Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 9, 2009

"As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers." Acts 16:4-5
Reading through Acts, I have been encouraged in a new way. Like everyone else, I have always enjoyed reading about the explosive growth of the Church from the Day of Pentecost and the weeks following. The Apostles did amazing signs and wonders and the believers demonstrated amazing love and incredible sacrifices to minister to needs. Their faith became contagious.
During this period the Church showed unprecedented growth. Some historians estimate that as many as 500,000 were converted in and around Jerusalem. By the testimony of the Jewish leaders they "filled Jerusalem with their doctrine".
Who would not find that exciting? Who would not be thrilled to see new converts added to their church on a daily basis. Come on!
I have been part of a church that saw people saved on a weekly basis, but never have I experienced a fellowship that saw people saved every day!
Understandably, no one can expect to maintain that sort of momentum for an extended period of time. The "big mo" is hard to get and even harder to keep.
But today as I am reading in Acts 15, I come across this verse, "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers."
Wow! There's that daily thing again!
Months have passed since Pentecost. They had the problem with the widows being neglected and they dealt with that crisis. The Church has faced persecution that forced it to scatter. Believers have been arrested and martyred and threatened wherever they went. In addition to the persecutions, they faced the controversy of the Gospel being preached to the Gentiles. They had the constant intrusion of the Judaizers, Jewish believers who tried to impose circumcision and other Jewish practices on the Gentile believers. They even overcame a sharp disagreement between key leaders Paul and Barnabas, even though they came to a parting of the ways.
So, despite all these attacks from within and from the outside, here they are still reaching people on a daily basis!
As a church leader, I find that exciting. That tells me that with wise, unified, godly leadership, churches can face challenges and obstacles and oppostition and still maintain their ministry edge.
This is not as exciting as the signs and wonders and deliverences, but it is the stuff of effective ongoing ministry. It is no less a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit to wade through these challenges and distractions to keep the fellowship united and on mission. That takes supernatural wisdom and courage.
It reminds me of that statement of my friend, John Maxwell, "Everything rises and falls on leadership" - leadership that is lead by the Spirit. That is what I long to do.
God, give us leaders like that so that we can have churches like that!

July 8, 2009

"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." Acts 15:36-41

Acts 15 is a clinic on how to handle conflict in the church. In my previous post I commented on how they handled an attack of legalism on the church from a group of believers. When the council met and wisely decided what to do, the Gentile believers were pleased and the church continued to grow.

There is an incident at the end of the chapter that shows what can happen when two strong Godly leaders disagree.

With the Gentile issue resolved and the church sufficiently strengthened, Paul and Barnabas decided it was time to strengthen some other churches. Paul suggested that they retrace their previous journey and visit the churches they had established in Turkey. Barnabas agreed.

So far, so good!

Then came the tricky part. I have put together enough mission trips that I know how hard it can be to get the right people together. As they were putting together their team for this trip, Barnabas wanted to include John Mark. Acts 13: 13 gives us John Mark's missionary resume: "From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem."

Simply stated, John Mark was a quitter. He had quit on Paul and Paul had lost confidence in him. Barnabas, on the other hand, was a gracious man, an encourager, one who was willing to give John a second chance.

Paul and Barnabas were two strong leaders with equal passion for the Gospel and the Church, but they had two very different personalities and temperaments. Paul was a no-nonsence bottomline get it done kind of guy and Barnabas was a gentle patient grace-giver. Both were effective, just different in their approaches. I can see how they have worked well together in their earlier ministry ventures.

So, now they were at an impasse. What should happen when two strong leaders agree so sharply that there is no hope for agreement? Here is what we can learn:

1) The mission must come first

2) Love must rule the relationship and the decision

3) Each leader must be true to his sincere conviction

4) In the end, disagree in an agreeable way

That is how this dispute was resolved. As a result, some real good things happened:

Paul took Silas and sailed to Syria and Cicilia, while Barnabas took John Mark as set sail for Cyprus. So, as a result of the proper resolution of this conflict, the missionary effort was doubled and the number of missionaries was doubled! Not only was the mission accomplished but it was increased by 100%!

Plus, when John Mark was given a second chance he redeemed himself and became a trusted partner not only to Barnabas, but also to Paul! (See Colossians 4:10; II Timothy 4:11).

I love it when a plan comes together!

God works through unity. But unity does not always mean unanimity, it means disagreeing agreeable. In this case - mission accomplished!

What a great lesson for the 21st Century Church!