If we look at Acts through the lens of author’s intent, we are able to see not merely a list of happenings in the formative years of the Church, but rather, a much larger plan for the expansion of that Church and the proclamation of the Truth of Christ Jesus. When we look at Acts in this way, the players in the story become much less the focus and the purpose takes center stage. It is important to mention, however, that the Apostle Paul, who’s strategy will be discussed, was an extremely important player in that plan. As we read in Acts as well as in Paul’s letters, we see elements of a purposeful plan to carry out the task of the expansion of the Gospel and, in turn, the Church. It wasn’t haphazard or random. I contend that his approach was God-directed, and deliberate and can be regarded as useful and there are elements that should be assessed as normative for use in the work of the Church today.
There are a few elements that we see in Paul’s strategy that can be seen as normative for Christians of all times and places, and are therefore normative for us. Whether it is referred to as “the Word” or “The Gospel” or “testifying to the Truth” it is clear that one of Paul’s primary tasks was preaching. We see it in Acts (13:5, 16-41, -15, -31, etc.) and we see it in Ephesians 3:8-10. Paul was prepared to preach to both Jew and Gentile, going first to the ones with which he had a good amount of common ground first. Then, Paul would follow up with any who would listen to what he had to say. The ‘preaching’ component to Paul’s mission was vital and is just as important for the 21st Century church. We have to be just as diligent at communicating the Truth of God’s Word in every sphere of influence and common ground that we have.
Preaching, for Paul, was not an end in itself. It wasn’t enough to just teach someone something about Jesus. Rather, Paul was more interested in disciples; true followers of Jesus. Paul charges Timothy with a pattern of discipleship from one life to another in 2 Timothy 2:2. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will teach others also.” Paul’s strategy shows that evangelism and discipleship are two sides of the same coin. Paul may not have coined what he was doing either evangelism or discipleship, but the point is, Paul was concerned about growing the individual in the knowledge and understanding of the Gospel that was preached to them so that their lives would exemplify the Truth of the Gospel of Christ and that they would be equipped to continue the work of the ministry, namely, continuing to make disciples. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 is a reminder of “how to behave” and is one example of many exhortations that Paul gives to the followers of Christ in his letters to them. Paul understood that this is a process of growth and is fostered in relationships of Spiritual depth and accountability. Wrapped up in this concept is the idea of leadership training and development which Paul addresses in two ways. One, is the training, evaluation, and appointing of elders for the church and two is the long-distance exhortation that is the continued connection after Paul leaves the church ‘on its own” which will be discussed later. Paul charges Titus (Titus 1:5) with “finishing the work” and appointing elders for the church. The work that Paul started in
The third element of Paul’s strategy that is helpful for the Church to look at today comes right on the heels of the last one, and that is one of exhortation and continued connection with the believers and the churches he was a part of planting. Most of the New Testament is Paul’s exhortation, teaching, and encouragement to the churches he had been a part of establishing. Each letter deals with specific issues or needs for that particular church and is, in some ways, a continued “theological education” for those churches; helping them grow-up in the knowledge of Truth. In Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul charges him to appoint elders (Titus 1:5). In verses 6-9 Paul goes on to teach what an Elder ‘looks like” in terms of personal character. And in Titus 2, Paul encourages Titus to be careful to teach “sound doctrine”, a theme that comes back time and again in Paul’s letters, calling the church to be mindful in obeying the Truth, the Word of God.
Now, I am not suggesting that all of what Paul did, every detail, is normative and therefore applicable for the Church today. I do not suggest we first go into synagogues when entering a town or that we go to city hall and interject our preaching in the middle of a council meeting. We should, however, consider the principles of Paul’s strategy and take a healthy look at how we currently view the role of the Church and/or the individual believer when it comes to discipleship and the expansion of the Church.
First, we have to be Word-focused. If we are solely needs-focused, we will miss the point of life-transformation that comes only through Jesus. Paul said, “I am unashamed of the Gospel” (Romans ) and, as we see in his missionary journeys recorded in Acts, he preached the Word of God with boldness wherever he went. That needs to be a part of our strategy as the 21st century church. Second, we have to be conscious that Paul’s strategy was two-sided: Proclamation of Truth and discipleship through relationship. Our strategies tend to be too much one or the other. We don’t build relationships of trust and accountability for the purpose of growth and personal development like we should. The element of long-term discipleship was core to Paul’s strategy and should be for us. This is where true multiplication happens.
“…but Paul did not baptize uninstructed converts apart from a system of mutual responsibility which ensured their instruction.” (Allen pp.6)Paul made certain that a solid foundation of Truth was laid in the hearts, minds, and lives of the young leaders of the church so the church would continue to multiply and make new disciples. Third, and lastly; because we don’t often think “disciples”, rather than just “converts” we neglect the on-going care that is needed. Now, in this day, I am not suggesting that we are responsible to write long letters of such Theological weight that they should be considered for the cannon, but that we, as the Church, are responsible to be the bearers of the Truth of the Word and to make sure we are doing the work of training up disciples and leaders who are full of the Truth and who can “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And we need to be resolute in our responsibility to continue to teach and uphold the Truth in the mission of making disciples