I have yet to see a Church or a pastoral team where there are no interpersonal conflicts. I know this ought not to be the case because Jesus requires a “holy, united” Church and pastoral team, but the reality is that indwelling sin causes us to become selfish, demanding, arrogant and lose focus on the Main Thing. Many Churches have taken huge steps backwards because of such things whilst others somehow have shot forward to greater heights. There is something that is very interesting though … it existed in the Early Church as well … and even before! Read Mark 10:35-45 for an example amongst the disciples. As Paul’s missionary team progressed, a conflict occurred.
Ac 13:13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.”
1) A mission on the move. From here on Paul dominates the leadership of the Missionary Team. (Paul and his companions). This is commonly known as Paul’s first missionary journey, yet a team is in mind. This is fundamental, be it in missions or in a local Church or a Church Grouping. It must be a team, otherwise we will have an autocratic leader with dictatorial tendencies. This does not mean the team leader is a weakling and gets pushed over and away from the central purpose of the mission or Church. There needs to be leadership within the team! After ministering on the Island of Cyprus we find
Ac 13:13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia.
You would recall that Paphos was a city on the southwest coast of Cyprus and the capital of the Paphos District. The missionary team would have boarded a commercial vessel for their journey as passenger vessels were unheard of in those days. You will see that the journey was 175 miles or 282 kilometers (nautical). Perga (also known as Perge) was an ancient Lycian settlement that became a Greek City in Pamphylia, the capital city of Pamphylia Secunda, present day Antalya Province on the southwestern coast of Turkey. As you view the maps (sent separately) you will see the sea journey was in a northerly direction, slightly to the west, across the Mediterranean Sea. From here they travelled to Pisidian Antioch. This was the Roman Capital City of the province called Galatia. It was known as the “cosmopolitan lake district” and had as many as 100,000 people from Galatia, Phrygia, Greece, Judea, including Roman military veterans. For Paul and his team to enter the city, they would have gone through the “triple gate” known as the “Propylon” which was built in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus and decorated with reliefs (which are raised sections in the rock or wood, shaped as a wreath, bust, etc.) of gods, goddesses, winged beings and warfare. They arrived at a Jewish settlement which hosted a synagogue. The starting place for any mission would be linking up with an established Church or Church Group. For this mission team it was a Jewish synagogue because Christianity found its roots in Judaism. One of the failures of missionary ventures today is that they go it alone because they want to start their own “denomination”. The problem is they don’t know the religious landscape of the area they intend Gospelizing. Most Missionary Organizations these days are non-denominational or inter-denominational and work with evangelical Churches who are in agreement with doctrinal statements and are prepared to help support the missionaries. As Christians we need to get the Gospel into cities where there are false religions. I marvel at how God works. Friends I met a few months ago started off as … she a Muslim and he a Jehovah Witness. Today they are Christians serving Jesus. For a season they were in Christian Misisons.
2) A colleague going home. It is always sad to read of things like … where John left them to return to Jerusalem. In this case there is speculation as to why John Mark returned home. Some are …
(a) He was homesick.
(b) He was afraid of the danger that would confront the missionary team, both from a religious and political front.
(c) He resented Paul becoming the team leader where his cousin Barnabas used to be.
(d) He lost confidence in Paul because of Paul’s illness.
Although we will be confronted by this matter again, it is possible that John Mark, a young man, did not like the missionary strategy of Paul and returned home. This sudden departure caused difficulties between Barnabas and Paul. Although the conflict was sorted out and Mark became very useful to Paul, it affected their immediate work. We need to work hard at all ministry relationships. Sadly we all tend to carry guilt. We have all made mistakes. We have all exposed our egos. We have all prevented Gospel expansion. To prevent these things it is wise to make certain the leadership team are on the same page as those venturing into Church expansion, evangelistic ventures or missionary activities. To get to this point, all coming into leadership positions need to have the same doctrinal and theological persuasion. Failure here will result in ministry failure. Then, all getting involved in the Church Plants, Evangelistic Enterprises or Missionary Endeavors need to be of the same mind as the leaders of the Church. When you consider the shambles in the Church at Corinth, all wanting to be leaders, prophets, miracle workers, etc., we see a demonstration that all were not on the same doctrinal and theological page. Progress in this Church was hard. As Luke will develop the story slightly later on, my feeling is that John Mark was young, totally committed to Barnabas and struggled with leadership change. Most of us do. However, like with John Mark, Barnabas and Paul, we need to resolve our difficulties before it becomes public, for when it does, it causes far more damage to the Church than we realize!
Our Father, the two issues on the table today for us to work through are that of working as teams in the Church and Mission Societies and to avoid damaging the Gospel’s progress through interpersonal difficulties. Graciously help us to be people of the Word, understanding doctrinal truth so that our basic theology reflects that of the Scriptures in order for the Church to be Triumphant, even as we live within an ungodly environment. Amen.