Ministry is not easy. It can discourage and distract. At times, it’s uncomfortable, precarious, and lonely. For most pastors, it requires years of labor in obscurity, shepherding small congregations and having no platform for broader influence. With all the challenges of ministry, why would anyone want the job? Why is pastoral ministry worth it? Pastors in the thick of the struggle will not endure unless they remember the glory of the church.
Nothing is more noble, more wonderful, more amazing than the work of God in and through the church. The church is not one of many institutions in this world. It is the institution of God for all time. It is an honor to participate in the church’s eternal work. Pastors must be convinced of that reality. And the best place to see that reality on display—and to find strength and encouragement for the ministry—is in the book of Acts.
Many treat the book of Acts as if it was a description of how to do church. While there is plenty of practical ecclesiology in the book, that is not the primary focus. Instead of a book on what the church does, Acts is a book about what the church is. If it was a how-to manual for the church, congregations today would still speak in tongues, or have mandatory church services on the third floor of a building where the pastor would preach until sleep overcomes a congregant and he falls out the window to his death (see Acts 20). If the events of Acts were all normative for church ministry, missionaries could only travel by boat and prayer meetings could only happen at night and in homes. But as we survey the deeper purpose of Acts—to provide us a glorious definition of the church—we find four realities that make the church the world’s most glorious institution.
The Church Bears Witness
In Acts 1:8, Christ says to His disciples: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” When Christ calls the first generation of the church “My witnesses” he is identifying the church’s central identity. The church is not a political organization or a social club. It does not enact societal change or engage in social justice. Instead, the church proclaims Christ and it shows the world what life is like in His kingdom. It is a sample of a coming day when Christ will reign over every inch of this earth.
That reign is to be presented throughout the world. As Jesus says, the gospel message must go to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth.” In all the globe, Christians are to describe and exclaim the glories of Christ. Because the church is a sample of the coming glory (Jas 1:18), the church must stop acting as if it’s responsible for the renovation and redemption of culture. When churches lose sight of their foundational purpose—to bear witness to Christ—they start social movements and become distracted with the things of this earth. They forget that they are a witness to Christ, and a sample of His coming kingdom.
When churches stay focused on their primary calling, they inject hope into this world. And when a nonbeliever walks into a God-fearing, biblical church, they will find hope for themselves, and for humanity, because they will see person after person who has been transformed.
This hope-giving is a collective task. Individuals can bear witness to Christ’s transforming work in their life, but only the church can bear witness to Christ’s transforming work for all humanity because only their will nonbelievers find people of all backgrounds, races, ages, and genders transformed (Eph 2:15). When people come to church and see individuals who would never know each other, never care for each other under normal circumstances, now united in love, service, and praise, they see an effective testimony to the power of the gospel.
The Church Has the Greatest Authority
Throughout Acts, there is a contest between the religious leaders of Judaism and the newly formed church. They are debating this question: who is in charge? Who has God-given authority? Of course, the brand-new church claims Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority, and the Judaizers vehemently oppose that claim. In chapter four, they arrest Peter and John for “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2). And look at how they question the apostles three verses later: “When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’” (4:7). The apostle’s respond with one name: Jesus Christ (4:10). He alone has the authority because “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (4:12). What does Christ’s authority have to do with the glory of the church? Everything. The church is the only institution that bears the name of Christ in all it is and all it does. For that reason, the church mediates His authority as it declares His gospel. Of course, the church’s leaders forfeit this authority as soon as they start to seek a name for themselves (see Acts 5:1, Ananias and Sapphira). But as they faithfully exalt Christ and submit to His authority, they have an influence and power that is far beyond any corporation or political movement. In the world today, the church has glory because it has the most authority of any institution as it mediates the authority of Christ.
The Church Is a Global Institution
From Acts 9-20, the church takes the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. In chapter 8, the church extends its influence into Africa when God sends Phillip to evangelize an Ethiopian. In chapter 9, God tells Ananias of Damascus that He has set apart Saul of Tarsus (soon-to-be Paul the apostle) “to take my name to Gentiles, Kings, and Israelites” (vs.15). In chapter 10, a Roman soldier named Cornelius and his family join the church. In his evangelistic sermon, the apostle Peter says, “in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (vs.35). Then in chapter 13, Paul begins his first of three missionary journeys, establishing churches across the Roman Empire. By the time the book of Acts closes, the church has become a global institution, persevering through opposition, flourishing in places where no Christians were previously, and engaging intellectually with the philosophies of the day.
There is no culture, no geographical location, where the church does not have the ability to gain a foothold. It continues today to go forward to all places.
As impressive as multinational corporations are, with money and influence spread across the globe, none of them are as extraordinary or as effective as the church. And this is true not only of the global church. It’s also true of local congregations. As they support missions, they take part in this global institution. And as they proclaim Christ, they announce the world’s only hope.
The Church Is the Most Noble Institution
After his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul returns to Jerusalem, despite being warned that persecution, even death, was inevitable if he went back to Israel’s capital city (Acts 20:10-14). There he stands with Israel—and for the nation—despite the opposition from a Jerusalem mob (Acts 21:27-24:27). When accused of sedition, Paul appeals to Caesar, pointing to his Roman citizenship. Through all the opposition, through the many tribunals and trials documented in Acts 21-28, Paul continues to seek the good of his enemies. He proclaims salvation for both Jews and Gentiles. He shows no bitterness. He doesn’t contrive to escape the hardship. And his message doesn’t change. He is man of character and integrity.
This is the height of nobility: seeking the best for all people, even enemies, refusing to compromise any convictions, and most of all proclaiming the most noble message of the gospel.
Though Paul is accused of being a criminal again and again, the book of Acts shows him to be a man of righteousness. He is on the side of justice because he stands for the gospel, which is not merely a just message, it is the message that justifies the unrighteous. Paul then is on the right side of history. And that is always true of the church. Like the apostle Paul, Christians today will be accused of insurrection and division simply for proclaiming the most noble, righteous, and just message the world has ever known. But the church will continue to proclaim truth because it is noble, and as a noble institution it is willing to endure opposition for the sake of its integrity, and for the good of others, even those who stand against it.
If you are a pastor, you have the privilege of leading a noble institution with global reach, the most authority, and the greatest message the world has ever seen. If you are part of the church, you get to serve this glorious institution. That truth will sustain you when the days are long, the conflict is great, and work is exhausting. Christ is worth it. And His church is glorious. That is why we endure.