From the outset of the church-planting vision of the Antioch Initiative, we have had in our sights the non-paternalistic model of the Apostle Paul meaning that we insisted that we would not get wrapped up in properties and buildings, but center our attention on the discipleship of those thirsty for the word of God, particularly, in four counties of Northeastern Pennsylvania where the church of Christ did not exist. To date, two congregations have been planted in two of those four counties (Sayre, PA in Bradford County on 10/19/14 & Tunkhannock, PA in Wyoming County on 6/5/16). Yet, when push came to shove, towns targeted for church planting did not present available prospective meeting places in homes of Christians who lived in practical distance of either location. We satisfied ourselves that we would rent temporary meeting places for obvious reasons—the Christians ready to meet could not meet in the rain and snow. Yet, what we did in the rental of those places (e.g. a renovated engineer’s office suite in Sayre & a renovated plumber’s shop in Tunkhannock) has lulled us into an unhealthy pattern of thinking and practice that is opposite to our originally stated intention of Pauline methodology.
To briefly explain, we never see Paul receiving funding from Antioch of Syria or any other congregation to finance church plants in places like Paphos, Salamis, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe (1st Missionary Journey) or places like Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth (2nd journey). What Paul did was locate people who were willing to listen (e.g. often in synagogues or marketplaces) and shared the message that Jesus was (is) the crucified, resurrected Son of God & enthroned Messiah—in short, he preached the gospel of grace to them. When souls became repentant baptized believers, they were mentored through discipleship by Paul; by apostolic representatives he sent to check on them (e.g. Timothy, Titus, Luke, etc.); and their spiritual progress was monitored and then guided by written epistles and occasional visits from Paul and/or his traveling disciples. Men mighty in the Old Testament Scriptures from Jewish synagogues, often, were ready-made for leadership in new church plants. Added to that group of high-potential leaders were those on whom the Apostles laid their hands resulting in the conferring of supernatural gifts as the Spirit chose to give according to His will in the infant church. Paul never extended or raised a denarius to finance a church plant, nor did he ever give any instructions regarding where those Christians were to meet in assemblies. Things such a meeting places were left to the Christians of the city. Preaching and teaching was done by occasional visits from an Apostle, apostolic representative, prophets in the local church, or men otherwise qualified by their study in Old Testament Scriptures converted out of synagogues. Financing was sent from time to time to Paul while on a journey by churches he had planted and he worked with his own hands to supply for his needs and for those who traveled with him.
That very condensed explanation describes the essentials that were discussed in the recent meeting of core leaders of the Antioch Initiative on Monday, May 22nd, referred to in our last communication to you. As far as mission work is concerned in our brotherhood, we might be hard pressed to find a 21st example of mission being conducted on that Pauline model described above. Yet, one of the core leaders in this work is brother Gene Clemons of McAndrews, KY. Gene has, essentially, operated by the Pauline mission philosophy for the last forty years. What has resulted from his life’s work? Churches have been established in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ukraine, Russia, India, and China. Essentially, all the churches that were planted by brother Clemons met in homes at the outset, thus no money was involved in buying or rental of meeting places. Since brother Clemons has functioned as a fully funded missionary with a vision of spreading the gospel in and beyond the town where he lived and in and beyond his native country of America, he is, quite frankly, the nearest example to the Apostle Paul most of us have encountered or witnessed. His work of discipling those who have grown to disciple others has been and is a seamless dimension of his service to the Lord.
Arthur Barry (Evangelist of the church plant in Sayre, PA) and Gene Clemons were invited to open the meeting’s discussion on 5/22/17 with a brief recounting of their mission experiences. Ignited by those wonderful stories, the core leaders of the Antioch Initiative reached a unanimous decision to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the Pauline approach to church planting beginning immediately.
What does such a decision entail in practical terms? We are resolved to do the following.
First, we will rely on the guidance of God the Holy Spirit to open doors and bless our efforts. At every turn in God’s record in dealing with man, He has proven himself a mission God always seeking to recover those who are away from Him. He is no different today, hence, when we arrive at a place to seek souls, God will have already been there working His wondrous will! God raises up kings and brings down kings determining the seasons of countries and the boundaries of their habitation all with His mission aim of men seeking Him.
Second, efforts are already underway and will be protracted aimed at the discovery of places in the U.S. where Christians have moved where there are no congregations of the church of Christ. As those relocated Christians are pinpointed in those towns where no congregation of the church of Christ exists, they will, summarily, be contacted with the aim of encouraging them to begin to gather on the First Day of the Week for worship in their homes or in whatever place(s) they deem most appropriate for worship and mutual edification. As to meeting places, that will not be the responsibility of the Antioch Initiative or any supporter associated with the Antioch Initiative in the future. No effort will ever be made in the future to buy properties, to finance buildings or meeting places, or to rent the same for new church-plants. Those are matters strictly under the control of the Christians who will be meeting in their homes at the outset.
Third, the Antioch Initiative will extend the offer of teaching, preaching, and one-on-one mentoring of those Christians and their friends meeting in homes by means of SKYPE or other internet delivery mediums. There will be no cost associated with the delivery of this Bible teaching, except whatever internet and equipment set-up costs the churches meeting in homes or venues might incur. Mentoring leaders, preaching sermons, and delivery of classes by members of the Antioch Initiative and her partners will continue for these house churches until which time they have secured their own evangelists and/or regional preachers who can rotate in to help them. If lost souls are won to Christ in a place where there is no congregation of the church of Christ, those new Christians will be shown how they can begin meetings in their homes with fellow Christians for worship and mutual edification. We are not liberal in our theology or practice, yet, moving back to the model employed by the Apostle Paul stands tall in promising to bring us ever closer to the way the church functioned and spread rapidly 2100 years ago. Realizing that the idea of “house-churches” might be a trigger for some that denominational error or cultism is being introduced, let us assure those who already know us from past experience that nothing could be further from the truth. For many reading this news release, it is not unlikely that the congregation where you gather for worship and mutual edification on the 1st day of the week began in someone’s home or some free space in your town or city. No longer will we compete with the attractional models of denominational churches with their multi-million dollar facilities. Such an approach would mean slowing our discipleship of souls in whatever locations God blesses us to find willing Christians who are not meeting for church assemblies to a snail's pace.
Fourth, the goal of these efforts is not to do the work for the Christians meeting in homes, but to prepare them for works of service. One criteria of our willingness to offer our efforts will be our prayerful judgment that some foundation to build upon exists in that charter group of Christians who show willingness to become involved directly in their own work. If it is determined that no promise exists in any certain place among a group of Christians willing to be trained with a view of taking up their own work for God, then the Antioch Initiative workers might find that expending their efforts somewhere else might be more advantageous to the progress of the Lord’s work.
Fifth, if fully funded evangelists can be financed by one or more congregations to move into the region of a state in the U.S. to plant multiple churches (much like Gene Clemons), then the Antioch Initiative would be joyful to assist with those evangelists' work, if called upon, when time and opportunity present themselves. As we go along in this work, core leaders of the Antioch Initiative will always be on the lookout for such evangelists who want to join this work and vision. If an evangelist would like to function in planting multiple congregations in a region, the Antioch Initiative would join efforts in attempting the raising of support, but can never in the future become the congregation to which such support needs would fall back upon. Elmore church puts a tremendous percentage of their gross contributions into mission work, but to raise and, ultimately, underwrite multiple church-plants with the expense of their meeting places and evangelists' salaries will not and should not be attempted. Promoting the planting of churches in homes or free spaces with preaching and teaching being done by men mighty in God's word through internet mediums hold out promise of the rapid spread of church planting into the future. Such work is being done with great success in China and Guyana. We contend it should be done in the U.S. as well.
Sixth, just as Paul employed written epistles and face-to-face visits by himself and others, various gifted teachers, leaders, and preachers of the Antioch Initiative will visit these churches meeting in various parts of the U.S. as time and circumstances allow.
In conclusion, two wonderful congregations of the Lord’s church have been planted (Sayre & Tunkhannock) and we remain dedicated to assisting them along with our supporters until which time they are able to be financially independent through negotiated incremental reductions of support. The Valley Cities’ church in Sayre is moving rapidly toward that goal of independence having assumed (with their overseeing eldership in Kittanning, PA) $850 of their support needs. Yet, it has become clear that the Elmore church cannot continue to plant church after church founded on the commitments of donors who, normally, commit from year-to-year and who could drop out after their yearly commitments, or, in some cases, without notice. As the 3rd, 4th, 5th churches are established and so on, the Elmore church would, ultimately, be the place to which all financial responsibility would roll back. Such is not fair to the churches being planted, or the evangelists who have relocated their families to these new church-plants. Hence, on the one hand, we stand by our commitments to the first two church plants as they move rapidly toward financial self-support, self-propagation, and being self-led, but, in future church plants and as described above, the Antioch Initiative plans to have little or no financial ties to any future church plant based on the Pauline model herein described.
We are more excited than ever that self-supporting house churches can be rapidly established over the U.S. aided by the teaching, preaching, and mentoring supplied by the Antioch Initiative and its partners. As we pray such will happen, the future of those church-plants will rest squarely on the shoulders of the saints who meet in each of them as they accept their own responsibilities to spread the good news of Christ.
If there are questions any of you have regarding this future strategy, we urge you to contact us for clarifications, further explanation, and looking back at the spread of Christianity in the 1st century A.D. On the other hand, if you are reading this and are struck powerfully that we must return to our 1st century roots to see it repeated in our day, we need your help. Do you know of Christians from your congregation or region who may have moved to some area that does not have a church of Christ near them? If so, please contact us and allow us to reach out to them.
It is time for Christians to throw off the shackles of debt on properties in the mission of Christ; for evangelists to target multiple towns in their regions for discipling of souls; and, for every joint in the body of Christ to supply. The lost world is waiting. We must abandon the attractional style of evangelism that says, “Build it and they will come,” and surrender to Christ’s ancient call, “Go, make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching to them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Are there not evangelists who are still ready to "go"?
Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.