“…they (Paul and Barnabas) sailed back to Antioch…On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:26-28, NIV).
Have you ever wondered what it was like for Paul and Barnabas when they came back home after a mission trip? Did they wish they were still on the field? Did they struggle with feelings of guilt for being back safely in Antioch at their home church with their families and close friends? Did they question God’s timing or wonder why they couldn’t have stayed on the field a little longer so they could make an even bigger impact? I’m sure Paul and Barnabas, like the rest of us who go on mission trips, struggled with re-entry into their “normal” lives again. After all, they had shared the Gospel with tens of thousands of people who had never heard the name of Jesus. They had seen possibly thousands of lost people give their hearts to Jesus. Paul and Barnabas had planted churches in nearly every community they visited and trained leaders for each of them. They even saw God use them in miraculous ways to make His power known, whether it was striking an evil sorcerer with blindness to silence his attack on their message, or healing a paralyzed man in front of a large crowd of unbelievers. Ultimately, Paul had known the pain and triumph of being persecuted and nearly martyred for Jesus. It would be difficult to come back to a normal life after experiencing God’s power and protection like that. It would be painful to leave new friends who desperately needed leaders like Paul and Barnabas to continue pouring into their spiritual development. You are probably feeling some of these same emotions right now as you are attempting to re-enter “normal.” You need to know that you are not alone, and that this is part of the sacrifice of leaving your comfort zone even for a short time to obey God’s command to “go.”
Is it possible that this Scripture holds a few insights to help you know how to re-engage in your daily life in a way that is emotionally, relationally, and spiritually healthy? Let’s take a closer look. First, Paul and Barnabas quickly re-engaged. They wasted no time in gathering the church together to share all the great things that God had accomplished on their journey. They didn’t sit around feeling depressed that they were back home, and they definitely didn’t isolate themselves from others. The Bible says that “on arriving there, they gathered the church.”
The second insight is that they took the initiative to tell the story of their mission trip. Often we expect others to ask us to share about our mission trips, and we miss strategic opportunities to give God glory by being proactive witnesses of what we have seen God accomplish through our team. It’s not up to our pastors and leaders to tell our story of God’s might and faithfulness. It’s our story to tell how God used us and how He transformed us in the process. We need to own the story!
The third insight is that they gave God the credit for what was accomplished through their ministry. The Scripture says, “…they reported all that God had done…and how he had opened the door of faith…” God made it all happen. They were active participants, but God was the one who accomplished His mission and opened hearts to receive salvation. If we try to make this trip about us, then we are attempting to shift the spotlight from God to ourselves. To do so would be to commit idolatry, so we need to avoid the temptation to claim credit for something that only God can do.
Last, Paul and Barnabas accepted their current assignment. The Scripture clearly tells how they re-entered “normal” in spite of their longing and concern for the new believers they had left behind. “And they stayed there a long time with the disciples” (v.28). In other words, Paul and Barnabas went back to the normal ministry of preaching, leading, and discipling others just as they had done before their mission trip (see Acts 11:26). Were Paul and Barnabas different afterward? Absolutely! Mission trips often transform those who participate, especially when God works through us in amazing ways. Did they long for a new adventure or to see their new friends again? Definitely! There are several passages where Paul shares his longings to re-visit the churches he planted and to go to new places that had never heard the Gospel. Those longings probably never went away, but Paul and Barnabas obediently accepted God’s will and timing, and purposed to serve Him faithfully in their current assignment.
Re-entering “normal,” though often difficult, is actually an act of great faith and obedience on your part. I believe God wants you to be present, to re-engage in your relationships and ministries quickly. It is vitally important to be proactive in helping your family and friends understand what you experienced and how God changed you on your mission trip. Be patient with those who need time to understand. Most of all, know that your team leader and mission staff are praying for you as you re-enter “normal.”
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness… (Luke 4:1 NIV).
Scripture records that our Savior embarked upon his earthly ministry full and sent, empowered and anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1-19). This intimate relationship fueled his ministry of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and demonstrating the Father’s love for the world. It was “through the eternal Spirit” that Jesus “offered himself unblemished to God” for our salvation (Hebrews 9:14, NIV). The Apostle Paul declared, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9 NIV). This relationship of fullness sustained Jesus during his temptation and triumph in the wilderness, his passion in the garden, his agony on the cross and his victory in the resurrection. In many ways, the life of Jesus was higher than, yet in other ways it was meant to be imitated. He commanded us to love, serve and go as he did. He invited us to lose our lives in His greater life, to take up our crosses and follow Him and to do even greater things than we saw him doing. However, he instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit who would clothe believers with power from on high (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8). What he expects his church to accomplish and who he expects his church to be is utterly impossible without the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Why would the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, exhort believers to be filled with the Spirit and walk by the Spirit? Because that’s what Jesus did. We are compelled to fix our gaze upon our Savior and imitate his Spirit-filled, Spirit-led life as we obey his commands to be his witnesses, to be his compassionate hands and feet in the world and to be his church on display – loving, serving, forgiving and uplifting one another. How is this accomplished? By allowing ourselves to be controlled by the indwelling Spirit of God as we prayerfully surrender our wills and offer our lives to the Spirit’s divine leadership. If we submit to the Holy Spirit’s influence as Jesus did, we too will experience fullness as we walk in the very footsteps of our Spirit-filled Savior.
During his earthly ministry Jesus Christ served as Prophet. He predicted his own betrayal and denial at the hands of close friends (John 13:21-38), his own sacrificial death by crucifixion (Matthew 26:2; Luke 24:7), his miraculous resurrection in an exact period of time (John 2:19, Luke 24:7), the complete destruction of the temple (Luke 21:5-7), and the gift of the Holy Spirit who would tabernacle among his followers and orchestrate the Father’s mission in the world (Acts 1:4-8). Each one of these prophecies took place just as Jesus predicted and are well documented by eyewitnesses.
Jesus also made predictions of future events which are still anticipated by his church. He predicted the Gospel being preached in the whole world before the end comes (Matthew 24:14; Luke 24:47). Jesus predicted his bodily return and physical reign on the earth (Matthew 25:31). He predicted that the existing heaven and earth would pass away, but that his words would remain forever (Luke 21:33). In fact, one of the final statements written in Scripture is Jesus’ triumphant and prophetic declaration, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12 NIV). Those of us who hope in Christ by faith and embrace his precious promises declare with John the Apostle, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 KJV).
The second portrait I have chosen is taken from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth in which he revealed Jesus as the Resurrected Christ. In the first twenty-eight verses of chapter 15 alone, Paul used the name “Christ” thirteen times. He believed that the message of Christ, the anointed one of God, who died for our sins, was buried, and was raised again on the third day, was of “first importance” (vs. 3-5, NIV). Paul camped out on the resurrection component of this Gospel message, explaining the necessity of this divine act. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith… we are found to be false witnesses about God… we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15: 14, 15, 19 NIV). Then he emphatically stated, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (vs. 20, NIV). In this portrait, Paul contrasts the death that came to all mankind through a man (Adam) to the resurrected life that is offered by Jesus to all those who are “in Christ” (vs. 21-22). This truth is what allows the Apostle Paul to declare in worship, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?’…But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 54, 55, 58 NIV).
The first portrait of Christ I have selected from the New Testament is Jesus as The Lamb of God. This portrait is found in the gospel of John and refers to the exclamation of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming toward him. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NIV). John the Baptist goes on to declare that this Lamb is a pre-existent being, who “was before me.” I am moved by the fact that Scripture reveals Jesus as “the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8, NIV). This was Plan A of the Triune God from all eternity; there was no Plan B. Jesus is God the Son, eternally begotten of the Father, and the Lamb who was set apart to be slain for the sins of the world. This is why Jesus referred to Abel as the first prophet in Luke 11:50-51, because his blood was shed after he offered a “better sacrifice” which was itself a prophetic picture of the Lamb of God who was to come to reconcile men to God. This portrait of Christ is even seen in the future when the Apostle John is told not to weep in Revelation 13 because, “See, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then John sees “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” and a worship song for the ages breaks out declaring Jesus worthy to take the scroll and open it. Why? “Because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 13: 5, 6, 9 NIV).
There is a tension to be managed when it concerns the idea of accountability in missional unity. On one hand, we cannot control the behavior of anyone other than ourselves. We are also in no place to judge their behavior. In Romans the Apostle Paul declares, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant. To his own master he stands or falls… So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:4, 12 NIV). On the other hand, there is the idea of accountability to a group in the following chapter where Paul states, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Paul continues, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Jesus” (Romans 15:2, 5 NIV). Each person is personally responsible to glorify God with his/her life while living on mission, but in a larger context he/she is responsible to other members in the body of Christ to edify and encourage the group by following Jesus and maintaining group unity “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6).
What a beautiful thing it is to reflect on the eternal mission of God through the lenses of the theology of the Trinity. God has always been a missionary God, who has from eternity past willed that this mission would flow naturally out of the eternal relationship and self-giving love of Father, Son, and Spirit. When the Triune God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), the capacity for unity with God and with each other was placed in humankind, as well as the ability to communicate the need and opportunity for others to enter into a personal relationship with the Eternal God through faith. God appeared to mankind in the person of Jesus who prayed that the church would be one just as He and his Father were one, that we would love each other just as he loved the Father, and that we would be sent into the world, just as He was sent by the Father. Jesus then promised the Holy Spirit whom He would send out from the Father to testify about him and tabernacle with his people, his body, the Church. The privileged task of each follower of Jesus is to cultivate a self-giving, missional lifestyle that flows naturally out of our intimate relationship with the Triune God and our unity with each other.
Chapters 13-17 in the book of John are some of my favorite portions of New Testament Scripture. I love how Jesus starts with table fellowship and then shows the full extent of his love for his disciples by washing their feet. This example was intended to set the tone of missional unity. It was in this context that Jesus began to cast the vision of what his expectations were for his disciples after he left them to return to the Father in Heaven. He gave them a new command to love each other (John 15:17). He promised them another Counselor who would prepare the way for their message by convicting the world of “guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). Jesus, through his intimate relationship with the Father, provided the example and the capacity for the disciples and therefore, the church, to love, serve, experience shalom, achieve unity, and be sanctified by the Word of truth so that he could send them out into the world as authentic Christ-bearers on mission (John 17:18). The things he offered – love, humility, peace, unity, sanctification, a bold mission, the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit – these explain who we are and why we are here. They explain our identity as his church. These anticipated blessings were all given for the purpose of helping an unbelieving world believe that God sent Jesus (John 17:21-22). Jesus anticipated that the world would come to know him through the lifestyles and message of the church; therefore, he gave us commands that are not optional if we want to see the mission fulfilled.
Keith West is the founding President of Latitude GLC, a non-profit ministry in Rockwall, Texas. Keith believes his calling is to be a "Barnabas" to the next generation of spiritual leaders.