About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?
Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.
Unless we are careful, a church’s clear, compelling vision can dim and fade with time. We can become inward focused and lose sight of what God has called us to be and to do. To guard against that tendency, our church periodically reviews our vision and values, especially as they flow out of three key passages of Scriptures.
We want to become:
- An Acts 2:42-27 Community of Faith—a family of families that is passionate about God’s word, fellowship, worship, and prayer; where outreach is a natural byproduct.
- An Ephesians 4:11-16 Equipping Community—a place where gifted leaders focus on equipping people to serve; where the members are the ministers and the pastors are the equippers.
- An Acts 13-14 Sending Community—a strong, established church helping to strengthen and establish other churches; sending our best into ministry.
The word “establish” can have two different meanings. One meaning is “to begin.” The house of Mark & Carol Wheeler was “established” on December 27, 1980 when we were married. A second meaning is “to strengthen.” In the New Testament, the word “establish” comes from the Greek word “steridzo,” from which we get our English word, steroids. The word “establish” means “to strengthen,” “to make fast,” “to support,” or “to fix something so that it stands upright or immovable.” There is a sense in which a strong, established church is a church on steroids!
Acts 11:19-21 explains that following the death of Stephen, a persecution arose which drove the believers out of Jerusalem. Some found their way to Antioch in Syria and began preaching to Gentiles. Many believed the message and a church was born.
Antioch was the last place you would expect to find a thriving church. The city was a melting pot of at least five cultures—Greek, Roman, Semitic, Arab, and Persian. It was not known for its virtues, but for its vices. It was famous for chariot racing, the deliberate pursuit of pleasure, and the worship of the goddess Daphne. It was the Las Vegas of its day, famous for moral depravity.
And yet, in the midst of sensuality and immorality, there was such a vibrant, spiritual movement that the people of Antioch coined a new term to describe the followers of Jesus Christ. The disciples were called Christians, or “Christ ones,” first in Antioch.
The church in Antioch shared the same characteristics as the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2).
- They were committed to the Word of God (Acts 11:26).
- They were committed to fellowship and sharing (Acts 11:27-30).
- They were blessed with godly leaders (Acts 13:1).
- They were committed to worship and prayer (Acts 13:2-3).
- They followed the leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2-3).
The church sent two of her best leaders, Barnabas and Saul (later known as Paul) to begin a new phase of ministry. Paul understood his job description was to preach the gospel and establish the church (Ephesians 3:8-10). Paul’s strategy included:
- Sharing the gospel in key cities on the trade routes (Acts 13:1-14:21).
- Returning to strengthen the new believers (Acts 14:22).
- Gathering the believers into communities and appointing elders to lead them (Acts 14:23).
- Remaining accountable and reporting back to his sending church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:24-28).
- Writing letters to the churches to continue the strengthening process (Epistles).
This is the synopsis of the first half of a sermon preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 31, 2016. It is part of a series on The Church. During the second half, I reviewed the core values of our church that flow out of Acts 2, Ephesians 4, and Acts 13-14. You can read them in their entirety in the sermon notes.