Several scriptures tell the churches how to find a pastor. 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9 list the requirements of the pastor. A pastor needs to be able to desire, teach and administer his role, to be of exemplary character and to be confirmed by the church that this is the case. Acts 6: 1-7 gives a playful example of how to "appoint" deacons to the Church, and give instructions on how to "appoint" pastors. (Acts 6: 3, Titus 1: 5) and communities decide.
In many ways, Acts 11: 19-26 is an encouraging passage for churches without a pastor. To illustrate how Barnabas and Saul (Paul) are concerned, I find that these men are unique in their caliber and vocation in the history of the Church. Paul was the most important apostle of the Gentiles, and Barnabas stood side by side in this ministry (compare Acts 13: 1-3). At the same time, they functioned more or less as Antiochia's first pastors, though their role was somewhat beyond the local church, and so their example of churches without a pastor is revealing and encouraging today.
Acts 11: 19-26 throughout Acts
The church was born of the Spirit, grew and spread in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (Acts 1-6, cf 1: 8). The persecution dispelled their followers from these areas, and Saul was called to be an apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 7: 9). Peter, the most important apostle of the Jews (Gal 2: 7-8), saw the ghost poured out upon Cornelius the Gentile and his house, and told Jerusalem about it (Acts 10: 1-11: 18). When we come to Acts 11: 19-26, we must foresee how God would need Paul to bring the gospel to the very end of the earth. Acts 11: 19-26 teaches us how this happens, and the rest of the book of Acts can be roughly summarized by recording how Paul gave birth to the gospel (Acts 13-28).
A summary of Acts 11: 19-26
Although the Gentiles were driven out of Jerusalem by persecution, they continued to give the gospel and many more non-Jews were saved (Acts 11: 19-21). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to lead the faithful in Antioch, and the church flourished under his ministry (Acts 11: 22-24). In particular, here we have one of our examples of a church without a pastor who receives someone who acts more or less as a pastor.
As the passage continued, Barnabas recognized that the church could also use another good man, and he may have seen Antioch as a non-Jewish church that could become the basis for Paul's mission to the Gentiles. So he went to seek Saul, to find him, to bring him to Antioch, and they taught at Antioch for a year (Acts 19: 25-26). Again, we find an example of a church where a man was accepted as a pastor.
God's work through these two and the Church was so effective that the surrounding church coined the term "Christian" for the faithful in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They lived like Christ, spoke of Christ, and were delineated as a group of people who were united around Him.
As Acts 11: 19-26 can encourage a church without a pastor
Considering this understanding of Acts 11: 19-26, we look at the passage with a look at how it can encourage a church to seek a pastor.
First, be encouraged that the Lord can build a church without a pastor.
When the faithful dispersed to Antioch, they gave the gospel to the Gentiles and preached "the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20). Because "the hand of the Lord was with them … a great number who believed that they had turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:21). All this happened without mentioning the guidance of these believers.
While each church should ideally have a pastor and, if needed, several pastors, a healthy group of believers will continue to form disciples and function as they should in the absence of a pastor.
Second, God can use the greater body of Christ to help a local church find a pastor.
When the church in Jerusalem heard of the work of the Lord in Antioch, she sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22). When Barnabas saw this wonderful outpouring of the "grace of God," he was glad and preached to them powerfully, since he was the "good man" he was (Acts 11: 23-24). As a result, "many people were added to the Lord" (Acts 11:24). The hand of the Lord can work powerfully through a thriving church blessed with a gifted leader.
Just as Jerusalem was a help to Antioch at that time, churches today can seek the help of others in the search for pastors.
Third, pastors can help to find pastors.
In Acts 11: 19-26, we find not just one, but two examples of finding a pastor for a church. As the community grew, Barnabas saw the need for more leadership. The fact that he had to search for Saulus in Tarsus implies that he did not know where he was, except for the general situation of the city, and that it was a city of 500,000. Eventually he "found" him and "brought him back" (Acts 11: 25-26).
Churches sometimes find it difficult to find a pastor, but, supported by the guidance of their church or other leaders in the body of Christ, the hard work of the church pays off, and the Lord can bless a church with a needed pastor, just like him it did for Antioch.
Fourth, a church with its new pastor remains in God's grace.
Notice that Antioch blossomed the whole way in the grace of God. Barnabas, Barnabas and Barnabas and Saul – the Lord's hand was at every step of the way in the life of this church.
This is a church continues in God's grace means that God can bless a church while he is temporarily without guidance. The addition of a pastor obviously helps to organize the church so that the Great Commission can be pushed further. Either way, God's grace is evident before and after a church has found its pastor.
Fifth, a pastor should make the church find his successor.
This point comes after Acts 11: 19-26. When Barnabas and Saul served in Antioch, the church eventually added three more men to their leadership – Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13: 1). Because of their unique vocation, Barnabas and Paul gave these men the baton to continue the pastoral work of the Church as they went to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13-14). We may suspect that Barnabas and Paul probably played a key role in the development of these leaders, and the church was able to continue with an established leadership, even as Barnabas and Paul departed.
Ideally, it may be helpful for a pastor today to train a pastor before he leaves, or it may be helpful to just lead the church to find the next pastor and then resign when the new pastor comes. Or maybe he can outline the process, step aside and let the church take him over there. Every church is different and no two transitions in leadership are the same. In one way or another, a church should have a plan to find their next pastor, and since God is gracious, the church will also have an idea of who that person is.
With all this, it is obvious to Antioch that God sees that a church is without a pastor, can bless them in the absence of a pastor, bless them by providing a pastor, and continue to bless them when a pastor arrives. If possible, a church and its pastors should educate pastors from the community. At the very least, pastors should lead the church to find out who will lead the church in the future, or leave the church with an appropriate plan. If your church does not have a pastor, you can be encouraged that God can bless you as He did with Antioch a long time ago.
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