In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.
In Acts 11:19 we see the Jewish Christians scattering from Jerusalem, telling only other Jews about Jesus. But in Antioch it was different. The Christians there spread the gospel and opened their doors to both Jews and Greeks (innovation #1, Acts 11:20-21). Not only was this church open to non-Jews, they sought out Jews with scandalous pasts, creating an opportunity for the same Saul of Tarsus to provide leadership now that he had become a follower of Jesus (innovation #2, Acts 11:25-26). When a famine struck Judea, the church at Antioch is the first church recorded in Scripture to voluntarily collect resources and intentionally send it off to assist another church (innovation #3, Acts 11:27-30).
So it should be no surprise that the church at Antioch, not the church at Jerusalem, was the one the Holy Spirit directed to change the world through intentional gospel-spreading, church-planting mission trips (innovation #4, Acts 13:1-3). What was the church at Jerusalem doing during that time? Forcing Peter to defend his actions of entering a Gentile’s home (Acts 10-11) and trying to get the Gentile Christians to become Jewish (Acts 15).
Admittedly painting with a broad brush here, the church at Jerusalem treated the dispersion of their people as an interruption. They kept waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ and the way things were (centered in Jerusalem and around the Jews). The church at Antioch correctly saw the persecution as a massive disruption. Disruption leads to innovation. Innovation changes the world, and that’s exactly what the church at Antioch did almost 2000 years ago.
The COVID-19 crisis is another massive disruption (not interruption). This is the moment for the church at Antioch to rise up, to blaze boldly into the hybrid digital world we all now live in and spread the gospel in new and powerful ways. As church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof accurately questioned, “are churches behaving like malls in the age of Amazon?” I believe that churches that treat the COVID-19 crisis like a minor interruption are like malls, like the church at Jerusalem. If your church is waiting for this crisis to pass so that things can go back to normal, you might be waiting awhile. There will be a new normal we will eventually settle into, but it won’t be the old normal. A worldwide pandemic disrupts the world in ways that will forever change us. I believe that churches that leverage the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis are innovating in the age of Amazon, like the church of Antioch.
Where are the churches at Antioch? Rise up, innovate, and change our world with the gospel!
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