CrossLife Church Planting and the Antioch Church

March 31, 2014

One of the greatest models for biblical church planting is found in the book of Acts.  It is the Antioch Church.  Evangelicals would do well to learn about church planting from where Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), Greece and Rome were reached.  In fact, it would not be an overstatement to assert the church in Antioch (Acts 13) is the greatest model for church planting today.

Before proceeding to Acts 13, it is best to obtain a brief history of this church.  This church was spawned from the scattering of believers that arose from the persecution of Stephen (Acts 11:19).  The believers who scattered began to reach out to the Jewish population of Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (11:19).  However some men broke the cultural barrier of the day and began reaching out to the Greeks.  “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.” (v.20).  God blessed their efforts and many came to know the Lord.  “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” (v.21).   Afterwards, the church at Jerusalem took notice and sent Barnabas to review this new work (v.22).  After Barnabas got there he witnessed God’s grace and exhorted them to be true to Christ (v.23).  The text goes on to describe Barnabas’ character.  He was the right man to send, being a man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (v.24).  Afterwards, recognizing he needed help, Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Saul (later “Paul”) to teach and disciple these new believers (v.26).  After being there for a year teaching them, their efforts manisfested fruit.  For these Antioch believers, after learning of a prophesied famine in Judea, sent money for relief for their brethen in Jerusalem (v.27-30).   As we reflect on the history of this Antioch church, we learn a few things about them:

1) The Antioch church was started from Cypiot and Cyrenian church planters who took a risk to break the cultural barriers of the day and reach out to the Greeks.   These church planters were more likely Jewish believers who grew up in the diaspora of North Africa and Cyprus.  They understood the culture of the gentiles in their day.

2) Notice that God’s hand was with them to bless the church planting efforts.  No church planting is ever successful without God’s Spirit moving to convict and draw men to the faith.

3)  Notice also the church in Jerusalem sent one of their best leaders (Barnabas) to authenticate this new work.

4) Notice Barnabas wasted no time in establishing and maturing these brethen in the faith.  For after obtaining help, he and Saul stay there a year discipling the believers.  For to move from the evangelization stage to an organized local church, these new converts needed to be established in the faith.

5) Finally, notice these new believers at Antioch demonstrated their maturity by being generous with their resources.  They sent money for the suffering believers in Judea (Acts 11:27-30).

Therefore this church at Antioch became a stable church because the previous described principles of church planting were following successfully.  This brings us to the next stage of a church’s development whereby it becomes a church that reproduces itself.  This is the sign of a mature church.  Can it start other churches?  Can it send out its best leadership to do so?   Let’s take a look at what Antioch did to become a church planting center for all of Paul’s missionary journeys, from Asia Minor to Europe.

  • First we notice this church sent out its own pre-approved leaders they had observed (v.2).   Notice the text says, “while they were ministering to the Lord” (present tense participle).    The text also indicates this decision was not a snap decision out of the flesh (such as: “hey this guy looks good and speaks well”!).  To the contrary they were “fasting” (also present tense pct.).   In other words, they were dependent on the Lord in their decision. These leaders were serving God within the Body of Christ (v.1-2) and were walking with Him by faith.
  • The other thing to notice is the call came from God, not men.  It is the Holy Spirit who spoke to set apart these men for their calling (v. 2).   In verse 3 we notice two other things:
  • The leaders at Antioch were spiritual minded to both hear and affirm the call from the Holy Spirit.  The text says, “they fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them” (v.3).
  • The church sent out their best leaders!  It was this same Barnabas and Saul that had been with the church from its initial founding, the ones who had discipled them!
  • Barnabas and Saul had both prayer backing from the Body of Christ and financial support for the work.    Notice after fasting and praying, the church then “sent them away.” (v.3)  With this in view, the overriding principal from this text is this: The best church plants come out of “mother churches” who have both observed the men sent, who affirm God’s call in their lives, who pray for them and have the financial means to sponsor their efforts.    In other words, churches plant churches.  These are the most stable church plants.
  • Once sent out, Paul and Barnabas planted a number of churches, discipling the converts and appointed elders to oversee each new Body (Acts 14:21-24).  Notice they prepared these new believers for “tribulation” and trials in this life (v.22).  They reminded them that following Christ would not be easy!
  • Finally, after finishing their work, Paul and Barnabas returned to the church at Antioch to give them a report of their work and to refresh themselves in Christ (Acts 14:26-28).  Paul and Barnabas, even though they were experienced church planters, they knew they needed encouragement and a “home base” to return to!

In conclusion, although CrossLife is a different model than what we observe in Acts 13, (we are a “Para-church” organization, not a local church), we do understand the importance of the local church.  For “para” means “to come alongside of” in Greek.  CrossLife’s role is to assist the local church or come alongside it to plant churches both in North America and throughout the world.