The church at Antioch was one of the most important churches in the book of Acts. When many people think of Antioch, they only think of it as the place where the disciples were “first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). However, a closer look at this congregation of believers reveals that Antioch is the blueprint for a growing and vibrant church:
Dedicated – Following the death of Stephen, a great number of believers were scattered as far away as Antioch. Some of those preached the gospel to Jews only (Acts 11:19), while others preached to Grecian Jews (Acts 11:20). The church at Antioch is an example of steadfastness in that it was established during a time of great persecution. It would have been easier for these Jews and Gentiles to remain with their former religions so as to not incur persecution and/or death, but that is not what this band of believers chose. They were steadfast in their faith. So much so that a great number of people in Antioch believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21). The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be dedicated to God, the faith and each other in being “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Generous – When Agabus told the Christians at Antioch that there was going to be a great famine over the entire Roman world, the brethren, in turn, determined to send relief to the brethren in Judea. Antioch was in that Roman world and would suffer themselves, but they sent relief to others anyway (Acts 11:28-30). The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be generous, “ready to give and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
Inclusive – A quick look at the origins of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:20-21) and the prophets and teachers who called it home (Acts 13:1) reveals that it was an inclusive church. The church at Antioch had its origins during the time of the persecution that arose following Stephen’s death. Certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and preached Jesus to the Hellenist Jews. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed. This made Antioch the first church to see the barriers of old prejudice torn down. Later in Acts 13:1, we find that the church had five teachers who reflected the inclusive nature of the church. There was “Barnabas” (a Levite from Cyprus by way of Jerusalem); “Simeon who was called Niger”; “Lucius of Cyrene” (an African from present day Libya); “Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch” (high-class royalty); “and Saul” (a Jew who had formally killed Christians). The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be inclusive of different races, backgrounds and social statuses. This is consistent with later words to the Galatian congregations that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Outward Thinking – When the Spirit called Paul and Barnabas for the work of preaching the gospel to the world (Acts 13:2-3), the church at Antioch answered the call, because they were an outward thinking congregation. How easy it would have been for them to want to hold on to its best teachers, but not this church. It was outward thinking church. Antioch developed its people (the church had many teachers), encouraged risk (laid hands on Paul and Barnabas), and trusted God to provide (sent them out with prayer and fasting). The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be outward thinking by developing its members so they can “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Committed – When some Judeans came teaching error about circumcision, the church at Antioch stood firm by being committed to the truth (Acts 15:1-3). In fact, they were so committed to following the truth; they sent Paul, Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to determine why this error was coming from Jerusalem. The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be committed to “searching the scriptures” to determine God’s will (Acts 17:11). Once God’s will is determined, then to that word the church submits (ref. Acts 15:30-31).
Welcoming – When Paul needed a place to go home after his first and second missionary journeys, he went back to Antioch (Acts 14:29-28, 18:22-23). The reason for this is that the church at Antioch was a welcoming church. They not only were welcoming to Paul, but they also made Barnabas (Acts 11:25-26), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:33-34), Mark (Acts 12:25, 15:35-39) and many others (Acts 15:35) feel right at home during their long stays in Antioch. The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be welcoming to all by being an oasis that “refreshes the hearts of the saints” (cf. Philemon 1:7) both to its members and to those that are just passing through.
Forgiving – Closely connected with the idea that the church at Antioch was welcoming is also the idea that it was a forgiving church. When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from taking aid to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30) they brought back with them a young man named John, or as we commonly call him Mark (Acts 12:25). Mark accompanies Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:4-5) but abandons them in Perga in order to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). The next time we have a reference of Mark is in Acts 15:35 where we find him once again in Antioch. Why was there? Could it be that Antioch was a forgiving church? The young man who left Antioch a hero but faltered on the way could go back because they were a forgiving church. The blueprints for a growing and vibrant church call for it to be forgiving, because we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The church at Antioch was a great church. It was growing and vibrant, not because of its building or programs, but because of its people who sought to live out their faith and live by the word of God. We all would do well to build our congregations after the Antioch blueprint so that we too can be a growing and vibrant church.