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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. - Acts 13:2-3, ESV
What Should Be the Highest Priority of the Church?
The church at Antioch was blessed and growing. A model church, it had been planted and led by excellent, humble, dedicated, Christ-centered, Gospel-preaching men. We don't know how big the church was by Acts 13, but five men are named as the key leaders, likely teaching elders: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. This is a very diverse leadership group, including . . .
- a Libyan (Cyrene)
- a man from sub-Saharan Africa (Simeon Niger)
- a politically connected man (Manaen)
- a devout Jew from the school of the Pharisees (Saul) and
- a man so full of encouragement that they called him not by his given name, Joseph, but by his nick-name, the Son of Encouragement (Barnabas).
These men sought to lead the church faithfully, teaching the Scriptures and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit through fasting and prayer. Suddenly, while fasting and praying, they were told by the Spirit to "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Barnabas and Saul were the key leaders among this group. Barnabas had been the first key leader for the church, sent to Antioch by the apostles. Barnabas had sought help from Saul, better known to us as Paul.
Imagine God calling the two most prominent leaders from a large and influential church to set out on mission together. This shows us the high priority that missions should be for the church, and it shows the faithfulness of these church leaders that they immediately obeyed and sent Barnabas and Saul off on their mission.
Almost 2,000 years after Barnabas and Saul set out on their mission trip, the church has still not reached all nations and tribes with the Gospel. Some estimate that over 7,000 people groups, representing over 4 billion people, remain unreached by the Gospel, having less than 2% Christians in their population. Over 3,200 people groups, having a population of over 216 million people, are completely unengaged, having no mission engagement with the Gospel. (SOURCE)
[NOTE: Please join Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in praying for this unreached people group. If you want to take action, you can support Reaching Africa's Unreached.]
Why are so many people still unreached? Well, we could give the good Calvinist answer and say that God has not yet sovereignly ordained that all the nations should hear the Gospel. But that kind of answer gives Calvinism a bad name, and it is really just a cop-out. God has commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, and we have not obeyed the call. Why not? Because we're too busy doing other things.
Too many churches prioritize almost everything above missions: church buildings, staff, programs, technology, marketing, etc. They are far more interested in growing in size and serving their own members than in reaching the nations with the Gospel. I understand very well the budgeting pressures of local churches. As the pastor of a small church that's less than two years old, we have limited resources. Caring for and seeking to grow the local church is important, but we must never neglect the priority of missions. The church exists to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors and the nations. This must always be our highest priority.
Heavenly Father, forgive us for seeking our own comfort over the advance of the Gospel to the nations. Forgive us for neglecting Your call. Your Gospel, Your mission, Your kingdom and Your glory among all peoples must be the highest priority for Your church. Ignite a fire in us for missions as the priority of Your church. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Proverbs 15:28-33:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Heavenly Father, make our hearts and our actions truly righteous, by Your grace,
that we may seek and live for Your glory.
Give us wisdom to know how to answer,
and hear our prayers as we seek Your will through Jesus our High Priest.
The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
and good news refreshes the bones.
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.
Lord, we are called to give light and good news to the world,
and we pray that You would give us the hear to go and tell,
and prepare the people to hear the good news.
May we be willing to listen to the reproof of Your word
when we are being selfish and foolish.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.
Father, let us walk in the fear of You, humbling ourselves before You,
that we may have true wisdom and may gain instruction and intelligence.
Lord, we need You. Lead us. Teach us. Forgive us.
In Jesus' name, Amen.