by Ruth Siemens
What Was Paul’s Strategy and How Effective Was It?
It would take a longer paper to pull all this together, but I will just suggest a few points in Paul’s strategy. This “apostle to the Gentiles” had received a daunting commission from the risen Christ. He set out to evangelize the Roman empire, but with no source of personnel or money. But the Holy Spirit helped this strategic thinker to devise a plan that would produce the personnel and the money as he went along. Paul aimed not just for individual conversions and church planting, but for lay movements and exponential growth..
To achieve this he will have to produce a specific kind of churches, which will have to be made up of a specific kind of converts, for whom he will have to provide a specific kind of teaching and model.
1. Paul’s teaching and model
He would fully support himself to gain credibility for himself and the gospel, to identify with working people, and to model a holy Christian life in an unholy marketplace, a biblical work ethic, and unpaid evangelism. But Paul’s example included much more: His thorough teaching of the whole counsel of God, his simple communication, his love for the people, his willingness to endure suffering and the Holy Spirit’s power in his life.
But was it necessary for Paul to make tents to implement this strategy? He thought so, or he would never have spent so many hours doing manual labor. If he had received support, most of his converts would have waited around for it, too. Then unpaid volunteers would have been considered second rate. They could have said,
“You do the evangelism, Paul, because you get paid for it, and you have more time than the rest of us who work two shifts to support our families.”
2. He aims for godly, self-supporting, evangelizing converts, willing to suffer for Jesus Christ
Paul wanted Jesus Christ reproduced in himself (2 Cor. 5: 14 ff, Gal. 2:20, Rom. 12:1) and in his converts, but as a Christian worker, he tells them to imitate him as he imitated Jesus. He multiplies himself many times over in his converts, who are to be godly in their relationships and dealings, providing well for loved ones, giving to the poor, and evangelizing their extended families, neighborhoods and workplaces.
3. He aims for indigenous, independent house churches
A. His churches were self-reproducing from the start. Everyone evangelized, without pay. For Paul to have brought in a few dozen foreign missionaries to evangelize these provinces could have been damaging to the local Christians. It was their responsibility to evangelize their region. Immediately! Not ten years later after pastors have been produced in seminaries. Michael Green in his exciting book Evangelism in the Early Church says the converts didn’t even have their doctrine straight when they ran to their towns and villages with the gospel. But they had Jesus Christ inside! Paul arranged for their doctrine to be corrected by good teaching later. Paul’s own willingness to suffer communicated a great sense of urgency.
B. His churches were self-governing. They were not dependent on foreign leadership. Paul and his team members did not pastor these churches, but appointed local leaders whom they coached and whom they taught the “whole counsel of God,”so they could teach their home fellowships. The churches were Bible schools! Their job was to equip members—not for church committees—but to evangelize outsiders. (Eph. 4:9ff) Since the pastors also supported themselves in the marketplace, they reinforced Paul’s model.
C. His churches were self-supporting, never dependent on foreign funds. Even the house church pastors supported themselves during the pioneer stage. In many cases, the converted well-to-do householder would be the natural leader of the fellowship in his rural villa or city house. But converts were taught to give. Generosity and hospitality were not optional for Christians. They gave to the needy. And we recall the time they sent gifts to help the Jerusalem church during a famine.
Paul appointed house church leaders almost immediately, but they maintained themselves financially. (Acts 20:33-35) By the time a full-time pastor was needed, it was clear which local leader had the greatest respect among the house churches and among local non-believers . (Paul made this a requirement. 1 Tim.3:7) If the pastor had never worked and witnessed in the pagan workplace, how could he ask his members to do it? How could he train them for it? (Eph.4:11,12)
By the time house churches multiplied and a paid leader was needed (maybe for regional supervision), local funds were available for his support. Paul’s older churches were to provide well for their pastors, as he reminded the Galatians. Later, some of the same Ephesian elders of Acts 20, may have been among those receiving support. (Gal.6:6, 1Tim.5:17,18)
Members could support the pastor because they all worked—Paul’s strong work ethic. “Six days you shall work” was as important as the day of rest. They would give more willingly to a local senior person they respected, than to an unknown seminary graduate from elsewhere.
Most important, by then the basic pattern of unpaid evangelism was well established so that paid ministry was the exception rather than the rule.
Paul never allowed his churches at any stage to become dependent on foreign funds or on foreign leadership. Paul’s strategy was not haphazard. He warns others to take heed how they build on his carefully set precedents.
D. He aims for missionary lay movements everywhere.
Paul’s unique approach to church planting was designed to produce missionary lay movements! Members had to reproduce themselves. He aimed for exponential growth. He did not merely add members to the church, but helped them multiply themselves.
It was a plan in which both doctrine and methodology mattered, 1 Cor. 3:10. It never required more than a handful of foreign workers and virtually no foreign funds.
By reproducing himself in the working people Paul guaranteed the infiltration of Christians into all the structures of society, at all levels, all the vocations, into the labor guilds, etc. It is also how he aimed at heads of households, the natural social units in a culture where household solidarity was obligatory. He aims at employers through their transformed employees.
Part Four will be published tomorrow.
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