In the passage (Acts 11:19-26) there are some things I want to flag up, about the relationship between the more established church and the church that was emerging in a different cultural context. The church in Jerusalem although it was in its infancy, was also the church of the beginning, and so could have considered itself normative. I find it interesting to see the response of the Jerusalem church to the news of many people becoming Jesus-followers in Antioch.
They send one of their own leadership to take a look and see. In many ways one might have expected them to send Peter, given his recent experience with God’s move amongst gentiles, but instead they send Barnabus, the son of encouragement that we have seen ministering so effectively, in his gentle, nurturing way, in the life of the early church.
Barnabus was trusted, considered wise, a leader, experienced. He looks at the situation, identifies what God is doing there and seeks to encourage that.
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of Faith. (Acts 11:23, 24)
I wonder if we translate this to our contemporary situation whether the same could be said? Are churches releasing their wise, Spirit and faith filled, mature leaders to go and encourage what God is doing in different and emerging contexts? Is this a model we might want to look at? Often we consider the emerging church scene to belong to younger leaders. Maybe one of the keys to seeing real spiritual maturity in new expressions of church is for leaders from more established church to come and nurture and encourage, rather than stand at a distance and criticise.
Barnabus’ next act is to go and get Paul from Tarsus and spend a year with him in Antioch teaching and encouraging. Barnabus is prepared to consider what resources need to be diverted to the new church to ensure its growth and development. Are established churches looking to the most gifted and able people to move into emerging situations? In our own Baptist family it often seems that the most able ministers are in the strongest churches. There is undoubtedly a need for established churches to have good leadership, but it does strike me as a bit odd that the weakest of our churches are often only able to call upon the services of the weakest of our ministers, whilst many of our most talented ministers are working in churches that really don’t need them, churches could sustain ministry using their own resources and talents.
I’m sure there’s more to write (as dangerous as it is to write that, given the 3 month break between blogs on this subject) and so I’ll consider it again in the future. In the meantime, I’d really welcome comments on these two ideas – how well is the established church doing at encouraging rather than berating, and how might resources best be identified and used in emerging contexts?