Before I jump into my first contribution to Servants of Grace, I want to thank Dave for inviting me to join his respected team of contributors. I am simply a wife, mom, teacher, speaker, and author who is in a lifelong pursuit to know God more.
I’m of the opinion that the twenty-first century church could learn a thing or two from Acts and the Pauline Epistles about the expansion and establishment of the church. As Paul fulfilled his calling to missions and ministry, he employed a strategy, which I believe is normative for all local churches. Before I spell out Paul’s strategy, let’s set the stage.
Before Paul’s Official Missionary Journey
- The Church in Jerusalem was scattered after Stephen was martyred. Acts 8:1
- Some went to Antioch and “preached the Lord Jesus”. Acts. 11: 20
- The church of Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening. Acts 11:22
- Barnabas, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”, was a witness and “considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” Acts 11:24
- Barnabas brought Paul on board to help. Acts 11:25-26 They…
- Got to know the people – “For an entire year they met with the church…”
- Discipled the new converts – “…and taught considerable numbers.”
- Gathered the new believers and started a church
- Established leadership – “Sending it…to the elders” Acts. 11:30
- Demonstrated missionary interdependence with the mother church – Acts 11:29-30
To figure out what Paul’s strategy was, you really need to dig into the book of Acts. When you do so, you can’t help but see that Paul had a pattern that he followed.
Paul’s Core Missionary Strategy
- Paul was deputized/commissioned by his home church Acts 13:1-4, 15: 39-40
2. Paul went to the people and evaluated their needs Acts 13:14-16, 14:1, 18:19, 19:1, 8, 9
3. Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ Acts 13:17-41, 16:31, 19:4, 9-10
4. Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gained converts Acts 13:48, 16:14-15, 19:5, 18
5. Paul gathered the new converts into churches Acts 13:43, 19:9-10
6. Paul instructed them in the faith Acts 14:21-22, 15:41, 20:20, 27
7. He chose leaders Acts 14:23, 20: 17, 28
8. Paul entrusted believers to the grace of God Acts 14:23, 16:40, 20:1, 25, 32
9. Paul continued his relationships with the new churches Acts 15:36, 18:23, 20:17
10. Paul returned to the sending church Acts 14:26-27, 15:1-4
My thoughts on the Pauline Cycle (Just in case you were wondering):
I believe the key to Paul’s successful missionary history is fully credited to the fact that, without fail, he submitted his action to the absolute authority of the Spirit of God. Clearly, many books, articles, and dissertations have been penned by great theologians about the Pauline Cycle and all we can learn from this great missionary. Of this fact, there is no question. I’m also mindful of the fact that “the words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails –given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12). In other words, God’s Word is IT. It’s sufficient in and of itself, so please forgive the ramblings of one woman who is trying hard to get it.
I can’t help but think that two areas of Paul’s church-planting strategy deserve closer examination; his instruction to the church and the manner in which he entrusted them to the grace of God upon his leaving them.
It seems to me that today’s church is too used to being spoon-fed. I clearly remember feeding my children their first solid foods. They’d sit in their highchair and fuss. I’d open my mouth, they’d copy me, and I’d shovel in a bite of food. We’d repeat this process for a while until they were trained to open their little mouths when they saw the spoon coming toward them. This continued for months until they developed the motor coordination necessary to manage the infant-sized spoon themselves. I wonder how long it would have taken them to assume responsibility and gain the skill for self-feeding if I had never let go of the spoon. I don’t know because at some point I recognized that they were ready and I relinquished the tool to my child. Yes, they made a real of mess of things initially, but they got the job done. I am proud to say that all three of my children are accomplished self-feeders today.
Paul understood this principle. Somehow he let his baby churches know that they would be responsible for their own personal spiritual growth. They would need to be self-feeders. As a church, they would also be responsible for self- governing; “When they had appointed elders for them in every church…they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23). They would be self-supporting; “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5: 17). And they would be self-multiplying; “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
I am beginning to understand that perhaps today’s church has acted like a helicopter parent, circling our “children”, making everything right for them. We’ve opened our mouths countless times; hoping the believers in the pews will mimic us and accepted our proffered spoonful of discipleship. I’m concerned that they have not received the message that at some point they must grab the handle themselves.
A few years ago, Bill Hybels and Greg Hawkins of the WillowCreekChurch announced that their program-oriented church-growth strategy wasn’t effective at discipleship. According to their study, “The church plays a primary role in the early stages of an individual’s spiritual life. However, as a person matures spiritually, it shifts to a secondary role. Hawkins noted that disappointment with the church was significantly higher among ‘spiritually stalled’ and mature believers.” (“Willow Creek Pastor Admits ‘Mistake’, Charisma, January 2008, pg. 26).
As I did research for my Bible study, Plug Me In and Let Me Charge Overnight: Keeping Your Holy Enthusiasm Up When Your Battery Runs Low, it occurred to me that spiritual apathy results when we fail to recognize that a great deal of the responsibility for our spiritual growth belongs to ourselves.
In terms of the mission field, David Zac Niringiye says that it is disappointing to hear about unreached people in Africa when the church has been there for 100 years. He says “many of these ‘young’ churches see themselves as receivers and not as senders” (“Jerusalem to Antioch to the World: A Biblical Missions Strategy”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, vol 26, no.1, January, 1990). Have they opened their mouths, but not taken the initiative to grab the spoon? Feed me. Feed me. Feed me.
The solution? Good question. I have three kids hanging off me, and I’d really like to pass the buck to the theologians, but I’ll take a stab at it. In my opinion, the key will be to empower the church to believe that they must take the spoon by the handle themselves at some point. They may or may not feel ready. Their spiritual “motor skills” may not be completely developed. They may make a mess, but it is critical that they become self-feeders.
This is not to suggest that the church doesn’t play a role, doesn’t provide continued discipleship to the mature believer. Neither do I mean to suggest that we plant churches and leave them to their own devices. It does suggest that as a church we must inspire and challenge believers to take ownership of their personal spiritual growth. We must provide them opportunities to see the enthusiasm and energy with which the Holy Spirit has equipped each and every believer, if only they tapped into it. Doing so reminds the church that the journey doesn’t end when we accept Jesus as our Savior and become a church member. Nominal faith isn’t contagious. We need to pray for the zeal of the Lord to ignite our spiritual lives so that we are on fire to fulfill that which we have been commissioned to do. I wonder if that isn’t the message Paul left with the churches he planted.