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Acts 14:21-22 • Through Many Tribulations

"After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'"
— Acts 14:21-22 (NASB)

When looking at the book of Acts as some kind of guide for the church it is a healthy exercise to make note of the specific activities which took place. The Apostles were faithful to the Great Commission in that we can take notice that everywhere they went they never merely made converts, but took the necessary time to make disciples. And it was not always taking place under ideal conditions. Previously they had to flee this region, made disciples in the course of their new encounters, but were faithful to come back and finish the process of discipleship even in a place where it was made the most difficult. They were not just preaching the theoreticaly but providing a living example that "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God".

Just because things were difficult even to the point of open persecution, the Apostles did not automatically interpret this to mean that the ministry is not effective and must come to an end. In our current corporate-type culture we tend to measure success by numbers and percentages and therefore make determinations as to when efforts or programs are no longer worth pursuing. The very nature of discipleship chafes against this in almost every way. Modern-day metrics would advise against going back into a region with historically high persecution just to strengthen and encourage a few; biblical discipleship actually demands it.

I think I have been guilty of this as much as anybody, basing an assumption on when a church effort should begin or end on the degree of participation or percentage of involvement by the rest of the congregation. In reality we are to recognize the pattern of the Parable of the Sower that three of the four types of ground upon which the Word of God fell did not realize the best of results. But look how the one-in-four fertile ground yielded multiplied results! The time invested in the qualified few eventually produces in the long term what we might unduly desire to come in the short term.

Regardless, it does not come easy. I would offer that if it came "through many tribulations" for the Apostles, the most qualified purveyors of discipleship in church history, it most certainly will hold true for the rest of us. Perhaps we need to readjust our expectations from those of a 21st Century sales and marketing department which measures everything according to market share to God's standard of hearts fully and exclusively devoted to Him.