Acts 16: 1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium,3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
Paul had led many to Jesus in his first trip through the cities mentioned again in the above verses, but now his second missionary journey was to encourage them and make sure the churches were on track to keep sharing the gospel as they grew in their faith. We have more churches closing their doors today than maybe ever before and the alarming rate of closures has now got the attention of many. A church is much, much more than brick and mortar. A church is an "organism", not an organization. Organism (def) - a whole with interdependent parts, likened to a living being. Organization (def) - an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc.
Yes, a church should be organized and I am all about organizing things, but that doesn't make it a church. Yes, a church should have structure and order. Yes, a church should have levels of leadership to set a course. But all of that can be done without Jesus and many times He is left out of the mix. Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to set the course for our lives and set the course for His church. Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. This is the discourse where Jesus asks Peter who the people say He is and Peter says that some say He is John the Baptist, and some say He is Elijah, and others say Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Then Jesus brings it all into focus when He says this to Peter in verse 16 "Who do you say I am?" THAT is the question for the church today. Who do you say Jesus is? It may not seem like a big thing to realize, but it is vital for the growth of the church. Peter's answer is this in verse 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter's faith in Jesus was that He truly was the Messiah, or the Savior of the World and nothing could convince him to stop believing that one fact. Jesus' response to Peter was what is in verse 18 as listed above. The response by Peter and His identification of who Jesus was is a response given out of faith in Jesus and revealed to Him by God. Verse 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. The faith of Peter would not die, even though it would have to go through a denial of even knowing Jesus and a redeeming conversational charge by Jesus when He restored Peter's faith. Our personal faith in Jesus is the key to who we are and what the church means to us. If we have faith that Jesus is the only way then our attitude about "being" the church will deepen and our immersion into that fellowship will result in sharing this great message of hope and God's power will use that focus and message to grow His church.
Paul's second missionary journey was to deepen the believers' faith in those established churches and keep them on the right course because Paul knew the power of the Holy Spirit would guarantee growth in those churches and they needed to be making "disciples" which means the elders in the faith would equip and lead them into strong foundational fellowships that continued to see more and more converts. Our modern-day version of this group of elders is staff members in a local church setting. Paul informed the church at Ephesus what those pastors should be doing to keep the churches growing and winning converts. Ephesians 4:11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
If we want to meet God's standard for His church then those who are more mature in their faith will disciple those who are new to the faith and keep growing them in the Word. Sadly many churches have lost this priority and the modern-day church has lost its focus so churches die a slow death without meeting the standard God has for them. The plan God gave Paul is still available today if we will submit to it. There is still a way for churches to grow like they did in Paul's day. In fact, it should be our desire to see that kind of growth and thus follow the '"real" Great Commission as told in Matthew 28:18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
We need to be "sure of this" that Jesus is with us always, but we need to be about His work as His church. My prayer is this "No more churches dying and closing, but more churches growing and growing" as they walk in the commission of our Savior and continue to make more and more disciples. Turn the tide and see it swell into a frenzy of active churches on fire for Jesus Christ. This is our modern-day missionary journey. This is the Ultimate Follow Up to all the work believers of the past have established for us by their faithfulness. Upon this rock, Jesus has built His church. NOW GROW!!
The Pilgrimage Continues.