Summary: Emulate the Model Church of Antioch 1) Faithfully worship and pray 2) Selflessly support mission work 3) Whole-heartedly encourage your (divinely) called workers
Well, are you excited about the announcement regarding our new church? If you weren’t at the voters’ meeting a couple of weeks ago and haven’t read the meeting highlights in the bulletin, you may not know what I’m talking about. In a little over a week an architect is scheduled to submit a couple of plans to the building committee! I can’t wait to see these drawings but I’m a little nervous too. Will the proposed church look like I imagine it should? And what should our new church look like? If you’re picturing a grand cathedral, you’re going to be disappointed. Those churches took decades to build and were financed by kings. But maybe you have something more modest in mind - a church you’ve been to for a wedding and were impressed by its simple functionality. Will our new church look like that? I don’t know. Well, how does God want our new church to look? I don’t know that either! God hasn’t given us building plans like he gave to Moses for the tabernacle.
While God hasn’t given us a model of a church to copy he has given us a model church to emulate. Today the Holy Spirit is going to encourage us to emulate the model church of Antioch as we faithfully worship and pray, selflessly support mission work, and whole-heartedly encourage our (divinely) called workers. For what goes on inside a church building is a whole lot more important to God than what the church building itself looks like.
The first thing about the church in Antioch that is worth emulating is their faithfulness to worship. The study of God’s Word must have been an important feature of Antioch’s worship services because our text names five preachers and teachers on staff at that congregation. While I don’t suppose all five of them preached on the same Sunday such a large staff would have allowed that congregation to offer numerous opportunities for Bible study. So if we think that church is all about showing up to see our friends, then we need to learn a lesson from the church in Antioch. The foremost reason we come to church is to study God’s Word. Only then will be able to worship, that is, thank and praise God for all that he has done for us through Jesus.
The members in Antioch were also active in prayer. We pray here at St. Peter’s but do we pray as “dangerously” and fervently as we should? Do we pray for one another by name? Do we pray for blessings other than physical healing and economic prosperity? Do we pray that God would use us and not someone else to financially support his work here and abroad? God wants us to learn to pray as the disciples did after Peter and John were arrested for speaking about Jesus. You think the disciples would pray for protection from such threats but instead they prayed: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). That’s the kind of church God wants us to be – one that prays not for balanced budgets and easy times but for boldness in doing his will no matter what the consequences.
An example of such a prayer regarding our building program is that God would give us the courage to go for it. Sure, the door to building a new church might seem closed yet because we don’t have a million dollars in the bank but I wonder if this door isn’t like one you find at a supermarket? Such a door looks closed from a distance and remains closed until you step towards it. Only then does the magic eye sense your presence and open for you (adapted from Brother Andrew). Likewise God wants us to walk boldly towards our objective trusting that he will bless our efforts – just as he blessed the Israelites when they were ready to enter the Promised Land. Do you remember how it was only after the priests got their feet wet that the Jordan River stopped flowing enabling God’s people to cross into the Promised Land? So may we live by faith not sight.
As the church in Antioch was praying one day, the Holy Spirit made it known that they should set apart two of their leaders, Paul and Barnabas, for mission work. Without any hesitation they did so even though they would be losing a great encourager and a gifted teacher. That’s the kind of church God wants us to be – one that looks beyond our needs to the needs of others. So how do you feel about your pastor’s call to serve St. John’s, Wetaskiwin? Do you resent that I can’t always linger for meetings and potlucks? And how should we handle requests for help that come from our far-flung members like those in British Columbia? Do we just say: “That’s their fault for moving so far away from church”? Certainly we each bear the burden of the choices we make, but a model church, the Holy Spirit reminds us, is one that selflessly supports mission work. We see examples of such congregations in our own synod. Recently a WELS congregation in Corpus Christi, TX gave their pastor a leave of absence so he could teach at the Lutheran seminary in Hong Kong. There’s no doubt they’ll miss their gifted pastor but God has helped them see beyond their own needs. Or think of the four pastors that came for our School of Worship in October. Three of them have congregations of their own yet their members gave them permission to travel here for a weekend to teach and encourage us!