Guidance, the Local Church, and the Holy Spirit

Acts 13:1-4,

Acts 11:26

How does the Holy Spirit guide and lead people to start a new ministry or church-planting or evangelistic ministry ?

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.  Acts 13:1-4

1.  The leaders of the local church – “prophets and teachers”, in other words elders (Titus 1:5-7; 1 Timothy 3; Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:17, 28), teachers, leaders were gathered together -(Acts 13:1)- So we see even the apostle Paul and Barnabas first learned submission under authority in a local church.  I Timothy 3, and Titus chapter 1 says that the elders or overseers must be “able to teach”, so we take Acts 13 as the model for showing the teaching authority as the elders, overseers and pastors, which other Scriptures teach – Ephesians 4:11-12, Acts 20, I Peter 5:1-5

2.  It was a church.  Greek:  “ek-klessia”  “ones who are called out” from the world to Christ.

3.  It was a specific local church.  “at Antioch”

4.  Prophets and teachers were there as the leadership.  The Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Timothy and Titus, written a little later, show that it is the elders-overseers job to shepherd and teach and lead.  I Timothy 3, Titus 1, elders are to be able to teach; so the teachers in Acts 13 are assumed to be elders and sheperds, and pastors, according to I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Acts 20, and I Peter 5:1-7.  Ephesians 4:11 teaches that the “pastor-teacher” or “shepherd-teacher” is one gifting combined.

5.  It seems they prayed and fasted over a period of time.  Not just one time, but for an extended period of time, several days or weeks even, possibly months.

6.  They were unified in worship and ministering to the Lord. (true worship)

7.  It is only when these above conditions are fulfilled; that the Holy Spirit spoke and guided and led the group as a whole church to start a new work.  God called Paul earlier, but he grew spiritually for 3 years in discipleship and meditation on the word of God and in prayer and we can assume reasonably, in humble unknown service, and 14 years later started his ministry, according to Galatians chapters 1-2.  It seems that God spoke audibly from heaven or secretly to the hearts of humans many times in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.  How exactly the Holy Spirit communicated this to them in Acts 13 is unclear.  Was it an internal impression in the leaders hearts that they all agreed upon after they prayed, worshiped, and fasted?  Or was it an audible voice, like a miracle here?  Today, it is usually through an internal conviction, zeal, desire, and motivation, based on the truth of the Scriptures, combined with more objective principles such as the confirmation of the local church, character, training, gifting, providencial cirucmstances; – the combination of internal and external objective factors that the Holy Spirit guides us.  The Holy Spirit will use the combination of internal desire and motivation with the confirmation of the leaders of the Biblical and sound local church to guide people today into missions.

See this article for “Thoughts on the Missionary “Call”; and the problem of subjective internal experience and impressions.

8.  Verses 3-4 teach that the Local church sends in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  It is interesting that the Greek word in verse 3 for the local church “sending” them carries with it the idea of “releasing” / “loosing” (after a time of discipleship, training, accountability, confirmation, they are “released” to go and do the work of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting), and the word for “sending” in verse 4 is ekpempo ( εκπεμπω ).  εκ + πεμπω. (“to send out”) You can see similarity with our mission name, “pro-pempo” προ-πεμπω = “to send forth” (fully equipped).  When the local church sends, the Holy Spirit sends; the Holy Spirit does not send someone separately without input from the local church.  This helps cut down on subjectivism and emotions and romanticizing missions.

9.  The church laid their hands on them and fasted again — indicating another period of time, at least several days.  The church approved and appointed them.

10.  In Acts 11:26, we see that Paul and Barnabas were already serving and teaching first in the local church before they were sent out.  Acts 11:26 comes before Acts 13:1-4.

and when he [Barnabas] had found him [Saul / Paul ], he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.  Acts 11:26

If you believe God is leading you into cross-cultural missions, check out some of these books here, especially

  1.  Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper
  2. The Great Omission, by Robertson McQuilkin
  3. Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper
  4. A Vision for Missions, by Tom Wells
  5. Decision Making God’s Way:  A new model for knowing God’s will, by Gary T. Meadors

Make sure you are a member of a Biblical local church, learning and serving and being accountable to elders/pastor/church leaders, just as the apostle Paul and Barnabas were in Acts 13:1-4.

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