Biblical Missions Principles
Option E: Paul’s Missionary Pattern. Read chapters 9‑20 of Acts. What discernible patterns or strategy do you see that characterized the work of Paul? To what extent are these patterns supposed to be normative for missionary endeavor? (2‑3 pages)
There are many principles we can learn from Paul and his missionary journeys as detailed in the Book of Acts and other Pauline New Testament passages. God used his life in the Scriptures to show the church how the Great Commission is done the biblical way. First and foremost, Paul had a specific call to world missions (Acts 9:15). While every single Christian is to engage in evangelism (Matt 28:18-20), not everyone is called to fulltime ministries (1 Cor 12). Among those who have been predestined to fulltime ministries, not every individual has a worldwide missionary call (1 Cor 12:5). While most Christians are not called to the missions field, some are. In the broader term, all believers have a unique life-ministry from God. The nature of each believer’s ministry does not determine its overall importance or spiritual impact. No one type is more important than the other, they are just different like oranges and apples (Acts 10:34). Therefore, the first principle in missions is one must be obedient to the particular will of God for him or her in order to be fruitful missionaries. Being fruitful does not imply outward results only, as the spiritual influence can only be properly measured from God and eternity’s perspective (1 Sam 16:7). The true test of spirituality is in the degree of Christlike transformation and not one’s functions or giftings, which originated from God in the first place (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 13:1-4; Eph 4:7-12). Consequently, only those with a genuine call to mission services should be sent, like the church at Antioch discerned and, thus, sent forth Paul and his missionary team under the directive of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3). The one who has duly discerned his missions call should then seek for the scope, method, and timing of this call.
Secondly, there is always a preparation period for those who have a mandate for missions or any other ministries. Paul did not go straight into the mission field right after the born-again experience on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Instead, he spent a great deal of time in Arabia and then his hometown Tarsus before he engaged in any formal ministries (Gal 1:17; Acts 9:30). Even after he was introduced to the church at Antioch by Barnabas, he did not start as a missionary, but as a teacher (Acts 11:25-26). It was not until Acts 13 that God called him to his first missionary journey under the leadership of Barnabas. All these experiences and time were God’s training courses for him for the work which He had ordained for him. The long preparation served as the underpinning of his lifelong ministry. It is with this solid foundation that he was able to succeed in his three missionary journeys and all that God had called him to do. One cannot bypass the preparation and expect to be ready for the demands, challenges, and the success of the ministry. Therefore, those who confirm a missions call of God, they should pray and examine themselves with God’s help to see if they are ready at their present state, or more preparation is required before being commissioned officially. The quality of the work will always be determined by the worker. God values the spiritual cleanliness of the vessel much more than the vocation or need, so should the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 13:1-4; 2 Tim 2:20-21).
The third principle from the life of Paul as a missions minister is in his strategy to reach to those who already have a greater spiritual appetite. Paul always went into the local synagogues wherever he arrived to preach the Word of God (Acts 13:14; 17:10; 19:8). The Jews are those who already have a religious background and a propensity for spiritual matters. When the Jews at large had rejected Paul’s message, he went to those Gentiles who have a high interest and hunger for the truths (Acts 13:46-48). The fact that the Holy Spirit prevented his team to minister in Mysia and Bithynia but to Macedonia in Acts 16 shows that God has a time and strategy for each region. The contextual explanation for God’s forbidding the former places and leading to the latter with the famous Macedonian vision is because the spiritual field there was ripe for the harvest (Acts 16:6-15). Whatever other reasons God might have, we can at least see the biblical wisdom and common sense in going to those whose hearts are open to the Gospel (Matt 7:6; John 4:35). Hence, the Great Commission of preaching to every creature in every nation in Matt 28 and Mark 16 needs to be balanced by all the other Scriptures in application for each specific case.
Lastly, Paul always travelled in teams. He had other fivefold ministers to complement him in the work of the spiritual offices in which he did not stand. For example, Paul was called to the apostolic, evangelistic and the teaching fivefold (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11). In his maiden missionary journey, he worked under the supervision of Barnabas, who had a high level pastoral anointing. In his second missionary journey, he matched pleasantly with his primary co-workers Silas and Timothy, who were a prophet and pastor respectively, for a complete fivefold squad (Eph 4:11). Moreover, all the other powerful benefits of teamwork apply: mutual encouragement, edification, accountability, safety measures, practical helps, companionship, prayers of agreement, etc. (Eccl 4:9; Matt 18:18-20). Therefore, missionaries should not be sent out alone without any co-laborers or close local network connections. Even Jesus Himself went about with the Twelve and others. He also dispatched the disciples two by two. Team ministry is also the New Testament pattern of the early church, as we see all itinerant ministers traveling and ministering in groups whenever possible (Acts 3:1; 8:14).
In conclusion, we can observe four major principles from the life and ministry of Paul from the Book of Acts and other passages in regard to missionary endeavors for today: rightly discerning the call of God, adequate preparation for the work, ministering to the needs and those who have a sincere heart for the truth, and teamwork. There are, of course, many other principles to draw from the life and example of the great missionary Paul, but these four suffice to serve as a solid Scriptural foundation for any type of missions campaign in any given time frame and culture.
*Note: this is just a brief overview of some of the important biblical principles in regard to missions. For specific situations such as judging the missionary call, the scope of the call, church planting etc., it is critical to discern the distinct will of the Lord as in all things. Sometimes all the aforementioned principles may all seem to fit well, but it may still not be the Lord’s will due to His purposes. Sometimes things may seem to be barely making sense, but when it’s truly of God, one should faithfully and boldly obey His call. For a brief discussion on learning to be led by the Spirit in this life and in ministries, please see: A Practical Example of Finding God’s Call (http://spiritword.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!F1ADB400A2626D84!4779.entry).
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