“They had turned inward,” the pastor said with regret. As I gathered with a group of pastors, AMSs, and church leaders from around Kentucky in Cincinnati recently to hear about ways their churches and associations can partner in the Queen City, one pastor in Cincinnati shared an all-too common story about his church. When he first arrived at his church 15 years ago, the congregation had just completed a building project that increased the seating capacity to about 250 people. However, when the pastor arrived at the church there were only about 30 people attending.
“What happened?” one of our Kentucky pastors asked with curiosity. The pastor went on to explain, “They had turned inward. In fact, I discovered as I got to know the community that the people who lived here did not even know that this was a church.” As I have reflected on this conversation with the pastor, I wonder how this can even happen. The short answer, as described by the pastor, is that churches turn inward.
In other words, we forget the work to which the Holy Spirit calls each church. What is that work? To find that answer we turn our attention briefly to Acts 13. Perhaps the second most influential church in the New Testament next to Jerusalem is Antioch, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem near the Mediterranean Sea. The church at Antioch was a mission-sending, mission-participating congregation. The DNA of this first-century church flowed with making disciples of all nations. From the outpost of Antioch, the Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what we refer to as Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3).
Notably, this church places a premium on worshipping and seeking the Lord (Acts 13:2), which is key for a church in avoiding the trap of an inward focus. While the church of Antioch is filled with robust leaders—Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, Manaen, and Saul, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul to the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
But what was “the work” to which the Holy Spirit had called them? If Acts 1:8 is the theme of the book, then our answer lies within that passage. In short, Jesus calls the apostles to make disciples of all nations in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. This work of disciple making to which Jesus calls the apostles is extended to the church as we see the gospel spread from Jerusalem and beyond. In essence, disciple-making involves reaching the unreached and discipling the reached.
The Missions Mobilization Team is excited to help each KBC church do the work to which the Holy Spirit has called them with a new Fall 2022 initiative called Every Church On Mission (ECOM). This initiative seeks to help each KBC church identify their unique role in the Great Commission, equip members to live out their role in the Great Commission, send members to fulfill the Great Commission locally and globally, and care for those who are sent both locally and globally. For each of these four elements there are assessment questions and recommended resources. The goal of this initiative is to help churches focus on the work of making disciples locally and globally, while avoiding the trap of turning inward and forgetting the work to which we are called. Learn more about ECOM at kybaptist.org/ecom.
The work of the church at Antioch is our work. The work of all churches is to make disciples of all nations among whomever we can and wherever we are. Some recent gospel “workers” serving in another country had to leave their place of work for another place of work. In reflection about that move, they affirmed, “God called us for the work, not for a place or a people. He called us for the work to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19). Whatever changes we may experience in the world or in our life, and wherever we may find ourselves to be, may we do the work God has called us to do!”