Finding Our Place in Ministry

Reverend Anthony R. Locke September 26th, 2010 at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker

Acts 13:1-12 English Standard Version

1 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.

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.

7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him

10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.[1]

Our passage provides a practical example for Kingdom expansion. It isn’t common for believers to ask how to build the kingdom of God. Using a broad brush and a little bit of hyperbole, the Apostle Paul said of one group of professing Christians, For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:21).

Most Christians don’t come to church with a passion to make the kingdom of Jesus Christ bigger. At times it would seem that American religious culture approaches God as if He were nothing more than a self-help counselor. People demand their Best Life Now as payment for worship rendered.

This approach to church will always leave us dissatisfied. We will never enter into fellowship with the ministry of Jesus using this approach. Jesus didn’t worship for what He got out of it. Jesus isn’t calling us to worship for what we will get out of it. It isn’t about our felt needs.

Our unfelt need is to give glory to God. The Gospel is about the glory of the Son of God, the love of the Father and the Spirit’s ministry of reconciliation.

So how do we participate with Jesus to make His Church bigger? How do we seek his interests?

Our passage provides a great case study in Kingdom expansion. We see what happens when a church seeks the agenda of the head of the Church.

Our commitments in the Church should be similar to what we see in this passage if we want to succeed in building the Kingdom of our Lord.

First, they were a worshipping congregation. There is no greater priority for a Christian than to be in church on Sunday morning worshipping Jesus Christ. It is the one thing that you cannot give yourself permission to miss.

In every generation there are people who won’t make a strong commitment to weekly worship. The early church also had occasional attendees. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We will continue to impact Tucker for Christ only as we continue in weekly worship.

Second, they were a fasting church. It is no secret to admit that the 21st century church has lost this discipline all together. Fasting is always associated with prayer. Missing a meal isn’t noble or praise worthy unless you replace time eating with time praying. Fasting without prayer is nothing more than dieting.

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to aid churches that fast and pray. We will never make the Chruch bigger until we submit to His methods. Church growth isn’t done by flyers, door hangers, community outreach, programs or strategic planning. If we want to see the Church expand then we must get on our knees to fast and pray.

This is God’s only plan to spiritually grow a church. We must first organize our best energies around corporate worship and then give ourselves to fasting with prayers.

Verse 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

This church was praying for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest. They were begging God to save the souls of more people in Herod’s court. Nehemiah and Esther were able to bend the ear of kings. The church was praying for Gentile government officials to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

And while making their prayers the Holy Spirit guided the Church into kingdom expansion. The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Each of us in the church should be helping the church expand the kingdom. I believe that all the elements of our congregational life are important for church growth. If we manage our resources poorly, then visitors will be distracted from the message of the Gospel and not come back. If we don’t keep things cleaned, painted, prove good stewards of our facilities and good steward of our resources, then the unchurched community will question our love for God. We must show excellence in all that we do. Friendliness, orderliness, starting and ending on time: it’s all important.

Each of us should be praying for the Lord to show us how we can best build the glory of Christ in the church. It is better to be doing one thing well, then attempting lots of stuff half heartedly.

Even the small stuff in our church is very important. We are participating in the organic life of the Church that Jesus said he would build and lead. Our labors for Christ in the Church may be the only witness our community may see. It is so important that we do things to the best of our ability.

And I believe that the Spirit of God separates us into specific church tasks where we flourish which in turn makes the church flourish and grow. That’s what happened to Paul and Barnabas.

Each of us will do something better than someone else. Certain people enjoy making visitors feel welcome. Certain people make the kitchen shine with cleanliness, order and efficiency. Others keep a sharp eye on the budget. Others enjoy the nursery.

How foolish it would be for me as the pastor to rearrange the kitchen or paint the walls of the Sunday School rooms as I see fit. I might have good intentions. I might be motivated by love for Christ, but I should ask permission from those who already manage these things before I make changes. We shouldn’t step on another person’s ministry turf.

Does that mean people get to own turf? No. Paul and Barnabas didn’t own ministry to the Gentiles, but it would have been wise to at least counsel with Paul and Barnabas when entering that part of the harvest. In verse 5 John helped them witness to Jews. It is always best to ask an expert.

The same is true in our church. I have a list of people who lead certain ministry efforts. They manage their sphere of ministry to the best of their ability. If someone else tells me that they have a desire to serve where someone else is already serving, then I ask them to call the individual who already manages that area of ministry before just taking over.

And so the Church in Acts 13 commissioned Paul and Barnabas to go out and make an impact for the Lord in ministry to Gentiles. God is calling us too. If we will fall on our knees and pray, the Holy Spirit will help us find our place in ministry to help grow His church.

There is nothing more exciting than going into the Devil’s lair and leading people out of spiritual bondage. The Gates of Hell will not stand against the aggressive witness of the Church.

Our passage illustrates that even the most sinister walls of Hell will fall when attacked by the Church. Guys like Elymas were especially dangerous because truth and lies get mixed together. Cults combine false teachings with legitimate religion and then try to control their followers from hearing the true Gospel. We have groups like this in our community.

A Jehovah’s Witness evangelist gave me some of their material this last weekend. The Mormons and other cults hold people in a religious grip which keeps them from opening their heart and ears to the pure message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our church must be willing to enter the struggle as Paul did and label their false doctrine for what it is: the Gates of Hell. False teachings imprison souls. We have to speak out against it.

The Apostle Paul directly confronted false teaching. He said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? These walls of false religion fall as the truth of the scriptures go out into the world. God is calling us to speak the true Gospel for those caught in false religions that they may hear and be saved.

I remember handing out Gospel tracts in downtown Atlanta a few years back. I handed out some Gospel literature to a guy sitting at a little table with Muslim books and Islamic literature. He got talking to me about religion.

As I am talking, a small crowd formed around us. I thought this was a good thing. To my surprise I discovered the guy had used me to gather a crowd of 30/40 people and then began preaching his Islamic faith. He was almost yelling so I couldn’t be heard. He wouldn’t let me get a word in edge wise. He was like Elymas. Some locals grabbed me and pulled me out of the mob.

There are obstacles to expanding the Church, but God is still calling us to find our place with Him as He builds it. We are responsible to stay committed to worship, fasting with prayers and speaking the message of the Gospel. Jesus builds it bigger by bringing people to Himself. It is wonderful when someone you love comes to faith in Christ. Let me share a recent story.

I was born in Lansing Michigan. My extended family lives in Battle Creek. When I grew up I had very little interaction with my cousins, aunts, and uncles because of the distance. We saw them during holidays, but that was about it. I tried to share Christ with them whenever I could.

I remember being about eight years old and sharing the Gospel with my uncle. He heard me out and said, “I was camping last year and got up in the mountains real high. I saw an eagle fly by and the beauty of the moment took my breath away. It was so spiritual. Seeing that eagle made me feel born again. I am saved now.” Even at eight I knew that wasn’t a faith testimony in Jesus.

We prayed for our extended family. My parents prayed many years that God would send someone into their life to share the Gospel and that the Holy Spirit would bring them to faith.

This last week I spent four days in Michigan with my family. My younger brother was speaking with one of my uncles about Jesus. My uncle said, “I am just so happy that my children love Jesus. We don’t know where we would be without Him.” I about fell out of my chair.

He has two daughters and a son. His oldest daughter has a wonderful testimony of faith in Christ. Her sixteen year old daughter is in the middle of reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis and had many Christian musicians on her mp3 player. She wants to be a Bible teacher.

This uncle’s son and I are the same age. He is married. They got talking to me about why they are leaving their church. You’ll would never guess why. Their new minister gives a 15 minute sermon filled with stories that never explain the scriptures. His wife told me, “I want to feel like I am getting fed.”

My cousin says he wakes his mind up during the sermon if it sounds like the minister might say something related to the Bible. I offered to help them find a church that will preach the scriptures and say something worth hearing. He wants to go to a church where the minister preaches the Bible.

Now how did all this Gospel activity happen? Some churches in Battle Creek have found their place in ministry. They are being faithful to their commitments so that Jesus can use them to build His Church. They are committed to worship. They are committed to prayer. Maybe they even fast. And people in the church go that extra step to communicate the message of salvation.

And now twenty years later I have had the great joy to discover that the Church has expanded to include my extended family. People I love now love Jesus, because people who love Jesus loved my family enough to share with them the Gospel.

All across this world Christians are praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest. Even people outside our community are praying for the unsaved in our community. And Jesus is leading the charge by preparing hearts to be receptive. We must be active and share the words of life with those in need. The Gates of Hell are ready to fall. We must stand up with Jesus and find our place beside Him that people might believe and the church might grow.

Our place in ministry is to maintain weekly worship, maintain fervent prayers with fasting, to serve in the church with excellence, and share the message boldly. Jesus will then build his church.

Verse 3, after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. The result? Verse 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Are we able to see the place that God has prepared for us in ministry? God is calling. Are we ready to enlist? Will we be willing to speak the truth into the darkness? If our hearts are breaking for the lost we will. If our hearts are led by Christ we will. Let’s get bold for Jesus sake.

May God help us to love Jesus enough to love others, that others might come to love Jesus.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.