When 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 that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. —Acts 14:21–23 (ESV)
Acts 13–14 contains what is sometimes called Paul’s first missionary journey. In it he goes on a roughly circular route, but as he nears his point of origin, he goes back the way he came, effectively circling back to visit and strengthen the disciples he has just made, as well as set up leadership for these new churches.
In today’s text, Paul and his coworkers are said to have ‘made many disciples’—new believers in the Lord. But instead of leave them as infants, Paul strengthens their souls, encouraging them to continue in the faith. This was especially important because these Christians, including Paul, were experiencing intense persecution in the region. (Paul had just been stoned and left for dead near one of the towns!) It was also important to Paul to ensure these new believers had strong churches who could help continue the work of discipleship.
As you think about your children, students, or church members, think about your task as not just making disciples, but making strong disciples. How can you strengthen their souls and encourage them to continue in the faith, as Paul does? Is there anyone who you, like Paul, need to ‘circle back’ to and encourage?