What was the work of the Early Church Leaders?
As recorded in Acts, Jesus told his Apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. He told them that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and they would be His witnesses starting in Jerusalem, expanding out to Judea, Samaria and ultimately the ends of the earth. Luke also says in Acts 1:1 that this book contains what Jesus continued to do and teach. This introduction of Acts (1:1-8 specifically) sets the entire context for our understanding of Acts and even the New Testament.
- The book of Acts is what Jesus continued to do and teach through His Apostles.
- Jesus’ leaders were given the Holy Spirit to guide them.
- As seen throughout Acts, the church was God’s plan for the gospel to expand.
- This good news will expand from Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Chapters 1-7 show how the Apostles were witnesses in Jerusalem. Then chapters 8-12 show the work in Judea and Samaria. And finally chapters 13-28 demonstrate how the leaders became witnesses to the Gentiles, beginning with the church in Antioch, beginning the effort to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.
All the leaders were chosen by God to do this work and Paul was chosen to bring this message of hope, especially to the Gentiles. But what exactly was the work of the early church leaders? The Spirit actually gave specific instructions about the work of being a witness to all nations. Luke gives us the shape of this work in Acts 13:1-14:28, we see 3 main elements of the work:
- They proclaimed the gospel in and around strategic cities.
- They instructed the new believers in the Apostles’ teachings.
- They formed the believers into churches and appointed elders in every church.
This work is summarized as the Pauline Cycle because it is the same pattern seen in all of Paul’s missionary journeys. These essential instructions are embedded in the teachings and actions of the Apostles.
Summarizing all of this, we can see how the book of Acts gives us the record of Jesus’ instructions on carrying out the work until He comes back again. The church is the centerpiece of His plan for the gospel to progress to the ends of the earth; this is Christ’s strategy.
The Role of the Church Nationally
We live in the final portion of Acts, where the gospel is to continuing to go to the ends of the earth. Knowing this, are we going to build today’s church on the 21st Century ecumenical paradigm as one church and one religion, or are going to build His Churches according to His administration?1 In other words, we can either build our churches as institutions and organizations in the philosophy of the 21st century corporations and mega-service industries or we can build the church as a family of families with elders, shepherds and apostolic leaders, evangelizing strategic cities, establishing the church in the kerygma-Didache and appointing the elders and deacons in these churches.2
As we look to build the church as a family across the globe, we must also look at our own nation. A book entitled, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Church (by David Kinnaman), shows that in our own nation 3 out of every 5 young Christians disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from the church after age 15. The study showed 6 main reasons for young Christians leaving Western churches.
- Churches seem overprotective.
- Teens and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
- Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
These are disruptive findings, but they demonstrate that we must return back to the methods and principles of the early church, following the patterns left to us Acts and the rest of the New Testament. The church is meant to be a family, who is seen as glad and generous people, finding favor in their community.3 We are to be building Christ’s church according to His administration, where our people live skillful lives4 engaging in good occupations and meeting pressing needs.5
The Role of the Antioch School
The Antioch School is designed for these purposes. It is built on the early church principles that just as Paul trained Timothy, so too, are we to train our leaders today. The Antioch School is especially focused on the third aspect of the Pauline Cycle, training and entrusting the deposit to faithful leaders.
We know that today, theological education has become an academic endeavor for professional ministerial positions whereas in the past theological education was the acquiring of wisdom over a lifetime. So how did Paul train Timothy and how can we follow these patterns today? The Antioch School is built upon returning to this Paul-Timothy model of training.
- Training is done in the context of life and work with mentors and elder guiding the processes.
- Training is done in the life of the local church.
- Training is accomplished through continued dialogue around the Scriptures, with an emphasis on passing on the deposit.
- Training is competency-based, so that all leaders move towards a mastery of the principles for themselves.
Our churches across this nation are in need of trained leaders who are passing on the deposit that Christ gave the Apostles, who then gave it to the Timothy-types. The church needs to take her role seriously in training the leaders to go to our neighborhoods, nation and ultimately to the ends of the earth.
1 See Ephesians 3:8-10
2 From Chadwick Mohan’s presentation at the 2016 BILD Summit.
3 Acts 2:46-47
4 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
5 Titus 3:14