Receiving a deputation
by Daniel Grimwade
At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas returned to Antioch – the church that had commended them to the grace of God and sent them out to preach the gospel.
Luke describes this first missionary deputation meeting: ‘And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples’ (Acts 14:27-28).
What excitement and joy must have filled the people’s hearts as they gathered to hear all that God had been pleased to do!
Opportunity and opposition
They heard how Paul and Barnabas had travelled to Cyprus, preaching the gospel from Salamis to Paphos. God was evidently with them and the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, had been soundly converted. Moving on to Asia Minor, they had preached in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch – where at one stage ‘almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord’ (13:44).
This aroused much jealousy among the Jewish leaders and led to their expulsion from the region. By now a pattern of opportunity, conversion and opposition was beginning to emerge.
The people would have listened intently as Paul related how, at Iconium, ‘a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed’ (14:1). But imagine the people’s concern as they heard what had happened at Lystra. At first the missionaries were hailed as gods, but later were dragged out of the city and stoned.
Nevertheless, despite such opposition, the advance of the gospel could not be halted. The listeners must have marvelled at the missionaries’ courage as they subsequently revisited the cities where they had suffered persecution, ‘strengthening the souls of the disciples’ and ‘encouraging them to continue in the faith’ (14:22).
Having heard such a report, the people must have returned to their homes encouraged and strengthened in their own faith – glad that Paul and Barnabas were safely back with them but also rejoicing that God had wonderfully opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
They had received stirring confirmation that the gospel really is good news for all the nations of the world. God had done great things. He had clearly used his missionary servants and heard the prayers of the sending church. What an encouragement it must have been to hear these missionaries speak of their work.
Thankfully, we still have opportunities to hear about, and be involved in, the work of mission. Indeed, this account in Acts ought to stir up and inspire pastors and churches to make their own plans to receive missionaries on deputation.
The deputation meeting today
Acts 14 shows how important missionary deputation meetings are for the growth and expansion of the church worldwide. Paul and Barnabas’ work was not complete until they had returned and reported back.
We too should see such meetings as a vital part of our church’s involvement in Christ’s great commission. Mission work ought to be a clear priority for every local church. We best express our concern for and involvement in world mission by welcoming and hearing those working on the field.
Acts 14 emphasises the priority the church gave to hearing from Paul and Barnabas about their missionary endeavours. The whole church gathered – not just a handful of committed people.
We are not told whether the meeting involved just one gathering or several. It might have been a day conference on the Lord’s Day or some other occasion. But whenever it took place it was given a high priority in the life of the church.
The narrative even suggests that it may have taken precedence over the church’s regular meetings. They really wanted to hear what God was doing through those they had sent out. We also need to ensure that missionaries are given the priority their work deserves when they visit us.
We are told that Paul and Barnabas spoke of all that God had done with them. I don’t believe for one moment that they could have done that in a five-minute slot in the morning service! The church was eager to hear and learn.
Adequate time was given, so that the people could grasp what had happened and learn how the gospel had broken through into the Gentile world in such an amazing way. God’s promises and plans were being worked out before their eyes.
We need to ensure that when missionaries come to us they are given adequate time to convey what God is doing in other lands and cultures as he fulfils his saving purposes in Christ.
How does it work?
Once we have grasped how important these meetings are, we need flexibility, creativity and commitment to maximise the opportunities we have. Missionary meetings do not just have to be on a Wednesday evening!
Sometimes it may be good to change the night of our midweek meeting or combine with another church to hear a missionary who is visiting the area. Missionaries on deputation often find it hard to fill Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
So why not have a breakfast meeting on a Saturday morning? What about a Friday or Saturday night missionary rally aimed at young people from churches in the area? How about a day conference with several missionaries or mission speakers? The opportunities are limitless if only we put our minds to the matter and give it the priority it deserves.
If you are privileged to have a missionary visit on a Sunday, why restrict him or her to an after-church meeting in the evening when everybody is tired and full from the day’s ministry? Why not have them speak in the afternoon or as part of the service?
Most of the men supported by EMF are preachers, and many can preach in English as well as speak about their work. Would it not do our people good to hear God’s word being expounded by those who normally work on the frontline of gospel missionary endeavour?
Those of us who are pastors and leaders of churches should seek to plan ahead to give such meetings a priority in church life. In doing so we shall ensure that our church is as well-informed as those in Antioch concerning the work of the gospel overseas.
The author is pastor of Thornhill Baptist Church in Yorkshire and a member of the EMF Executive Committee.