|Paul’s Church Planting Practices|
Examining Acts for Church Planting Guidelines and Principles
In Acts 13 through 21, the activities of Paul and his coworkers establish the first church planting movement, and demonstrates a church planting methodology that is flexible, financially lean and operates under a surprisingly brief timeline. Their work was taking place among very similar cultures and times to our own. We can look to their methods to re-examine and revise the church planting models we use today, and especially to increase our expectations of what God can accomplish through His people as He builds His Church.
Here are some thumbnail overviews to get our imaginations (and hopes) racing:
The Galatian Churches
Paul was probably sick (Gal 4:13, perhaps from beatings and stoning, II Cor 11:24,25) during much of the time he proclaimed the gospel and taught new believers over the course of a year in the Galatian region. He spent from two to six months in each of the cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:1-23). The newly planted churches were left for months at a time on their own.
Paul and his coworkers returned to each city on their departure from the region to ordain multiple pastors in each church. Most of these new pastors had only six months experience as believers in Jesus Christ. These churches, in much less than a year from their launching, had their own local leadership teams and were able to function independently under difficult oppression. Paul would visit again in about 18 months to two years (Acts 16:1-3), only staying a few months in the province. Another three years would pass before Paul visited for the last time, again for only a few months (Acts 18:23).
The Macedonian Churches
Paul and Silas visit the churches in Galatia on their way forward, sharing with them all the letter from the Jerusalem council. As a result, these young churches were established and growing, "so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily," Acts 16:5. At Lystra, they invite Timothy, a believer now for perhaps two years, to join in with the church planting team. Timothy was already operating itinerantly, being "well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium," Acts 16:2. While they had targeted Asia, they are redirected by the Holy Spirit to Macedonia. At Troas, Luke rejoins the team.
The itinerant team of church planters again spends a brief time planting new churches, somewhere between two to five months at Philippi and Thessalonica, as little as one month at Berea (I Thess 2:17). Silas and Timothy stay on for a bit longer in Berea (Acts 17:14). At Philippi, Paul, Silas and a local worker (Justin) endure severe persecution (I Thess 2:2) and amazing deliverance. Philippi becomes Paul's, "dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown" and the only church from which Paul receives personal support, "no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only" (Phil 4:1,10,15,17). Women are prominently mentioned and associated with the work in these churches (Acts 16:13; 17:4,12; Phil 4:2,3). The work here is also associated with converting whole houses, not just individuals (Acts 16:15, 31-34). Paul was not what we consider a "full time" minister today; He was functioning as what we call a bivocational church planter, working full time ("night and day" I Thess 2:9; II Thess 3:8).
The Churches of Achaia
In Corinth (and briefly in Athens), the team spends as much as 18 months, and while there, do some followup work in Thessalonica and Berea. Unable to visit them though he wanted to do so (I Thess 2:18), Paul writes I Thess during this time and sends Timothy to deliver it (I Thess 3:1,2). Paul then sends again for Timothy and Silas to join him (Acts 17:15), which they do at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Timothy had likely left Thessalonica after delivering the letter to rejoin Silas in the work at Berea.
Paul is again functioning as a bivocational church planter in Corinth (Acts 18:1; I Cor 9:6-15; II Cor 11:6-10. We also see again that whole households are being converted (Acts 18:8, household of Crispus; I Cor 1:16, household of Stephanus). We also learn that Paul is giving responsibilities for ministry to others in the work (Paul only baptized the first converts, Stephanus's household, plus Crispus and Gaius, I Cor 1:14-16, though many were baptised there from the beginning, Acts 18:8).
During the Corinthian work, Paul relates that they are presently glorying about the Thessalonians "in the churches (plural) of God" (II Thess 1:1-4). Paul makes mention of a church in Cenchrea (Rom 16:1), a nearby port city to the capital Corinth. It seems quite likely that Paul and his team, perhaps along with workers from Corinth, were busily planting several other churches in the region during this 18 month period (see Paul's statement about the firstfruits of Achaia, not just of Corinth, in I Cor 16:15 and his mention of the dedication to the ministry of the saints demonstrated by Stephanus). This inference is also supported by II Cor 1:1 "unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia" and Rom 15:26 "it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints."
The Dangers of Elevating Notable Men Subsequent visits to Corinth by the recently converted Apollos (the great orator) and by Peter (the flamboyant miracle-worker), divide the church into parties who elevate and follow men. This danger is one we need to take seriously today. It is a common inclination among men to associate with an elevated person who then becomes the rallying point. This is divisive to the church and dangerous to the worker, and has nothing to do with Christian pursuits. It is destructive, and not simply "good branding," to have a big name in front of a work.
While Paul follows up with a series of letters, he does not return again for three or four years (Acts 20:2).
Enlisting new workers Paul leaves Achaia with additional workers: Acquila and Priscilla (who had already travelled from Rome to Corinth, and whom he leaves in Ephesus, Acts 18:18), Erastus (Acts 19:22), as well as Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29). At some point, Sosthenes travels from Corinth to join the work in Ephesus (Acts 18:17; I Cor 1:1, Corinthians being written from Ephesus), as do Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor 16:17). In all, Paul names more than 80 associated workers. These were not men under his control, but men also involved in the work, all of whom at one point worked alongside Paul.
The churches of Asia
Paul begins working in Ephesus. During this time, Paul and his team are also ministering to the troubled church in Corinth (Acts 19:22; 20:1-3; I Cor 4:17; 16:10; II Cor 12:18; 13:1). As to timelines, Paul is likely there for three years (depending on how you take Acts 20:31, perhaps for only two and a half years). Paul is clearly proclaiming the gospel three months in the synagogue, and holding discussions for two years through the school of Tyrannus. We also see Paul continuing his practice of bivocational ministry (Acts 20:33-35; I Cor 4:11,12).
During this time, "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greek," Acts 19:10. We also learn from the trouble with Demetrius the silversmith, that Paul and his team had widely spread the gospel in Asia, "not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands." Philemon with his slave Onesimus is one of these converts from Colosse, as is Epaphras. They are likely responsible for the work in Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 1:6,7; 4:11-13; Philemon 1:22-24).
The churches of Rev 2 & 3 are the likely result of Paul's work and workers in Ephesus. It is also likely that because of Paul's concerns for Rome (Acts 19:20-22) that he may have sent Pricscilla and Acquila there as he sent Timothy, Erastus and others into Macedonia. Priscilla and Acquila had fled Rome under persecution, and had worked alongside Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. Paul greets them preferentially in Rom 16:3-5.
Consider the practices of the Apostle Paul and his teams in your church planting strategies. Especially, increase your expectations of what God can do with new believers in a relatively short period of time. We may be placing entirely too much importance to our labors and oversight, compounded by grossly underestimating God's power and place in the church planting process.
Waiting for the Call? Confirmation? Education? Commission?
Paul's "three years in the Arabian desert" is often cited as reason for waiting rather than acting with God's authority on God's word. Maybe we should look more closely at this supposition. What if there were actually five missionary journeys? We do know that Ananias was told Paul’s calling “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Hard to imagine he did not pass this information along to Paul, especially since Paul, “straightway preached Christ in the synagogues” and “and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus.”
Besides Paul’s immediate response in preaching the gospel and strengthening believers, here is what makes me wonder:
So, should we ask if Paul’s famous “first missionary journey” actually his second or third? We find this in Acts 15:23 “And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”
Whoa. Gentile churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. Really? Not just the one in Antioch? Wasn’t Antioch THE gentile church, until Paul’s first missionary journey planted churches in Cyprus, Pamphyllia, and throughout the Galatian regions of Pisidia and Lyaconia?
Acts 15:30 “So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:” and finally Acts 15:36,41 “Paul said …Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how they do… and then Paul and Silas “went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”
Through Cilicia and Syria, where WE had preached the word of the Lord? Not only the scattered Jews from Jerusalem, who went only so far as Antioch (Acts 11:19,22), and who, apart from Antioch, proclaimed the gospel “to none but unto the Jews only?” Acts 11:19).
I think it is quite likely that Paul’s first missionary journey was from Damascus up through Syria, his second was from Tarsus throughout Cilicia, and we are already familiar with his third, fourth and fifth journeys.
Not only was Paul not likely “in seminary” in the desert for the first three years, his itinerant ministry did not begin as a result of being “commissioned” by the church at Antioch seven years later.
Get To Work Now Just as elders are recognized because of the example and work they are ALREADY doing, Paul was recognized by Antioch in the same way. He was already serving and planting and strengthening churches itinerantly for quite some time.
Alan Knox posted an article on his blog, "Paul Came Out Running," questioning the commonly held view of this time in Paul's life.
Somehow, Paul’s narration of events following his conversion (Galatians 1:15-18 ) have turned into a three year stint in the Arabian desert where God taught Paul and prepared him for “ministry.” I’ve heard Paul’s three years in the Arabian desert as justification for people spending three years (or more) in Bible college or seminary during which time they can focus all of their energy and resources on study. Why? Because this is their “season” for study and reflection just like Paul had his “season” for study and reflection in the Arabian desert.
There are several problems with this. First, we see that Paul begins proclaiming the gospel and serving people immediately after he was converted.
Second, Paul does not say that he was in the Arabian desert. Paul says that he went to Arabia, but Arabia was a large place. He could have meant only a few miles east of Damascus, or any of several cities with large Jewish populations in the Arabian peninsula.
Third, Paul does not say that he spent three years in Arabia. Paul says that he went from Damascus, to Arabia, then back to Damascus. Then, three years after his conversion, Paul traveled from Damascus to Jerusalem.
Fourth, Paul does not say that he spent time “alone with God” or “studying and reflecting” during his time in Arabia. In fact, Paul does not tell us what he did while he was in Arabia. If we examine Paul’s habits, it would seem likely that wherever Paul was in Arabia, and however long he stayed there, he was proclaiming the gospel and serving people.
Alan's conclusion on the Pauline record? "I don’t see any justification for substituting study and reflection to proclaiming the gospel and serving people."
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 June 2012 15:34|