It was Induction Day on Tuesday for staff at The Belfrey. We had 9 new Parish Assistants plus a few other new staff members join the team as we gathered to prepare for the year ahead. It was a really good day. In the morning I asked each one to think about a character from history that they’d love to be like. We had some fascinating answers – from the Dame Cicely Saunders (founder of the hospice movement) to famous explorers. I then got us to consider doing the same exercise, but corporately, asking whether there was a church from history that we’d like to be like. My answer, I said, would be the church in Antioch. Here’s why.
The church in Antioch became a northern mission base in earliest days of the Christian church. Antioch, like York, was a strategic city where the gospel took root and from there, lots of great things happened. We read about this church on 3 different occasions in the book of Acts – in chapters 11,13 & 15.
If you want to know more, do read Acts 11:19-30, then Acts 12:25-13:3 and then Acts 15:22-35.
One reason I think we’re called to be like the church in Antioch is because of its foundations. The church in Antioch had 3 foundations, each of which stands out in the 3 passages.
The first of their foundations was outreach. We see this in Acts 11, which is all about how they grew through outreach.
Christian outreach first happened in Antioch around AD42 as Jewish believers shared their faith with other Jews (v19). This didn’t result in huge growth until (v21) they went to non-Jews (Gentiles). Then things start hotting up – so much so that the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to see what was going on. He’s described as a ‘good man, full of Holy Spirit and faith’ and joins in the work, resulting (v24) in ‘a great number’ coming to faith. Then around AD46 Barnabas collects Saul from Tarsus and together they teach the church. Again we read that there’s ‘a great number’ of people – ie. too many to count – who’d been brought in through their outreach.
So outreach was very important to the church in Antioch. They were born in mission, for mission. And similarly it’s very important to us at The Belfrey. Reaching out with the love of God. In word and action. Showing and telling the gospel. It’s crucial. That’s why we do all sorts of outreach from social outreach to special weeks of evangelism. And that’s why we do Alpha as it’s still the most effective evangelistic tool. So Alpha is of central importance to us. Nothing should hinder outreach.
We love to encourage outreach and to hear outreach stories. And we need to keep praying for the Lord to raise up in our day more people who are effective in outreach, especially social action pioneers and evangelists.
A second foundation of the Antioch church was worship and is seen in the second passage, in Acts 13. In the context of worship that the Lord spoke, bringing a prophetic word about sending people out for more outreach and church planting. It all happened as they worshipped.
It seems that the people in Antioch prioritised praising and lifting up Jesus Christ as they gathered. And they sought to live lives of worship. So worship was very important to them. As it is for us. It’s also one of our key foundations. And like the people in Antioch, as we worship, we expect God to speak. To call. To challenge. To equip. That’s why I told the staff on Tuesday they should be expectant to meet with God in worship. To expect to draw close. And know his presence. To expect him to speak to and through them. That happens as we worship – and as we live a life of worship – living in a close relationship with him, through the Holy Spirit.
The third foundation of the church in Antioch was discipleship and is seen in Acts 15. Discipleship is about maturing together as followers of Christ and that began to happen in Antioch through 3 events. First, Paul & Barnabas delivered a letter from the Jerusalem Council to the church in Antioch, giving some inspired instructions on how to live as believers in a pagan culture. Basic instructions like that no doubt were very helpful. Second, the believers were ‘encouraged & strengthened’ by prophetic words brought by Judas and Silas who’d come from Jerusalem. These messages probably included a good element of applied teaching. Third, Paul & Barney chose to remain in Antioch where (v35) ‘they taught and preached the word of the Lord.’ In all three events there’s a common thread: the Word of God. Because that’s how disciples grow. In the Great Commission of Jesus (in Mt 28) Jesus said just that: ‘go and make disciples… teaching them everything I have commanded you.’ So at Antioch they taught God’s Word. They remained in God’s Word. They conformed themselves to God’s Word. They obeyed God’s Word. And they lived God’s Word. That’s how they grew in discipleship.
Similarly at The Belfrey we need to keep growing as disciples as we remain rooted in God’s Word. That’s always been central to our discipleship in the past and it will be no different in the future. It’s as we stay connected with the eternal Word (Jesus Christ), conform to the written Word (the bible) and apply the prophetic Word (from the Spirit) that we develop, change and grow as a church. That’s why Scripture is so important to us and why discipleship is our third foundation.
Up, In, Out
These three foundations of worship, discipleship and outreach are sometimes described in terms of ‘up’, ‘in’ and ‘out’ – in that they cover three key relationships: our (up-ward) relationship with God, as we live lives of worship; our (in-ward) relationship with believers, as we grow together as disciples, and our (out-ward) relationship with others to whom we reach out with the love of Christ.
Don’t forget that worship, discipleship and outreach are not totally distinct and separate. They actually flow into each other – interacting and overlapping. But they’re useful to analyse for the sake of church health, because it’s doing these three basic things that helps us stay biblical and missional. That’s why they are our foundations at The Belfrey. And that’s why our 3-week Foundations course – which welcomes people to the church – is based around them.
So the church in Antioch has much to teach us and is a great church to model ourselves upon. In the same way that Antioch was a strategic mission base for North Syria and beyond so I believe York should be one of the key mission centres for the North of England, and that as we strengthen our foundations of worship, outreach and discipleship so too we’ll see more great things in the future.
Next time I’ll blog about Antioch’s vision, and then later about four simple values that stand out about this wonderful community of believers. In the meantime, if you’re inspired like me by the church in Antioch, why not apply these foundations to your own life, asking yourself how you’re doing. For instance in the last 12 months, have you grown as a worshipper, as a disciple and as a person of outreach? Would you score one weaker than the others? If so, pray that you’ll get stronger. As you co-operate with the Holy Spirit, doing that on a daily basis, you’ll really see the benefit.