Summary: A sermon pointing out the wisdom of God after a popular pastor was moved unexpectedly by the denominational leadership, to the surprise of both the pastor and the Church
Acts 8:4-8,26 13:1-4
The length of stays of Salvation Army officers in appointments has gradually increased over the years. In the early days it would just be a few months or weeks before they were moved again. William Booth even said at one time that no officer should stay in a corps for more than six months! Even I remember the days when the normal length of stay was two years. Short stays have their advantages, stop officers from thinking like locals, constantly having new points of view, not blinded by habit. Also it could prevent over reliance on the officer to do everything. However they do have the disadvantage of making it difficult for plans to be carried through. But in recent times stays are much longer. The army has caught on to the importance of continuity of leadership and stability (although it might be missing out now on some of the advantages of short stays). Just like short stays, long stays have advantages. Officers given time to carry out their plans. There is consistency in approach. Kate and Gordon have been here eight years, a length of stay that would have been unthinkable in the past.
The Church at Antioch had a settled leadership team with five members. It seems that their ministry was flourishing. The Church was growing and was happy with their leadership, and they were contented where they were. There appeared to be no reason whatsoever to upset the apple-cart and move two of them. Surely it was right for them to be in long-term ministry where they were.
To many people in the Church, the move would have come as something of a surprise, or even a shock, to the people. People who had come to faith under the ministry of certain leaders would suddenly lose them. People would have missed them, experienced a sense of loss. There might have been fear and apprehension about the future within the Church. Others might have wondered why on earth Saul and Barnabas were given their farewell orders. For others it might just have been a sense of loss, similar to a bereavement. Similar feelings to those many people in this corps are feeling at the moment. Some might even have murmured about the rest of the leadership team for allowing it to happen.
Whose silly idea was it to wreck the leadership team of the Church in Antioch?
We are told clearly in verse 2 of Acts 13. It was none other than the Holy Spirit, God himself. We are not told what means the Holy Spirit used to give this instruction, but it does not appear to have been a private revelation, but to be given to the leadership of the Church as a whole, possibly through the words of one of the prophets. But it was not just Saul and Barnabas going off on a tangent of their own.
Human wisdom would certainly have said “Stay!” But God’s wisdom said “Go!”
Saul and Barnabas were having a successful ministry in Antioch. By all the rules of healthy Churches, they should not have moved. But God, in his eternal wisdom, chose to move them on. They might have been tempted to disobey, to argue and to try to stay on in Antioch. But, realising that the wisdom of God far surpasses the wisdom of man, they obeyed.
The Church could have chosen to be selfish, and to try to keep hold of them, to try to prevent them moving on so that they could continue to enjoy their ministry. They could have been obstructive but instead they gave them their blessing and sent them on their way joyfully. The result was the greatest mission in the early Church. The gospel was spread throughout the Mediterranean world; many people were saved and reached who would not have been if they had stayed. The work of Saul and Barnabas became the springboard for the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. His letters to the new Churches were the first theological formulation of what the gospel really is. None of this was clear to them when they were called away. All that they knew was that they were called away to a different ministry.
But what about the Church in Antioch that they left behind? Its sacrifice might have looked like it was going to be costly. We know from other sources that God did not allow it to suffer or to decline as a result of its obedience. It continued to flourish.
Just like Philip in Samaria. He was preaching the gospel and people were being reached and saved. His Church plant was a great success. Continuity of leadership and ministry was the obvious way forward. Meddling with the leadership and moving him looked like a clear backwards step.