The Missionary Methods of the Apostle Paul
by Fred Jonkman
|Introduction||back to top|
Paul, called of God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, is what we would call our "missionary par excellente" of the missionary activity recorded for us in Scripture. The apostle Paul is front and center. From all we know of him, he was an intense and supremely motivated man, both before and after his conversion on the way to Damascus (Acts 9). It was Paul's mission activities (Acts 13 28) that contributed remarkably towards the Christian church's move from the limited sphere of Judaism to the broader frame of the Gentile world. It then becomes, for all religious history, a preeminent model for missionary outreach.
The question then needs to be asked, "Did Paul have a strategy when
accomplishing his missions?" Our problem in answering this today is
that we live in an anthropocentric age. We think nothing can be
accomplished, even in the Lord's work, without having committees,
workshops, retreats and conferences. So much depends on our definition of
strategy in trying to answer this question. If by looking at Paul's
mission activities we mean a deliberate, well formulated, duly executed,
plan of action based on human observation and experience, then it would be
hard to determine a strategy. But if we take strategy to mean a flexible
method of procedure, developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and
subject to His direction and control, then Paul can be seen to have
forethought to his work (Kane 1976:73). Roland Allen (1991:10) wrote,
"It is quite impossible to maintain that St. Paul deliberately
planned his journeys beforehand, selected certain strategic points at
which to establish his churches and then actually carried out his designs."
In fact, it could be said that Paul developed theology and most of his
mission strategy while doing missions (see Bennett 1980:138). (Though
other missiologists do not write of Paul in this way, most use Paul as
their model for ministry. Some may interpret Paul's strategy more broadly
than others, but this involves more reading. For starters, one may read
the section in Perspectives : see bibliography.) Looking
then at the history of Paul's journeys, we can note several aspects of his
strategizing (see Kane, Grassi, Allen, Hedlund).
|Confined Efforts to Four Provinces||back to top|
In looking at Romans 15:18 19 we can note two elements that summarized
Paul's work. First, he directed his work particularly to the non Jewish
world "to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles" (vs. 18).
Second, he limited it to the main area of the Roman world where others had
not gone. Paul claims "from Jerusalem round about as far as Illyricum
I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." The concentration of his
mission was on four of the most populous and prosperous provinces,
Galatia, Asia, Macedonia and Achaia. Both Luke and Paul speak constantly
of the provinces rather than the cities (Acts 9:31; 15:23; 16:6,9; 1 Cor.
|Chose Large Cities as Strategic Centers||back to top|
The city was Paul's theater of mission. Paul's theory was not that he had
to preach in every place himself, but by establishing centers of Christian
life in the important places, the gospel might then spread to the
provinces. The cities where he did plant churches were centers of Roman
administration, of Greek civilization, of Jewish influence or of some
commercial importance. (Allen 1991:13) It is important to note that,
though we see today a rapid growth of urbanization, the city is not more
important and the countryside less important. Rather, Paul's intention was
to have the congregation situated in the city to be a center of light.
(Acts 19:10) How else could Paul claim in Romans 15:19 that he had
evangelized the whole province? Particularly, the church in Rome was to be
of strategic importance when Paul planned to leave the East and begin work
in the West. (Rom. 15: 23 24)
|Began Labors in Synagogues||back to top|
Paul followed the principle of "to the Jew first" (Rom. 16:1),
thus his strategy was to target the people of the covenant in the
synagogue. (cf. Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1 2, 10; 18:4, 19) The custom was
to invite a visiting rabbi to give a word of exhortation (Acts 13:15), so
Paul took advantage of these devout, attentive, and intelligent audiences.
Found there were three distinct classes: Jews, proselytes and God fearing
Gentiles. Here Paul felt at home as all of them had a knowledge of the one
true God, an acquaintance with the Old Testament, and an expectation of
the "coming" Messiah. Only when he was expelled did he go elsewhere.
|Preferred to Preach to a Responsive People||back to top|
For Paul, the spread of the gospel and the extension of God's Kingdom
were of paramount importance. He believed that every ethnic group had the
right to hear the gospel and he would gladly preach to them, but if they
adamantly refused the message and persecuted the messenger, no purpose
could be served in staying amongst them. He felt it would be better to
move on to a responsive group. Paul experienced that it was the devout
Gentiles that were most responsive to the gospel (Acts 13:43; 14:1; 16:14;
17:4; 18:7), and the Jews that opposed his message (Acts 13:45,50;
14:2,19; 17:5; 18:12; 21:27; 23:12). Turning away from his own people hurt
him deeply (Acts 13:46), for he loved them (Rom. 9:2,3), but he could not
compromise the gospel. He was conscious of the fact that a Christian
worker was required to be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
|Maintained Contact with Sending Church||back to top|
Though Paul was called directly by God to be a missionary (Acts 13:2;
Acts 9:15; Acts 13:47), he is confirmed by action (Acts 13:2,3) and sent
by the church (Acts 13:3 4). Paul was convinced that the missionary must
have a strong base at home, for at the end of each journey he always
returned to Antioch to report on his journeys (Acts 14:26 28; 18:22, 23).
The connection between the prayers of the church and the success of the
missions was a vital thing. Paul spent significant time on his return
visits and knew the importance of it. When he was planning to go on to
Spain with the gospel, a letter was sent to Rome to ask for their support
(Rom. 15:15 24).
|Planted Churches||back to top|
Paul's ultimate goal was to establish strong, indigenous churches;
congregations that would be equipped to carry on the task (1 Cor. 1:2,7; 1
Thess. 1:1,8). He stayed as long as he could, setting up the church
inspite of the difficulties. When mature local leaders had been trained,
he would move on, leaving the leaders in charge. These church plants were
self governing (Acts 14:23; 20:17), self supporting, and self propagating
(1 Thess. 1:8).
|Made Use of Fellow Workers||back to top|
Paul believed in teamwork. On all the missionary journeys he had
companions along. Barnabas and John Mark set out with him on the first
journey (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13), and Silas set out with him on the second
(Acts 15:40). The preaching of the gospel was a joint effort (1 Thess.
1:1) and Paul must have recruited many as fellow laborers. Consider the
following texts: Acts 17:4; 2 Cor. 1:19; 8:23; Col. 4:14; Acts 19:22; Col.
4:7,10; Acts 20:4; Phil. 2:20 22,25; Col. 2:7; Acts 18:2,3; Rom 16. Paul's
strategy in his letter to the Romans was also to involve them in his
mission to Spain (Rom. 1:11,12).
|Became "All Things to All Men"||back to top|
1 Cor. 9:19-23 conveys to us the personal outlook of Paul on what the
attitudes of a missionary should be. Paul knew the purpose of his life: to
"gain" men to Christ. Though "free from all men," Paul
knew that this freedom was given him to bring God's love to all, and thus
he makes himself a servant to all. In practice this meant the complete
subordination of every interest, personal and otherwise, to the work of
Christ. (Rom. 15:2) Paul did not carry this "all" to include
that which would be in violation of God's law. And as to the content of
the gospel message, he was adamant and dogmatic (Gal. 1:6 9). Paul does
give some concrete examples of what it means to be "all" to the
Jews (Acts 18:18; Acts 20:16; Acts 21:21 27; Acts 16:3), to the Gentile
world (1 Cor. 8:1 6; Col. 4:5), and to the "weak" (1 Cor. 8:7
13; 1 Cor. 9:12).
|Adeptly Communicated an Unchanging Message||back to top|
Paul viewed himself as a chosen herald to announce a message from God
himself that would affect the destiny of all mankind (2 Cor. 5:19). The
message was not a matter of Paul's personal conviction or opinion (1
Thess. 2:13), nor just a piece of information. It was an authoritative,
life changing message (1 Cor. 15:14), which Paul himself preached with
boldness, assurance and confidence (Acts 9:20,29). The proclamation of
Jesus Christ is at the heart of the missionary task (Rom. 10:14 15) and
Paul communicated Jesus Christ through his lifestyle, work and activity.
Compare Paul's communication of the gospel to different groups. When
preaching to the Jews, he reasoned from the Scriptures. He began with
their own historic beginnings and swiftly proceeds to the life of Christ,
the promised Messiah (Acts 13:16 41; Acts 17:2,3). To the Gentiles, Paul
reasoned from nature (Acts 14:14 18), and used circumstantial object
lessons to bring about an understanding of the gospel (Acts 17:16 23).
Notice also the testimony of Paul in his farewell speech to the Ephesian
elders (Acts 20:17 38): how he was uncompromising in the declaration of
Christ as the only Savior (vs. 20,21,26,27) and how he had "lived"
the gospel (vs. 18,19, 24,31,33,34,35).
|Bibliography||back to top|
- Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.
- Bakke, Ray. The Urban Christian: Effective Ministry in Today's Urban World . Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1987. 80-83
- Bavinck, J. H. An Introduction to the Science of Missions. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co. 1979. 36-56
- Bennett, C. T. "Paul the pragmatist: Another look at his missioary methods." Evangelical Missions Quarterly 16,3(1980): 133-138.
- Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Marten, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. "Mission." by W.P. Bowers. DownersGrove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993. 608-619
- Hedlund, Roger E. The Mission of the Church in the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991. 213-225
- Kane, J. Herbert. Christian Missions in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976. 72-93
- Grassi, Joseph A. A World to Win: The Missionary Methods of Paul the Apostle. Maryknoll, NY: Maryknoll Publications, 1965.
Evangelical but not necessarily Reformed
- Winter, Ralph D. and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1992. (Various authors write on Strategies for World Evangelization, Strategies for Church Planting, Strategies for Development, and World Christian Teamwork. pages D-3 to D-280.)