There are many unique and noteworthy aspects of Paul’s missionary work. Paul stands out among the New Testament leaders and church fathers, not necessarily from his specific task but more for his single-minded focus on promoting the gospel and building committed communities. The following are five brief aspects that I believe are integral to the start of a movement:
First is his concern for his countrymen and their acceptance of the risen Christ as Messiah. This focus integrated perfectly with Paul’s already astute study and breadth of knowledge founded in Hebrew scripture. As a Pharisee among Pharisees, Paul’s tie to the temple and the history of his people drove him to develop some of the most formative connections between Judaism and Christianity. His special care for theology and revelation of grace altered the core of the early church in Jerusalem and formed the majority of the non-Jewish traditions separated from temple and synagogue life. In the same way if we do not adhere to a commitment to “our” people (the socio/political/economic/classes), I automatically question the founding purpose and intent of the service.Not that I condemn it outright, I simply believe our motives need to be questioned if our outward vision is not noticeably in step with love.
Secondly, Paul’s deep reliance on the Holy Spirit and submission to the call of God uniquely setup an unorthodox method of evangelism. Relying on God’s direction instead of some elaborate point-by-point program helped the “church planter” to point to God always as the originator and sustainer of His ministry. Instead of homesteading and overseeing the overarching ministry Paul seems to prefer to proclaim the Gospel message, prepare the new converts for devoted lives to Christ, build leaders, and then move on to the next mission. This allows the most use of Paul’s time as itinerate preacher and “planter of the word”, while remaining true to the initial sending out he experienced from the church in Jerusalem as apostle to the gentiles.(Galatians 2) How can we embrace a “I won’t move until the Spirit leads” ministry?
Third, is an unabashed embrace of hardship and sacrifice that seems to be a landmark throughout Paul’s missionary work. Paul teaches one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn when embarking on a mission that encompasses a lifetime, namely being content in the worst and best of circumstances. From the outside looking in Paul’s ministry appears wrought with catastrophe, abandonments, and let down. However the apostle’s letters are beaming with a hope and brightness that can’t be overcome by outer turmoil. This example of steadfast focus on the work God calls us to is one of the most valuable legacies Paul hoped to achieve, indeed it is the driving force behind countless sermons and convictions among congregations embracing a missional stance in today’s less than engaged world.
The fourth aspect I feel must be addressed is Paul’s concern for the already accomplished work among churches he had left. Even though the desired road to Rome became a passion in Paul’s imprisoned years, his deep connection with church leaders, servants, and even entire households were Paul’s greatest interest. He holds the various congregations up as the crowning achievement of his work, even getting involved in the spiritual derision among the churches. He never pushes aside one ministry for the next, instead he remains connected through emissaries and servants; giving council, relaying messages, and encouraging along the way. This only affirms my belief that we don’t leave anyone, we move apart and closer.
Finally Paul lays out one of the hardest pictures to relay to today’s missions based mindset. The Apostle attempts to make no financial demands for His ministry, and instead appealed to the reasonable charity of helping the “struggling church in Jerusalem.” While he received support in a variety of ways from the congregations his appeal is never to sustain His own journey. He worked with his hands, providing for himself and was joyed to do so. Paul relates his own work to a runner who doesn’t run for the sake of himself or even glory but for a prize that is only received upon completion of the race. And that prize isn’t financial or physical comfort, but the reception of Christ alone. This mindset would destroy the “industry” of modern church.
From his initial conversion and subsequent outreach to the larger missionary journeys with Luke and Barnabas, Paul stands out among his peers and the generations of missionaries throughout the centuries. I love the section that says, “Four major trips occupy the rest of [Paul’s] life, including hardships everywhere he goes, care and concern for the fledgling congregations planted at almost every stop along the way, and a burning desire to preach Christ where he was not known.” I hope everyone can glean some passion for purpose in the Gospel through studying Paul’s example. While his method is not noticeably formulaic it is, nonetheless, marked by traits that can be applied to our own call and election within the body of Christ.