The first time I taught through the Book of Acts in a college class, I asked the students to write an essay describing Paul’s missionary strategy, with illustrations from the book of Acts. I thought this was simple enough and most students caught on that I was looking for “what sorts of things does Luke describe Paul as doing when he first visits a new town.” basically, Paul went to the marketplace and the synagogue. One student, however, argued that Paul did not have a missionary strategy, rather the just did what the Holy Spirit told him two. I was rather annoyed by this, and re-phrased my question, “OK, then what is the Holy Spirit’s missionary strategy?” My point was that the Holy Spirit’s strategy was Paul’s as well, and that we should be able to use this model in our ministry in the twenty-first century.
This anecdote gets at a serious problem for students of the book of Acts. Did Paul have some sort of a plan for world evangelism? If he did, how can we adopt that strategy for modern mission? Should the modern church try and replicate Paul’s method in evangelism and church planting? Or better, is it even possible to do mission in the same way that Paul did? Eckhard Schnabel deals with this problem at length in Paul the Missionary. I plan on blogging through large sections of this book over the next four months as I teach through the book of Acts this semester.
Schnabel defines mission in terms of intention and movement. Someone on a “mission” is sent out by an authority and the mission is defined by the sending party rather than the going party. Geographical movement depends solely on the nature of the mission. Schnabel points out that this is exactly the description of Jesus we find in the Gospel of John. Jesus was sent by the Father and does nothing but the will of the Father. In turn, Paul describes himself as sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 1:1).
So did Paul have a strategy or method in his ministry? Was there an actual plan in his mind, or did he simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps the answer is “yes.” Schnabel cites J. Herbert Kane: Paul had a “flexible modus operandi developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to his direction and control.” (Christian Mission in Biblical Perspective [Baker, 1976], 73). Paul claims to be led by the Spirit, but he also seems to have a logical plan in mind to get the Gospel into places where it will flourish and reach the most people.
That Paul put reasonable amount of thought and planning into his work seems to me as obvious as the fact that he was led by the Spirit in both creating and executing that strategy. The modern church needs both a prayerful submission to the Holy Spirit and a rational, reasonable strategy for engaging modern culture with the power of the Gospel.
14 thoughts on “Paul the Missionary: Strategy and Method”
Paul had an edge we don’t. Many of the Jews visited Israel during this time period – for example Pentecost. These people witnessed the miracles or meet people who had – after all – everyone was talking about those events. Those people carried back to their home towns the tales of the new prophet. So Paul had a ready made audience of curious people.
Hi Larry…nice to see you here. Or read, I guess. You are obviously correct, Paul has the Apostolic edge – but I am not happy with that as an excuse for not exploring his mission strategy with an eye to application. That will unfold over the the next four months, I suppose, since I intend to blog through Acts and Schnabel at the same time.
I remember this assignment! I also remember all the scratchings and notes and underlining and highlighting I have done in my copy of Schnabel as well when I was writing some of the papers for that class.
If Paul didn’t have a plan it would be the same as me walking around blindfolded and talking to the first person or thing I bump into (dare you to quote that to your students!). It doesn’t work very well (not that I’ve tried or anything).
The passage that comes to mind when I think of Paul’s plan and the Holy Spirit I think of the story in Acts 16 where Paul had obviously planned to go to Asia: “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia” (Acts 16.6). It seems that God had other plans (which may raise all sorts of other questions), and sent him on to Macedonia.
Yes, it will be good to see the progress of this discussion these next few months. On the practical side, if Paul’s strategy was to go to the marketplace and synagogues first, how does that translate to today? There are very few of these around in the American culture, or even here in Zambia. (Although we do have markets that might have been somewhat similar to what Paul experienced, just guessing on this though.)
The problem (I think) is in the assumption that Paul’s methods are legitimate in every circumstance. I do not think what you do in Zambia necessarily “translates” to what they do in Tanzania or Congo. Or to put it another way, should the “methods” we use in Byron Center, Michigan be transplanted to California or Zambia, or anywhere?
I am pretty sure by the time I finish this up in April there will be many principles which have to be present for mission to be a legitimate Christian mission, but the methods may (must?) vary.
“The problem (I think) is in the assumption that Paul’s methods are legitimate in every circumstance.”
Paul’s missionary strategy reveals the principles of mission. When in Rome, get a toga (or when you are going to a Greek final it would seem).
THIS TOPIC IS A VERY VITAL ISSUE MORE ESPECIALLY FOR THEOLOGIANS, MISSIONARIES AND TEACHERS OF THE WORD. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT PAUL WAS A MISSIONARY PAR EXCELLENCE, A PARAGON OF HIS TIME IN TERMS OF MISSIONS. I STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT HE DID EXCEEDINGLY WELL BECAUSE OF HIS PRAYER LIFE AND ABILITY TO DWELL IN AND WITH THE WORD. HE EMPLOYED NUMEROUS STRATEGIES AND METHODS WHICH HELPED HIM IN DOING AN EFFECTIVE AND INTENSIVE MISSIONS. HOWEVER, THE ACTIVITIES OF BRO. PAUL WAS NOT LIMITED WITHIN THE CIRCUIT OF MISSIONS ONLY, HE WAS ALSO A GREAT REVIVALIST, A PASTOR AND A TEACHER.
apostle Paul was greatly fortified by the holy spirit to embark on a missionary assignment. his secular and religious qualifications, were of great importance in his missions exploits. he was a man who valued extremely the role of the holy spirit and never for a day neglected the contributions of younger believers.
I think we also need to consider that Paul did not have such a distinction between the leading of the Holy Spirit and his use of logic as we modern day westerners see to.
“…we modern day westerners see to.” Excellent point, Emma. For some today, the leading of the Spirit is superior to thinking and planing (“Ill just let the Spirit lead). But the Spirit works with our mind to produce results – there is no distinction!
This is an issue I have been thinking about recently as well. I have come to fully concur with the sentiment in this post. He wrote, “So did Paul have a strategy or method in his ministry? Was there an actual plan in his mind, or did he simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps the answer is “yes.”” I think that is exactly right. The NT does not put one against the other – only we do that. The Lord of the harvest expects us to engage our minds in the matter, as we love Him with all our mind, are wise as serpents, etc. One cannot honestly read of Paul’s ministry in Acts, or his description of his missionary aims in the epistles without recognizing that he had a strategy (based upon the commissions and his specific calling) that he was planning to carry out. Those also cannot be honestly read without recognizing that he was deeply dependent upon the Spirit’s leading – and sometimes the Spirit specially lead, and sometimes not.
The way I see it, the commissions give us a grand strategy (may technically be a policy) of worldwide Gospel saturation (every person [Mark], every people [Matthew], every place [Acts]). They also give us some of the grand tactics/methods, such as evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. Past that, God expects us to engage our brains as we rely upon Him in order to form strategies and tactics that are appropriate to our time and place and people. Sometimes He will specially lead us (Macedonian Call, sheet from heaven, etc.), sometimes not. It is both/and not either/or.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I think you are correct that this is not a case of either/or. I am always suspicious of methods which claim to be using the book of Acts as a roadmap for ministry.
You asked a great question:
“OK, then what is the Holy Spirit’s missionary strategy?”
I see this is related directly to Acts 13 & 14. I believe it would be accurate to refer to this as “The missionary trip of Barnabas and Saul.” (NOT “Paul’s first missionary journey.) After Barnabas and Paul had their famous argument, I see Paul generally travelling around on his own doing his own thing – a bit like Samson. I see some bright spots, some successes, and a “happy ending”. Yet overall, I also see that Paul’s ministry was marked by carnality, immaturity, selfishness, division, hypocrisy, and disobedience in going to Jerusalem. Paul certainly was no “model of maturity”.
And I don’t see any particular overall strategy Paul used- I think Paul made it up as he went along, sort of like his theology. I believe in Athens, Paul did try a new strategy, namely becoming a philosopher not using the name of Jesus, but this was a fiasco with no good fruit. So, I think Paul learned from this failure, and didn’t try that stragegy again.