This is another guest post by Andy Schultz, a teaching elder and Worship Director at Faith-Highland, and a Masters student at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Part Two of this three-part series examining Faith Church’s mission statement – “Reach the disconnected; grow the connected” – examined who the disconnected are and where we are called to go to find them. Simply put, it’s everybody, everywhere. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit that those who confess the name Jesus receive, we’re called to respond to the Spirit’s voice and guidance in deciding where to go, who to share with, and how to do it.
In this final installment, the second half of Faith’s mission statement is explored. Whereas the first phrase (Reach the disconnected) has a plentiful amount of episodes in the Book of Acts, deriving this part of the mission statement takes a bit more digging.
More Than Conversion
To “Grow the connected” requires us to see that there are two steps in this lifelong Christian process, and we are called to be involved in both of them. Reformed theologians speak of two words: justification and sanctification. There’s a moment when we believe Jesus in our hearts and are immediately forgiven of the sin we confess, being sealed for eternity with Him…that’s justification. Following is a lifetime of shaping and molding that sees our character resemble Christ more and more with each day and event, each practice and follow-up. Every word we speak begins to be examined. Everything in our lives is filtered for its value and purpose in our walk with Christ. As we mature in Him, others begin to see Jesus in our character…that’s sanctification.
That process is also what Jesus described in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that we’re called to “make disciples of all nations.” If you recall in Genesis 12, God’s people (you and I) were to bless the nations through the lineage of Abraham. Jesus added another layer to that — we bless by making disciples. What does it mean to “make disciples” of others around us, let alone ALL the nations?
We gain insight from a couple of events detailed in the Book of Acts. First, following a good report about the progress of gathered believers in Antioch, Barnabas was sent to assist.
“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.” Acts 11:23 (ESV)
To exhort is to encourage, and Barnabas’ encouragement to “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” represents a glimpse into that second step in the faith. The audience for Barnabas is the already-connected group of new Christians in Antioch.
Later, in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are preaching the Gospel and healing with the power of the Holy Spirit in Lystra (present day Turkey). Opposition Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to convince the crowd to stone Paul and drag him out of the city where he is left for dead. However, as God was in the details of the events, we read this:
“But when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” Acts 14:20 (ESV)
There is no attendance record available from that group of disciples that day, but since Paul and Barnabas were out traveling on mission in distant towns, it’s likely this group of disciples wasn’t from the twelve who we usually think of when we hear the word disciple. It seems newer disciples were the ones gathered around Paul in this time of need, most likely to encourage him.
To me, this scene evokes an image of a tired, bloodied boxer in the corner between rounds of a championship fight. The trainers are encouraging and giving instruction, providing water and healing wounds to send the fighter back out for the remainder of the bout. This is at the heart of discipleship.
Building Others Up
We also read Paul and Barnabas traveled back through towns they had previously visited with a specific purpose:
“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:21-22 (ESV)
There was a “grow the connected” purpose of going back through those towns. Preaching doesn’t appear to be the focus of the return trip to those areas. Rather, “strengthening the souls” of those who have received the gospel seems to be the primary goal as it is recorded. What is meant by “strengthening the souls”? Think of it this way: what strengthens your soul?
My soul is strengthened with encouragement or direction through the Holy Spirit in time spent in solitude. It affirms that God is working actively in my life with purpose, and it energizes my personal ministry. Time spent with God gives me direction as a husband, father, and disciple of Christ.
Where did the encouragement to spend time with God come from? It came from encouragement from other disciples, training me in the way of Jesus. I hear it through sermons, by studying the Word of God, and I hear it loudly from those around me who are investing in my character for the glory of the Lord! In genuine, deep relationships, I am challenged to be more like Jesus in every aspect of my life.
Grow the connected. The church grew in numbers and in their support network as well. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and others didn’t set out to simply preach the Word and move along.
“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 14:23 (ESV)
They created a network of local leadership along the way. It’s a key component in the structure of the expanding church in Acts.
Reach the Disconnected; Grow the Connected
There is a two-part pattern that develops in this church as outlined in Acts. It’s where Faith Church derives its mission statement. Faith affirms that the Holy Spirit moved in this early church as it is written, and that can be Faith’s story as well. No church can be everything for everyone. The greater church forms a body that is a more complete picture of God’s mission for the church. However, Faith Church is led to participate in reaching disconnected people and growing them into mature Christians for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of the Lord.
“And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” Acts 14:27-28 (ESV)
Though it seems the translation in the English Standard Version reads as a double-negative, “no little time” could also be “stayed there a long time” (NIV). This conclusion to Acts 14 summarizes a process that Faith Church models today and is reflected in our mission statement. We gather in groups to celebrate and spend time with each other in discipling relationships.
How are you being called into this story? My hope is that you’ll reflect on your part in the story of Faith Church and in God’s greater story as a whole.
Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.