35 Years of Antioch Network

by | Mar 21, 2022

This post was written by JK
Cover photo by Ryan Thurman & Micah Dailey

 

In the early days of the Antioch Network one of the most famous missiologists in the world called Antioch Network “the re-amateurization of missions.”(1 footnote) He was mostly correct.  The idea that local churches could “plant churches among the remaining unreached peoples” proved irresistibly compelling, for some. Although some of us assumed everyone could and, therefore, should pick one and plant one. Church planting in unreached fields by a local church was a calling only for some.

The vision sold itself from where I watched the Antioch movement emerge. My local fellowship planted churches locally. Several of our congregational leaders and many in the church worked for companies laying the foundations for the computer age. In this new industry, the sky was not even the limit. But tech pioneers did find limits in the old ways of doing business. Entrepreneurial visionaries created new technologies and new ways of managing the creative folks who dreamed up and built those technologies. 

No wonder our smallish, young congregation didn’t hesitate to look over the list of unreached people groups, raise our hand and say, “we’ll take one.”  How hard could it be? We knew how to plant churches.

Turns out that unreached areas of the world had no churches for a reason, multiple reasons. Hard places are hard. Various attempts led to a few successes in the early years of AN. Humility tempered arrogance. Reality confronted naivety.  Perseverance cultivated small successes.

Antioch Network evolved and matured. The evolution of Antioch was just that, evolution. Organisms (churches) engaged an environment (unreached fields). Some didn’t survive. Others adapted (assessed, learned, persevered) and survived longer.  Some survived long enough to reproduce. We grew in understanding the mission and discovered a few surprises on the journey.

Here’s a hand-drawn map, sketched after the fact, describing the trip to date.

Day 1: Send someone to an unreached people and plant a church.

Lesson 1: Survival in a usually antagonistic culture dominated by other strongly rooted mature religions is tough. It is lonely. Zoom, or even email, didn’t exist. To last long enough to be fruitful, we have to take a support structure with us.

Day 2: Churches plant churches best by sending teams out of their own pews.

Lesson 2.1: Teams are, in essence, a microcosm of the church sending them and a visible manifestation of a church in the places they are sent. They need, therefore, a variety of gifts and perhaps most importantly, the right leader.

  • These teams require a certain kind of leader.
  • Teams need a person with an apostolic capacity, calling, strength, gifting.
  • Apostolic leaders carry wounds.
  • This wounds often come as they try to figure out how to use their gift in the context of the local congregations they love.

Conclusion: Back to the basics of discipleship and equipping of leaders.

Remember this point in the narrative of Antioch Network’s evolution. Here a seed of the future Antioch Network’s self understanding comes into view.

Lesson 2.2: Because teams are a microcosm of the church sending them, they carry a particular DNA from the sending church, some good and some not so helpful.

  • AN began to work with sending churches to help them mature and become healthy so that the teams they send have a better chance of survival.
  • Turns out that these churches reflect the character and transmissible spiritual DNA of the leadership.  
  • AN began to try to help church leadership teams mature and get healthy.
  • Turns out the wounds carried by churches and their leaders go further back than anyone imagined.  The core reality that they will “know you are my disciples because of your love for one another,” means that every iteration of church that was born out of broken relationships, animosity, divisiveness…sin. As the many branches of Christ’s body fractals into two new branches, usually caused by disagreement rather than motivated by mission, the wounds deepen. Teams carry these wounds.

Conclusion: We don’t want to reproduce these wounds in the churches we hope to plant among unreached peoples. At some level we better prayerfully re-trace the broken paths back to their source. Turns out reconciliation—“that they may be one, as Father you and I are one”— is inseparable from mission.

Response: Lord, have mercy. Who can possibly deal with the resulting reality of your broken body? “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Lesson 3: This is a longer road that we imagined.

Day 3: Learn about reconciliation. Don’t just talk about it. Deal with it in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s work, God’s way, God’s schedule.

Insert here the many lessons, conclusions discovered— Jews and Gentiles, Nazis and Jews, Protestant and Catholic, Catholic and Orthodox, legions of Protestants, male and female…Wittenberg.

Result: And somewhere here, somehow, some fruit emerges. It is usually messy fruit. The results seem to never follow any full-proof strategic plan. Often an unlikely person or persons see it through. Looking back, we should have known that is the way of the kingdom. He delights in the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the strong and wise. All praise and all glory belong to Jesus Christ alone.

The Maturing of Antioch Network’s Unique Mandate

As it turns out, as the wise woman once said: “You pay for your rais’n.” Antioch’s journey parallels the development of an apostolic leader.  Seems that our apostolic network came to incarnate what it hopes to impart. Insert one or more truisms here: the journey is the destination; practice what you preach; the message is the medium.

Again from the vantage point of looking back over the switchbacks that got us to date, now Antioch Network has come to understand itself as a “fellowship of apostolic leaders.”  

Antioch Network ultimately was not just any churches endeavoring to plant churches among unreached people groups.  It was a particular kind of church. More than that it was a particular kind of church, led by a particular kind of leader, an apostolicly gifted leader or apostolic-appreciating leadership team.  At some point, some of us began to see Antioch Network as a fellowship of apostolicly gifted and called leaders. In the early days most of these leaders carried titles of pastor or missionary or evangelist or church planter. Now not so much.

Antioch Network became a home for both seasoned leaders, carrying this gift, and younger leaders drawn to a fellowship where, they often intuited, they could find their footing, be mentored, healed, blessed, released, encouraged, and appreciated. Some of these leaders launch initiatives born of their visions. Some carry visions still being discerned. Some are simply drawn to the beauty of the fellowship where such dreams could be incubated safely into vision and calling.

Antioch Network like, many apostolicly gifted leaders it serves, had a vision. Initiating leaders often peer at on the horizon through a foggy window straining to see a new works of God that they know is there.  Walking toward that horizon is an act of faith. The vision is often so clear in the heart and mind of an apostolic leader that it does actually exist for them as a certain reality, by faith. It’s just the details and the schedule for getting there that must be navigated.  

Much of the time along the way one is fully convinced that he or she knows what she or he is doing. In the end and over time, what they are actually doing is clarified through the journey itself and fellow travelers.  Along the way, others begin to see what the apostolic leader sees and join themselves and their gifts to reach that exciting future.

The work in a such a person and the Antioch Network itself, both took a while to understand and appreciate. Through the journey God has formed a unique ministry with a unique calling.

Footnote: 1 Interestingly it was this man’s vision and strategies that both ignited and propelled the movement of local churches who dreamed of planting churches among unteaches peoples. A lot of good natured ribbing came his way when he interacted with churches in the network, which he did very often since they were some of the strongest advocates for the Perspectives courses in which he frequently shared.

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