Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." Acts 13:1
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). A closer look at this congregation of believers reveals the qualities of 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 Hellenist Gentiles (Acts 11:20). The church at Antioch is an example of a steadfast congregation in that it was established during a time of great persecution. It would have been easier for these Jews and Gentiles to stick 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). A growing and vibrant church is dedicated to God, the faith, and each other. A dedicated church is “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (1 Cor 15:58)
Generous – When Agabus showed the Christians at Antioch that there was going to be a great famine over all the Roman world, they 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). A growing and vibrant church is generous, “ready to give and willing to share” (1 Tim 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 Gentiles. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number of the Gentiles believed. This made Antioch the first church among the Gentiles. 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” (possibly a dark skinned African); “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). A growing and vibrant church is inclusive of different races, backgrounds and social statuses. It recognizes 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” (Gal 3:28).
Outward Thinking – When the Spirit called out 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. This church 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). An outward thinking church is growing and vibrant because it is focused on 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 (that one must be circumcised according the Law of Moses to be saved Acts 15:1-3) the church at Antioch was committed to the truth that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16). They were so committed to following the truth; they sent Paul, Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to figure out why this error was coming from Jerusalem. A church that is committed to the truth is growing and vibrant because it is willing to “search the scriptures” to determine God’s will (Acts 17:11). Additionally, a growing and vibrant church is committed to following the truth of God’s word, whatever it might be (Acts 15:30-31).
Welcoming – When Paul needed a place to go home to 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 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 11:35) feel right at home during their long stays in Antioch. A growing and vibrant church is welcoming to all. This kind of church seeks to an oasis that “refreshes the hearts of the saints” (cf. Phm 1:7) that are members there and those that are just passing through.
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 by being the very best they could be. We all would do well to model our congregations after Antioch.