Today we are finishing up our ACTS series for this summer and finishing up the first delegated and sponsored mission trip in the history of the Early Christian Church. To be fair – it’s had ups and down. From the highs of bringing governor Sergius Paulus to faith to the lows of being run out of Iconium, from the high of watching a host of Greeks believe in their Savior, to the low of watching their Jewish brethren hurl stones at Paul – the trip has been quite eventful.
Today we are going to find out what comes next. After they have “done mission work,” shared the Gospel and those who have heard have become believers – what comes next? That’s an important question for the Early Christian Church, but also for us.
Next weekend is Back to Church Sunday. You might invite someone to hear about Jesus. They might come. But after they’ve come, WHAT NEXT?
Curl up in these pews and take a nap?
Our goal is to examine what Paul and Barnabas do next to find guidance for what we should be involved in after “DOING OUTREACH.” Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Our chapter starts with one verse that bring us to the end point of the mission trip: They preached the Gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. (v.21) Then, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch…
First, praise God! They preached the Gospel in Derbe. It seems uneventful, but it is very eventful! There aren’t any stones or riots, but there are people whose broken sinful hearts are healed with the message that Jesus is their Savior form sin. It might not look all that impressive on the outside, but inwardly – it’s amazing! They have come to faith in their Savior. They are forgiven. They are saved. They now have the promise of heaven!
Second, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.
Do you remember what happened there?
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob chased them out of the city.
In Iconium, a mob plotted to kill him.
In Pisidian Antioch, a mob threw stones at Paul in an attempt to kill him!
Why would Paul and Barnabas go back there?
To argue with the Jews?
To find a phone charger they left behind?
To stop at their favorite Chicken Wing joint?
They went strengthening the disciples (v.22)
Have you ever had a personal trainer? I had one that seemed like a lot of fun. They smile a lot. They are excited to have you in their gym. They give you a lot of high fives. They work you until you start to sweat.
But then, about half way through the workout, something changes. You get tired. You drop the weight. You put your hands on your hips to take a break and they walk over to you, smile and shout:
“WHAT ARE YOU, LAZY? PICK THAT BACK UP! YOU NEED TO GET STRONGER!!!”
And you pick that weight up.
You cry a little. But you pick it up.
Why do coaches do that? To strengthen you. A good coach will push you in order to strengthen you, so you can be stronger.
Essentially that is why Paul and Barnabas return to these cities.
They knew that there were believers in each of those cities.
They knew that those believers would be under attack.
They knew that those believers would need their faith exercised so it would be strong enough to endure those future attacks.
Here’s the truth for us: NEW believers/young in faith believers need their faith strengthened. No matter who it is; no matter how strong they seem to believe; our work is not done when someone says, “Thanks for inviting me to church that one time. I enjoyed it.” Nope. It doesn’t end when they confess their faith in Jesus for the first time. It doesn’t end with Baptism. It doesn’t even end when they become a member of our congregation. It doesn’t end with Confirmation, either.
After evangelism, the next step is discipleship.
Discipleship was key for the early Christian church.
Discipleship needs to be key for us.
Here are some of the ways that Paul and Barnabas went about discipleship:
New Christians needed encouragement. While their life might be transformed by Jesus, they were still relatively new to this whole Jesus thing. They needed encouragement to remain true to the faith. It’s easy to see why:
Those around them worshipped other gods.
Those around them hated Christianity.
Those around them did not think they should be Christians and would have no problem reporting them to the authorities to get them to renounce their faith.
It was very important for Christians to encourage each other.
The same is true today.
Brothers and sisters, we need to encourage each other.
Encourage each other with God’s Word.
Encourage each other in prayer.
Encourage each other via email.
Encourage each other via text message.
Encourage each other via high five.
Encourage each other via an invitation out to lunch where you ask them how things are going, listen to their struggles and speak the Gospel to uplift them.
And while you are encouraging, don’t forget the second key thing for Church members to offer each other:
2) Reminders of the End Game
I remember when we were in Arizona at the beginning of summer, we had the chance to go down into the Grand Canyon. There is a 6-mile down walk that you can go down to get to this ledge in the middle of the canyon that is supposedly gorgeous.
About the first mile down, I was super excited.
About the third mile, I was still feeling ok about it.
About 5 miles in, soaked in sweat, sweltering in the desert heat and muscles aching, I thought: “Eh! You know what…I bet there are pictures of the Grand Canyon on Google Images…”
But we pushed through and can I tell you – it was beautiful.
It was gorgeous.
It was worth it.
The truth is that living the Christian faith can be very challenging.
Because the devil will do anything and everything to make you fall from faith.
Coworkers ridicule you.
Family members question you.
You start to feel a bit of the heat that Paul and Barnabas felt on their journey.
That’s why Paul reminded early Christians of the end game!
Because in the end, they would see Jesus.
In the end, they would see heaven.
In the end, they would be guilt free.
In the end, they would live forever.
This is important for us to remember.
It’s important for us to remind new believers about.
It’s important for us to remind long time believers about.
3) Developed Ministry Positions to Address Discipleship
Specifically, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord. (v.23) Because the reality was that Paul and Barnabas could not be in Iconium, Pisidian Antioch and Lystra all at once. If you add in Derbe and Cyprus and all the places that they still wanted to go, this was downright impossible. There needed to be people in the congregation whose specific job it was to disciple the other believers in the congregation.
It's kind of like when you delegate chores to your kids. Someone has to clean the bathroom. And here’s the thing – if you ever give kids the choice of what they’d like to do for a chore, none of them ever pick CLEANING THE BATHROOM! Who says, “I would really love to scrape old toothpaste scum from sister’s toothbrush off of the sink!” No one.
So, you delegate. Someone is assigned the chore. It gets done.
That’s exactly what Paul and Barnabas did at these churches that they went to. In each church, they delegated and specifically assigned leaders to the church with the express purpose of strengthening and encouraging the members when Paul and Barnabas weren’t there.
We have similar positions in our church. Did you know that? We have leadership whose specific purpose it is to disciple you. That’s what a pastor is. My goal is to share the Gospel with the unbelieving in the community and disciple you believers in this congregation.
We also have elders who help specifically with the discipling aspect. They encourage you to get into church and Bible study. In other words, they tell you to get into God’s Word because they want you to grow your faith and stay strong against Satan’s attacks.
Could you do me a favor?
If one of these elders calls to talk to you or send you an email to encourage you to join us for church…
Please don’t be rude.
Don’t be upset.
Don’t start thinking “How dare they!”
Be thankful because they care.
Be thankful because they are doing the task assigned to them by our church.
Be thankful because they are doing the task commanded by God.
Be thankful because they want you to have a strong faith.
Be thankful because they want you in heaven.
After Paul and Barnabas finish their tour of these new churches, they went back down to their home church in Antioch Syria. That’s the church that funded and commissioned the mission trip. When they arrived, Paul and Barnabas did not just segue into congregational life. They don’t just go back to their daily business. They don’t just grab snacks and cookies from the fellowship hall and blend in near the back.
Nope. They had a task to do – even in this more mature in faith congregation.
What was it?
They celebrated the work that God has done.
They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (V.27)
I think that’s key for us. We need to stay encouraged as people “doing outreach.” One way to stay encouraged is to share stories of God’s grace and love.
Like Lowell. Lowell was the brother-in-law of my Professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A few weeks ago, my professor called me on the phone and left a message for me to call back. (Initially, I thought I was in trouble – maybe they found out that I was missing an assignment or something). But no – that wasn’t the case. He was calling to tell me that Lowell, who lived in Raleigh, hadn’t visited church since we had the Seminary Choir visit us – the choir that this professor directed – about 7 years ago.
He was sick.
He was near hospice.
He was troubled by his sins and needed a pastor.
I was able to visit him.
I was able to talk with him.
I was able to tell him about his Savior.
I was able (privileged and blessed) to hear him confess his faith in his Savior.
That’s awesome! Friends – we were a part of ushering someone to faith in Jesus – and ultimately – to his home in heaven!
And I do mean we!
I’m not here if you didn’t call me.
I’m not joyful if you don’t encourage me.
I’m not freed up to do that ministry if you don’t bless us with gifts.
We do mission work TOGETHER.
Paul thought the same way. That’s why he gathered the church “Together” to talk about the mission work. The whole church was a part of this mission work. The whole church had a part in the governor coming to faith, the Gentiles seeing the light, the Gospel making its way to Derbe! It wasn’t just Paul. It wasn’t just Barnabas. It was all of them.
And make no mistake.
When we do New Member Sunday in a week…
When visitors join us for Back to Church Sunday…
When new believers confess their faith…
It isn’t a testament to me.
It’s a testament to GOD.
Specifically, it’s a testament to God’s work through all of us…
Together we celebrate.
And…Together we recommence.
Because it isn’t that long.
It isn’t that many words.
It isn’t that many chapters in Acts before the church decides to do this mission trip thing again.
In chapter 16, Paul and companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia…(16:6)
New mission trip.
New people with Paul.
Same message of Jesus.
Friends, Paul got it. The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
And for us – the same is true.
The Great Commission is continuous.
Mission work is continuous.
As a church – the school being built is not the end. We need to use that building to share the Gospel with the many that will come.
Back to Church Sunday is not the end. We need to use the opportunity to follow up on family and friends who join us.
Baptizing our kids is not enough. We need to keep teaching them and uplifting them and sharing the Gospel with them.
One adult confession of faith in Confirmation is not the end. We need to be encouraged by that confession of faith, to confess our faith before others, in hopes that one day they might confess their faith in Jesus, too.
So…that’s what next!
When you get done doing mission work – you do some more mission work.
Whether that’s discipling, encouraging, or sharing the Gospel again – we keep on doing mission work.
Until God, our Savior, calls us home to heaven – and loving says; “Well done.” Amen.