but that true, orthadox faith in Jesus was at work.
Barnabas was the man for the job. He was encouraging and very practical. Upon seeing that the faith of those in Antioch is genuine, he thinks about who can provide leadership in such a diverse setting. Paul comes to mind undoubtedly because of his skills as a teacher and his education in Greek and Jewish culture. It could not have hurt that Paul was raised outside of Jerusalem and was a Roman citizen.
Two major church centers are now set up, but they are in tandem with each other. The mother church and its satellite work as one to evangelize the world. The satellite will even mobilize its resources to support the struggling believers back in Jerusalem.
Churches that are embedded in the local culture but that are also connected with a central agency stand a better chance of survival. They have both strong leadership and strong context. If the central agency mobilizes its resources to support the work in a new location rather than control it, a symbiotic relationship can develop where everyone benefits. New leaders can be grown and the satellite campus itself can develop autonomy and plant new churches.
Moody Bible Institute has satellite campuses in Michigan and Spokane. My church, The Chapel, has campuses in multiple locations. In each case a strong central team provides resources and leadership. The multisite model seems to work well in most cases, but still requires some tweeks.
Let us have a strategy to build new churches and new places of biblical learning that will advance the gospel and grow the church. May we respond well to opportunities that come through current events like the people in the time of Acts did.
- What led to a group of believers meeting in Antioch?
- How did the church in Jerusalem respond?
- What was the role of Barnabas in the founding of a strong church?
- What current events might lead to Christians moving to new cities?
- How can churches be founded that have strong context and strong leadership?