By Max Strange
Pauline Strategies for Establishing Churches
Once the church was underway, and Paul sent to Rome, it was now up to the church to contine the work that Christ started. Luke, leaves Acts 28 open-ended. God has placed the mission of the Church in the hands of God’s people and so we now find ourselves living today in Acts 29. We may ask ourselves then, did God not leave some Biblical patterns and principles for establishing the church as we live in Acts 29? Is there not a philosophy that we can use to under gird our strategies and allow cultural flexibilities, not only for this generation but also for subsequent generations? The answer is “Yes.” We find in Acts, God’s patterns, principles, and prototypes to help us in MISSION from God’s work through Paul. When we examine and take hold of these, we find out what it means to do mission and how to “establish the church.”
God led Paul to do lasting, ever increasing, church expanding, and convert escalating work. The mission focused around these principles that helped Paul do the greatest work the church has ever seen:
1. He proclaimed the Gospel (synagogues/Gentiles)
2. Clustered new believers together (Community)
3. Gospel Instruction
4. Appointed leaders/elders
5. He Left
6. Return Visits
Paul’s method was to establish churches (a people of God in community). All his mission activity hinged upon this one endeavor. To establish meant to strengthen or to confirm. The church today has lost sight of this one driving principle. Many ministries done today are legitimate only if they help this one great enterprise…to establish the people of God.
In more detail, Paul’s approach was to first proclaim the Gospel. He would gain an audience and stir up enough attention to create a beachhead of Christians. He wouldn’t consider the city or town as yet reached. He would begin their formal instruction and form a community around doctrine to strengthen (establish) their faith. He would appoint elders to oversee the new community. These were men of character who would watch over the flock. They were not theological geniuses, but showed signs of maturity and some Scriptural wisdom. Paul would then leave, fully dependent on the Spirit of God, to continue His work in their hearts. Paul would continue establishing the churches by letters, prayers, visits, and by sending key leaders (Timothy, Titus, Luke) to help their ongoing confirmation. These communities were then later used as a launch pad for new Gospel frontiers.
Mission work was and is not a “multiplication of individuals…although communities are always made up of individuals. It was a multiplication of believing communities. It was a multiplication of churches” (10). This is antithetical to the individualistic mission mindset found in the “personal call” of many Christians. This philosophy of mission actually narrows the church in its equipping. The main purpose is to confirm the churches in the Gospel of Christ as a people of God. All other ministries that find themselves focused on “other” goals to equip saints in isolation of the local community toss aside Paul’s pattern. This beautiful plan is about multiplication of churches regardless what other ministries or para-church structures are doing. All ministries find legitimacy if they serve to establish the church, which equips the saints in their local church context with Gospel vitality.
Last of all, Paul’s strategy to establish the church after the message was heralded, community was founded, Gospel instruction given, elders of character chosen, was to leave. This opened wide the door for the next generation of leaders to step up. When Paul left, that was a sign of two things. It meant that Paul felt the church was ready to begin on its own and secondly, that Paul had a remarkable trust in God’s sovereign plan for the churches. Paul didn’t stick around. He didn’t settle in or become a calcified leader. New frontiers had to be gospelized and dark enemy territory had to be reclaimed by Light and truth. This was not abandonment. He continued by correspondance with letters, visits, prayers, and visiting dignitaries by Gospel saturated men.
All strategies for missions would do well to take note of Paul’s patterns for Gospel progress and church swelling ministry. The church has missed the mark in many regards and needs to find its center in the Scripture. The model is not restrictive. It simple gives us a starting pointing and a main thrust for all Christian labors.