Friday, June 15, 2012

The Apostle Paul's Missionary Methods

Let’s talk about the Apostle Paul and his missions. As the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul undertook several lengthy mission trips. There are many characteristics of the Apostle Paul’s missionary methods. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive but here are five of those methods that really stand out in my mind:

_____1. The limited duration of Paul’s stay in any given location: It would have been quite easy for Paul to plant a new church and remain there long-term. There is a great deal to be said about building something from the ground up. While this can certainly be taken to extremes, this not necessarily norm for all missionaries.[1] Paul held to an ideal universality that Christ died for all sinners, Jew and Gentile alike, and each person assumes an equal position before God as sinners.[2] Paul was determined to share the good news of redemption through Christ with as many people as possible.

_____2. Forming communities of Christians: Of course Paul sought to win people to Christ. That should go without saying but Paul was likely the first apostle to fully understand the Great Commission, what it involved, and who it sought to obey.[3] Making disciples of all nations meant, to Paul, creating communities of Christians as a means of spreading the gospel.[4] A strong base of support, such as the church at Antioch, is necessary for continuing missions.

_____3. Missions are a team effort: Paul worked as the leader of a team in his mission efforts. His teams recruited and trained their own members, were financially self-sufficient, and even disciplined their own members when necessary.[5] Though it is difficult to argue with the notion of there being safety in numbers, this was especially true in Paul’s time when travelling alone was a rather dangerous undertaking. When writing his epistles, Paul went out of his way to share authorship the members of his team. This sharing of responsibility by Paul and his companions modeled the pattern set by Christ and the disciples in their proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of God in Mark 6:7.[6]

_____4. Understanding the need to change the message based on the audience: This most certainly does not mean changing the gospel to suit different audiences. It does mean altering the method of delivery so that those who are hearing the good news proclaimed hear it in a way that they may be more receptive to. Paul understood from his own conversion experience that Christ had liberated him his sins and from the powers, he was free to become a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles.[7] Paul even went so far as to remove obstacles from those who hear the gospel by circumcising Timothy acknowledging his responsibility as the messenger to do so.[8] This contextualization modeled by Paul has been followed through the centuries by such apologists as Tatian, Justin, Clement in the early church, Cyril and Methodius to the Slavic peoples, Nobili in India, Matteo Ricci in China, etc.[9]

_____5. Willingness to endure hardships: Paul was not only willing to endure hardship and persecution, he tackled them head on! Paul knew all too well that he would suffer for the sake of whose message he carried to the nations as he knew them. This includes the physical suffering Paul endured during his ministry as well as the spiritual attacks he endured encountered.[10]

As I said, there are other methods that one might identify and expand on in a discussion such as this. For me, these five really jump out when considering how Paul went about spreading the Gospel throughout his travels. Feel free to add you own in the comments!



[1] Moreau, A. Scott, R. Corwin Gary, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 61.

[2] Peters, George W. A Biblical Theology of Missions. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1972), 148-50..

[3] Glasser, Arthur F., with Charles E. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, and Shawn B. Redford. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 290-91.

[4] Moreau, et al., (2004), 61-62.

[5] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 150.

[6] Glasser et al., (2003), 295-96.

[7] Ibid, 297-98.

[8] Moreau, et al., (2004), 62.

[9] Ott, Craig, Stephen J. Strauss, and with Timothy C. Tennent. Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 274-75.

[10] Winter and Hawthorne, eds., (2009), 152-53.

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