Tuesday, November 20, 2018


St Paul was probably the most successful church planter of all time.  Converted on the Damascus road about 33 AD, his ministry lasted for approximately 30 years.  Theologian, F. F. Bruce[1] attributes this phenomenon principally to, "the energy with which Paul, a Jew by birth and upbringing, spread the Gospel of Christ in the Gentile world....".

Roland Allen writes;
"In a little more than ten years St. Paul established the Church in four provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia.  Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in ad 57 Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support.”[2]
Certainly, Paul's methods of quickly planting and building lasting churches were effective in his context, but are they of use today in our context?  Certainly, today there is a need for evangelism and strengthening of the church.  As Evangelicals lament the growing secularization of society and the diminishing influence of Christianity, we should look to the ministry of Paul for his vision of the church of Jesus Christ and attempt to apply his methods to the church today.

The book of Acts provides an excellent history and insight into Paul's church planting and evangelistic techniques.  It was at Antioch in Pisidia that Paul's plan for evangelization and church planting took form.  This plan was continued, with some variation and a few exceptions, throughout his journeys.  As a traveling Rabbi, Paul would be asked to speak in the synagogue.  Many heard the message of Jesus and believed.  Others would become irate and a split in the synagogue occurred.  The Apostles would then flee to the next town leaving behind a group of believers, often with one of the missionary band stayed to nurture the new church[3].

1.   The Team Approach

Paul used a team approach to church planting.  Rather than being an individual itinerant preacher, Paul would bring others along to assist.  Commissioned by the church at Antioch, Paul began his first missionary journey with Barnabus and John Mark.  On his second missionary journey he was accompanied from time to time by Silas, Timothy, Luke, and Aquila and Priscilla. 

From the first visit to Antioch - Pisidia, Paul was the senior spokesperson of the missionary band but he relied heavily on those with him.  When Paul was alone at Athens he was not successful in starting a church and he did not begin a church in Corinth until Silas and Timothy had joined him there.

2.   Finding People

The first step in planting a church is to find people.  It was Paul's custom to first try to reach people at the synagogue.  The synagogues consisted of both Jews and God fearing Gentiles.  As he was asked to speak he would share the Good News of the kingdom of God.  At other times, such as at Phillippi, where there was no synagogue and at Corinth where he was not allowed to teach in the synagogue, Paul would look elsewhere. It is this "elsewhere" that is most important to understanding Paul's success.  The father of the church growth movement, Donald MacGavran[4]  points out that at Pentecost three thousand people were saved from all over the empire and each of these people had family back home.  It is his opinion that Paul was able to network by getting names of family members throughout the area of his travels. 

Paul was a great writer and a leader of people, but these characteristics were not responsible for his success in finding people open to the Gospel.

"...neither his dedication nor his communion with God in Christ was the sole secret of his amazing success.  That lay in the combination of his deep understanding of, and fellowship with, the living Christ, with his intuitive and unerring cooperation with God in the extension of these vast stirrings of the people whom God purposed to disciple.[5]
Paul became a part of what God was already doing in peoples lives.  He was able to see what God was doing and participate in it for the conversion of thousands.

3.   Paul's Message

When in a synagogue, Paul would speak about Jesus Christ beginning with the actions of God in Jewish history, the message of the prophets who foretold the Messiah, declaring Jesus the Christ who was crucified and arose from the dead and who is the forgiveness of sin.  Everyone who believes is justified from everything that could not justify them under the law of Moses.   He was not ashamed of the Gospel because it was the power of God for salvation (Rom1:16).  He preached not human wisdom but the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:17-18), ... not wise and persuasive words but with the demonstration of the Spirit's power (1Cor. 2:4-5).

4.   Developing Leaders

The development of leaders is still a mystery for many churches today.  The modern approach is to find a person who is successful in his work and put him in charge of a church committee.  Paul's team approach led to the rapid development of leaders and was an imperative considering the Jew's attempts to kill Paul.  Paul was able to delegate tasks and responsibility as his associates grew.  Paul believed the church to be a group of people with spiritual gifts and graces, given by God. This allowed him to cooperate with God in leadership selection.  Paul merely confirmed what God was already doing in the people before he moved on to the next town.  In some churches, Paul's stay was brief as leadership developed quickly.  This happened in Phillippi where he left Luke after only a brief apprenticeship.  At Berea, Paul left Silas and Timothy for a while until the church could sustain itself.  In Corinth, he stayed for a long time before heading for Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila.  Then he left them in Ephesus to help lead that church.  From the Corinthian correspondence, he might have been better served by leaving Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth.


The pattern used by Paul for planting new churches in the first century is an effective means today for communicating the Gospel.  We must be careful however to maintain the vision and purpose to which God has called us.  If we seek church growth and church planting as a goal in itself, we run the risk of losing His perspective.  Our purpose is not to create or build a church, but to evangelize people, to bring them to a reconciliation with God and then equip them to do likewise. 

If we merely try to attract people to our church and assume that somehow, sometime Christianity will rub off and they will turn their hearts over to God, we are not following Paul's pattern.  Paul first led people to Christ, then brought them together into the body.  This is why he was able to move on to a new territory trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the leaders of the new church even though they did not have years of theological training.  Those churches then continued the ministry of reconciling people to God. 

Paul's concern was not to build large churches but to convert large numbers of people to a faith in Jesus Christ.  He was very proficient at this because of his faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of converts.

[1] Bruce, F.F. Paul The Apostle of the Heart Set Free, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,  Grand Rapids, 1977, page 17
[2] Allen, Roland, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours,  Eerdman's Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1962, page 3
[3] Barklay, William, The Mind Of St. Paul, Harper, San Francisco, 1958, pages 231-233
[4] MacGavran, Donald Anderson, The Bridges of God, Friendship Press, New York, revised 1981, page 18
[5] ibid page 26-27

No comments:

Post a Comment