What if Paul Planted Churches Like We Do Today?

An updated version of Acts 14:19-23:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposed that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day, he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

When Paul and his team gathered a core group of Christians from a few other churches in Derbe (as well as a few who tagged along from Antioch), held a vision and interest meeting, and finally had their public launch gathering, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples by telling them about the church they planted and the great attendance numbers. Paul encouraged them by saying that though other churches are there, there needed to be a new expression of the kingdom of God in that city.

After they had been meeting for about eight years, they finally started the elder nomination and selection process, eventually choosing one man who did not specialize in preaching. Paul stayed at that church for the foreseeable future until he felt called to do the same process over again in a different city.

Paul and his team never did return to their sending church to report how God had opened a door of faith to people who did not previously believe, because, after all, that was not the demographic they were actually seeking to reach in the first place. 

But that’s not really what it says, is it?

Ministry Theology

Some Characteristics of Paul’s Missionary Methods

The apostle Paul is the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known, behind only the Lord Jesus himself. Paul used many missionary methods in his journeys. Of course, all of his methods and strategies were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may actually be considered the supreme characteristic of Paul’s methods. Aside from this however, Paul’s methods contained a number of others which still inform our missionary efforts today. Here are five, and each of them build upon the previous one.

  1. Paul committed to preaching Christ where he has not already been named. In Romans 15:20, Paul makes clear that this is his intention and goal in his ministry. Paul saw himself as a minister of the gospel who would reach new people and not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:16). He was not a “pastor” in our modern sense. He was a multi-church planter who constantly moved from one location to another. This does not mean that in our day we should not plant churches in already reached areas; Paul’s time and ministry was unique as the church was in its formative stages. However, the principle still remains: there is great importance for the church to recognize and send those whom God has called to a Pauline-type ministry to spread the gospel among the unreached. This leads to a second characteristic of church planting.
  2. Paul’s missionary ministry focused on church planting. Paul’s goal was not to simply evangelize people in order to gain a host of individual converts. His goal was to evangelize and gather God’s people into local congregations. As mentioned above, Paul was not a planter-pastor who planted a church and stayed there for a long period of time. Once a church was established and functioning, Paul and his team moved on. This informs our missionary efforts today, reminding us that establishing local bodies of worshipers, not simply getting individuals saved, is our main task. This leads to a third characteristic of how converts and congregations were established.
  3. Paul’s preaching centered on the story of Jesus. Paul was less interested in evidential apologetics and philosophical debates and more interested in simply sharing the story of God’s work in the world. His goal was to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Col. 1:28) as the center and climax of God’s unfolding story of redemption. In our day, preaching denominational distinctives or simply external morality should not be the content of missionary preaching. As Paul did, so too we preach Christ and the fact that he is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive drama. This characteristic leads to the next, which answers the question, “What happens after people believe in Jesus?”
  4. Paul desired to develop believers so that they might experience their inheritance in Christ and be ready for his second coming. Paul did not want shallow Christians. His goal was not to gain converts but to make disciples. He wanted mature believers who knew of the incredibly spiritual riches they had in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians, particularly 1:3-14, shows Paul’s heart to develop Christians to, in a sense, become what they already are in Christ. Paul wanted believers to be ready for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 3:13), and he was confident that God would provide everything necessary to make this happen (Phil 1:6; Phil. 2:13). The churches needed godly leadership to accomplish this, which is the last characteristic.
  5. Paul worked to develop local leaders over local congregations. Paul appointed and empowered elders in Ephesus to watch over and care for the flock (Acts 20:28). The pastorals explicitly show Paul’s effort to establish local leadership in churches. This is particularly important for our contemporary situation. Churches may mature and be effective with foreign leadership. However, for local churches to truly thrive and operate optimally there must be godly, indigenous leadership. Only then will the local believers “own” the life and ministry of the church.

These five characteristics are not exhaustive, of course. But they do provide a good “big picture” structure of Paul’s ministry. If you are a missionary, does your work reflect this model? What are some other characteristics of Paul that are essential to biblical missions? Let’s pray that all of our modern missionary efforts to unreached and under-reached people’s reflect God’s work through the apostle Paul!


More on Multi-Site and Bigger Buildings

Back on June 6, I shared some thoughts about multi-site churches.  Now, on the Gospel Coalition blog, there is a conversation going on about churches and buildings. Whether you are a pastor or a lay-person in the church, it’s good to be thinking about these things.

David Platt: Should Churches Spend Money on Nice Buildings

David Gobel: Reforming Church Architecture

J.D. Greear: We Want to Stay Light and Mobile, Flexible and Ready

Matthew Lee Anderson: Buildings Matter Because Bodies Matter

Life Ministry

Thoughts on church planting from a guy who doesn’t know anything

I don’t know a lot of things. I’ll be the first to admit. I’d like to think of myself as a well-read, intellectual person. But let’s be honest. I’m average. The good news is that I’m okay with that (most of the time). As a matter of fact, most people are just that. Average. The quicker we actually admit this, we’ll actually start to see the beautiful things that resemble the image of God in our lives, instead of focusing on what we lack.

So when I offer my thoughts on church planting — or, well, really anything on this blog — keep in mind that I’m your average, everyday nobody. If you can log onto the Internet, you can start a blog. Before you know it, a Google search here and there, and thousands of people are reading.

I want to be in pastoral ministry. I want to preach the gospel. It doesn’t have to be to thousands. It might be to tens or hundreds. God decides that anyway. I just want to avail myself to gospel ministry. Christ-centered, Bible-saturated, God-exalting, others-oriented ministry. My wife wants this too. The role is different for her, and she knows that, but she wants what I want: people to meet Jesus and be transformed.

I’ll be honest: in Evangelical churches today, especially Reformed ones, I think “church planting” is a fad. It’s the hip, cool, post-modern thing to do today. All of a sudden (once Mars Hill and Acts29 took off in the early to mid 2000s), all the 25-35 year old men in America wanted to be the next Mark Driscoll. News flash, Mark Driscoll is Mark Driscoll. I am not. You aren’t either.

The funny thing is that the act of “church planting” has been happening since Jesus left the earth after his resurrection. Here’s the skinny: people treasured Christ enough to tell others about him, and those people got saved and gathered with those preached the gospel to them to “do church.”  They not only gathered to “do church,” but they lived to “be the church” in community, that is, they encouraged and exhorted each other. They challenged each other and reminded them of the gospel when temptation and sin arrived. They submitted to those in spiritual authority and taught their children about Jesus. They gave their time, money, energy, and possessions to those in need. They lived by faith and grew in holiness. They suffered when called to do so. When they prospered they counted it as loss. Then these communities grew and spread and other churches popped up.

Paul, James, John, Peter, and the other Apostles played a foundational role in the church spreading. They traveled and preached the gospel. They evangelized non-Christians and discipled and taught believers. They set up local churches and gave instructions for church government. This spreading hasn’t stopped. In fact, it has increased over the centuries thanks to missionaries, like Paul, who left their home countries to tell other peoples about the risen Christ. And it needs to continue. It always needs to continue.

I’m trying to reevaluate why I want to be a “church planter.” Is it because I want to run a super-cool church with an indie-rock feel, and have a sweet website made by the guy sipping Starbucks coffee working a MacBook? Is it because I want to react against the Purpose Driven mega-church model that so many American churches have adopted? Is it because I want to be associated with words like “hip” and “urban” and “missional”? Is it because that’s just what 25 year-old white guys who want to be in ministry?

Or is it because I want to be on a mission to make Jesus famous in a city that desperately needs him?


Acts29 in Africa

Here’s a short video from Mars Hill about church planting in Africa.