Dr. Jeff Iorg is the President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, but his book The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for Transformational Church is not a work that should only be read by students. Rather, it’s a book for practitioners. Whether you’re a small group leader, deacon, elder or pastor in your church, this is an encouraging book full of biblical insight. It’s worth digesting with a group, whether your staff or leadership team.
Using the example of the church in Antioch in the New Testament, Iorg identifies seven characteristics found in that first century spiritual dynamo of a church that have significant implications for changing your church as well.
- Spiritual power
- Entrepreneurial mindset
- A disciple-making community
- Doctrinal convictions
- Conflict management
- Strong leaders and followers
- Generous sacrifice
Each of the above are dealt with in their own chapter. The ones I found to be the best are spiritual power, doctrinal convictions and strong leaders and followers.
From the chapter on spiritual power, Iorg challenges pastors and ministry leaders not to succumb to being CEOs, and he points to the examples of the leaders in the Antioch church. They were led by the Spirit.
The spiritual responsibility to be a pacesetter is a normal expectation of pastoral leaders. Pastors, and others in related ministerial roles, are spiritual leaders. We aren’t primarily organizers or administrators. Our leadership skills are more than a collection of abilities and acquired techniques. We are more than speakers and motivators influencing people by charisma or intellect. We are spiritual leaders. We model what it means to follow the Spirit’s leading, to be Spirit-controlled, to be in biblical language, “filled with the Spirit.”
The chapter on doctrinal convictions is an important read for church leaders and members. Iorg describes the conflict that almost split the early Christian movement between Jews and Gentiles and the resulting council that met in Jerusalem in Acts 15. They went to great lengths to defend and uphold doctrinal truth, and throughout the New Testament (and early church history) false teachers and heretics are called out by name in order to warn the churches. Today’s Christian culture lives in fear of offending false teachers, on the other hand. However, the maintenance of unity and doctrinal integrity are the responsibility of leaders.
Christians who disrupt their church for frivolous reasons must be rebuked and corrected (2 Thessalonians 3.6-13, Titus 3.8-11). Christians who upset their church’s fellowship by sinful choices must repent or be removed if they continue to resist (1 Corinthians 5.9-13). A church is supposed to be a unified, contented fellowship preoccupied with the mission of expanding God’s kingdom.
He asks, “Is it ever biblically permissible to foment controversy and even divide a church?” He answers, unequivocally, yes.
When a core Christian doctrine is taught erroneously, the perpetrators must be called to account, challenged to repent, resisted if they won’t recant their position, and dismissed (or abandoned) if necessary. You have permission, even an obligation, to defend key doctrinal issues to this extreme.
Before you think he’s out of line, Iorg has a helpful delineation of what’s “worth fighting for.” He describes differences between convictions (core teachings of the church that must be defended), commitments (core values for a church or denomination) and preferences (regional or cultural distinctions).
In the chapter on strong leaders and followers, he demonstrates effectively that Antioch was led by a team of spiritually mature and gifted leaders. It was this team approach to leadership that enabled primary leaders to lead effectively and the church to follow their lead, trusting that God was using them and guiding them. Iorg identified three problems which plague the acceptance of strong leadership in our churches today:
- Destructive leaders and their legacy. “Some pastors confuse authoritative leadership with authoritarian leadership.”
- Poor decisions by followers. This happens in a church in which carnal church members have been leading and dominating the church for so long that they refuse to relinquish control or to submit to the spiritual leadership and authority of their pastor.
- Misreading passages about authoritative leadership through current cultural lenses rather than as timeless truth.
Part of the issue is the infiltration into churches of the general rejection of authority in modern life. God affirms authority structures.. and works through those structures to give order, guidance, and protection to society in general and His people in particular.
The one thing I wish Iorg had said in this chapter is that strong leaders must be humble followers. It’s implied a few times, but it’s not expressly stated. Any pastor or leadership team given authority to lead in the church must remember that they lead under the authority of the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the Word of God. By being humble followers who live in affectionate, daily worship of Christ and whom model obedience to His Word, they are able lead with true spiritual strength.
I was most disappointed by his last chapter The Future of Your Church. It was different in tone and even language from the previous ones. It almost felt like it was written by someone else. He expressly says, “The church is God’s ultimate purpose for the universe.” I just can’t agree with that statement. The glory of God is the ultimate purpose of the universe.
“..so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1.12)
However, with that caveat, I’d highly recommend the book to you, your church and small groups.