“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” (Acts 14:21–23, AV)
In my years after college, I held positions in military leadership, business management, and then pastoral leadership. There was a common thread in these positions. You might think it was leadership and you are correct. However, there is something we often forget when we consider leadership. That is preparing our people to succeed in their mission.
In the military we spent considerable time with our soldiers, training them to engage in armed conflict. We trained and rehearsed for tactical operations, over and over again. We also sought to ensure that every key leadership position was filled with competent personnel.
This was the same in business. However, the daily operational schedule often interfered with our ability to properly train the operators of our machinery. Yet, here too we ensured that we had the best qualified people in key leadership positions.
With all the emphasis on training and preparation for success, I wonder if we in the church have the same priority. It seems that many churches are content to get people into the pews and allow them to set up camp there. What I mean is, have we truly prepared our people for life as Christians. I am afraid that in many cases the church has failed in this area. Christians and churches are woefully prepared for the challenges facing them in our world.
This failure to prepare Christians and churches was not the pattern that Paul established. Paul and Barnabas, after preaching and making disciples in Derbe, retraced their steps to Antioch and worked to make sure the believers and churches were prepared to face a hostile world. The Scripture states that they were “confirming the souls of the disciples.” The word translated, “confirming” in the KJV is episterizo, which refers to strengthening or rendering firmer. They were working through the ministry of sound teaching to strengthen them in the faith and “exhorting” to be steadfast in the faith.
More than this, they ensured that each church had sufficient leadership in place. They appointed elders in each church. Yes, they established a pattern of churches having a plurality of elders. These elders would be Spirit filled men, fully devoted to God and meeting very stringent qualifications. They were to be the shepherds/pastors of the churches, providing spiritual leadership and oversight.
Our churches today need to consider this example of preparing believers and Churches to face the hostility of the world. For this, the church needs good and well-equipped leadership who will pour into people who have a hunger to grow in the faith. We cannot expect this to happen in a one-hour a week worship service alone. It will take a commitment of time and energy on behalf of leaders and parishioners. We need leaders who will set the example for the flock and equip the sheep in biblical teaching. We also need parishioners who will get out of the Sunday 11-12 mentality and engage in a biblical discipleship community throughout the week.