The church of Antioch is described in details in the Book of Acts and we can follow it since its formation until it became a very strong one, having a great impact on the mission of the first century. I suggest you to see how it developed and established its form of organization, so that we can take practical lessons for a better organization of our local churches.
Church Planting – the result of good disciples
Even if it seems strange, the system of organization has not played the primary role in church planting, rather, there was present no organization in the beginning. The essential role was played here by a good discipleship that the apostles had done in the Church of Jerusalem, where they gathered daily in the courtyard of the Temple and taught the disciples from the Scriptures. Here’s how the church of Antioch has been planted:
So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)(NASB)
Establishing the discipleship process was the purpose of the organization
Since “a large number of people believed and turned to the Lord”, it was a great need that the process of discipleship would set up well for good a spiritual growth of each Christian and of the whole church. Here’s how events have evolved further:
The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24)(NASB)
Apostles sought to fulfill a need and they sent Barnabas to help organize the church in Antioch.
Teachers – the greatest need of the church
Barnabas, being a strong leader, has identified the greatest need for of the church of Antioch and the man who could help him the best in fulfilling this need.
And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26)(NASB)
Efforts of the leaders were directed to teaching people the Word of God and not to developing a sophisticated system of the church organization.
Saints’ needs generated the actions of organization
It is sad to see how some leaders and church planters do not consider discipleship as the most important and seek some “secret” of the church organization that will bring success and growth. When growth is the result of studying the Scriptures, the new organization or reorganization actions are taken not because they have been read in a book or heard at a conference, but to fulfill specific needs of the saints, as in the church of Antioch:
Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. (Acts 11:27-30)(NASB)
Mission involves continuous local church organization
In chapter 11 of the Book of Acts we were told that Paul and Barnabas taught many people from Antioch during a year. Thus, new teachers could grow up and take over the administration of the local church ministry and let Paul and Barnabas go on mission. This involved new actions within the local church organization:
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)(NASB)
Actions of organization and reorganization were done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not just of human initiatives. It is good and necessary for any church to fast and spend time in prayer when facing a need that requires a reorganization in the ministry.
Translated by Felicia Rotaru