Friday, September 21, 2007

Paul's Missionary Strategy


We know Paul primarily because of 13 letters written under his name in the New Testament. Had Paul not been a letter writer, we'd probably know little to nothing about him today. But letter-writing was part of a broader missionary strategy rooted in his call to be "the apostle to the Gentiles." As we read Paul's letters and consider Luke's portrait of him in Acts 9-28, I'd like to know how you would summarize the key elements of and describe Paul's missionary strategy.

I've taken my own stab at this in an essay published in The Dust Off Their Feet: Lessons from the Early Church. It's a new translation/retelling of Acts by Brian McLaren. I wrote some of the commentary but the focus here are the essays in the back. I'll see if I can get permission to reproduce it here. Until then you might be able to check it out from the library or I've created a link you can follow on the title.

Here's the challenge. As you read through Paul, Acts or other books on Paul, come back to this blog post and add another thought or insight about Paul's missionary strategy. At the end we'll collect them all together and see where we are. Include not only the strategy (e.g., letter writing) but also how Paul used the strategy. For example, Paul used letters to introduce himself (Romans), to say thank you (Philippians), to reprimand and reconcile (Galatians and 2 Corinthians), to answer questions from the community (1 Corinthians), to pass on or remind people of the tradition (various), to offer pastoral counsel (various), to intercede (Philemon), to appeal for prayer (various), and to share travel plans (various). Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. As we study various letters, we'll see how they function. In the end we hope to take Paul as a model for how we engage ministry and service in the 21st century.

16 comments:

Barbara said...

David,
I have read your article in "The Dust Off Their Feet" (and by the way, love the book). You made mention that one of Paul's strategies was to go to where the people were and it struck me as I read 1 Thessalonians that he also took time to stay where the people were. 1 Thess. 2:7-8 is that wonderful verse where Paul reminds the people that they were gentle among them and shared not only the gospel but their own selves. He had a ministry of presence. The other strategy that stands out to me is Paul's willingness to abandon his own plans for the plans of God when they were called unexpectedly to Macedonia. He listened to the Spirit and let God take the lead.
Barbara

David B. Capes said...

Barbara,
Thanks for the kudos on the book. Good points. Paul took time to stay where people were. The ministry of presence is another way of living out the incarnation, isn't it? As A. J. Conyers writes, the incarnation is more than a doctrine, it is a reality we live into. Paul knew that well. Also good point on the second strategy: Paul made plans but gave them up when he figured God was up to something. Thanks for your contribution.

Sean said...

Well, it's not my insight but Jimmy Dunn, notes that: “It may have been Paul’s missionary strategy to concentrate his own energies in major cities, while sending out mission teams to towns in the region (cf. Acts 19:10).”

The example of Epaphras suggests that Paul's missionary strategy included teams of people, with some being sent out to plant churches in smaller towns and then go back to Paul and join the team.

The "we" passages in Acts could also support this view. "Team work made Paul's dream of the eschaton arriving work"

Just my $0.02

David B. Capes said...

Sean,
Thanks for your contribution. Where did you find that in Dunn's work? I assume his big THEOLOGY book but perhaps not. Can you help with that?

Regarding the team comment. I agree. I wrote about that in the essay in the book THE DUST OFF THEIR FEET. I think I called it "Two heads are better than one." Paul's ministry was definitely a collaborative, team effort.

Thanks again.

Sean said...

Hey David, the reference is J. D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Colossians and Philemon [Paternoster, 1996], pg. 63.

Dunn is discussing Epaphroditus and his role in the Colossian community. If memory serves me, Dunn fails to discussion mission in his massive tome on Paul's theology, and yet I would argue it is the epicenter driving all his theological reflection. But that's my view.

PS: Dunn references Conzelmann, "Der Brief an di Kolosser," in Die kleineren Briefe des Apostels Paulus [Vandenhoeck, 1965], pg. 134-5. I don't read German, or Conzelmann much so I haven't followed up on that reference. But it may serve you.

Take care, sean D.

Paul said...

David, since you encouraged us to go to Acts to respond to this essay, I will mention one of my favorite episodes from Paul, which is his visit to Athens recounted in Acts 17. His example in Athens sets a model which we can apply to our engagement with culture today. Paul goes into Athens and is "deeply distressed" by the plethora of idols in the city. But rather than react with judgment or withdrawal, he goes among the temples of the city, getting to know them thoroughly. He gets to know the Athenians intimately, so that when invited to engage the Areopagus, he can build common ground, "I see how extremely religious you are in every way." He builds from common ground to preach the Gospel, even citing some of their poets. While he is not met with sweeping conversions, there are a few who resonate with his preaching and respond in faith. Others were intrigued and wanted to hear more. Paul's engagement with their culture and his willingness to walk among their temples and idols, and his strong articulation of the Gospel when invited to speak are powerful examples for us in a post-Christian, post-modern world possibly not unlike ancient Athens in some respects.

David B. Capes said...

Paul, Well said. Acts--it seems to me--is a great source and inspiration for developing a missionary strategy. That is part of its purpose (Acts 1:8). In spreading the message of Jesus from Jerusalem to "the ends of the earth" (an intertextual echo with Isaiah), there are many language, cultural, social barriers to overcome. As the world shrinks, we are living again in an Acts-kind-of-world. Paul's time in Athens provides us with a reasonable model. Thanks for pointing out some of those elements.

Luke Gordon said...

It amazes me that so many of Paul's letters contained prayers for the churches. It seems quite simplistic, but one of Paul's missionary strategies was a heavy reliance on the power of prayer. Not only was Paul placing his trust in God to provide for the churches in his absence, but these prayers also offered an example to the churches to do the same. It seems that Paul, even in his letter writing, was discipling the churches and always encouraging people to place their dependence on God. At the same time Paul's prayers can be seen as a source of praise and encouragement. Barbara already pointed out that Paul abandoned his own plans when God called him to Macedonia. It appears here that Paul must have been praying and listening to God as he went about his work. Prayer should not be overlooked as a powerful missionary strategy.

David B. Capes said...

Luke,
Thanks. Good thoughts all the way around. I suppose the next question is what did Paul pray and how did Paul pray for his churches. That might be a good major paper for this course if someone wanted to tackle it. It also struck me while reading your comment that Paul's letters function as mentoring devices. One could learn to pray by reading Paul's prayers in his letters.
dbc

Barbara said...

I think it is interesting that as Paul R. said, in the book of Acts, we see Paul engaged with the culture, meeting them where they were and spending time with them...and yet didn't shy away from addressing the issues of idoltry or wayward living. He had a unique ability to stand firm in his beliefs and commitment to the Gospel and yet be in relationship with the world around him. He also seemed to exercise a similar stategy within the churches as is evident in 1 Corinthians. He was firm in his belief and confronted their divisions and waywardness yet expressed his deep care for them, spent time with them, wrote them numerous times. He struck a good balance between proclamation and pastoral presence.

Another thought, Gorman wrote, "Cruciformity is the mark of apostleship, grace and the Spirit", and for Paul. this was his way of life, of living with Christ daily. It was not only something he did in terms of a strategy but it was a way of being. In 2 Corinthians, he writes about God's power being made perfect in weakness for when he is weak then Christ is strong. Paul's deep spiritual connection with Christ, including his suffering, formed him in such a way that this was his way of living and his 'strategy' in mission. It was who he was not just what he did.

Luke Gordon said...

Barbara, I like where you are going with this. Paul didn't shy away from addressing problems in the churches. If someone asked me what my missionary strategy was, "conflict" would not be the first answer that comes to my mind. But Paul did not shy away from conflict, because he was not living for mans approval but God's (Galatians 1:10). He admonished and taught the churches in order that he could "present everyone fully mature in Christ."(Colossians 1:28) I feel like our missionary strategies are in part unsuccessful, because we are afraid of conflict and because our goal is not maturity in Christ. Paul's conviction and single-minded passion for Christ impresses me. When reading Galatians we see this in raw form. Paul was not willing to compromise on the goodness, freedom, and righteousness found in God's grace. He was outraged at the distortion of the gospel. However, he balances this zeal with love and was still pastoral in his admonition. I personally shy away from conflict so it is challenging for me to acknowledge pastoral conflict as a healthy missionary strategy. I could use some feedback on this.

Paul said...

I am humbled by Luke's point about Paul's emphasis on prayer. It is so easy to get caught up in all of our ministry doings and life and to neglect this vital cornerstone. I'm even reading these letters again and that one slipped by me. Thanks, Luke, for reminding me that prayer for Paul was something so much more than it is in my life. It was an embedded part of Paul's character and vital to his mission, how his life was devoted to Christ.

Paul said...

Barbara wrote here, and on the Saul/Paul page, about the connection between Paul's theology and his life. We see his theology through the words of his letters--that is what has been preserved--but his life itself bore witness to the Gospel as much as his words. Many circles today are talking about "missional" living, where all of life is seen as mission. Our culture ought to be viewed and exegeted as a post- or even non-Christian culture. These discussions of strategy fit right into that paradigm. Many in our culture think that they know what Christianity is and they don't want anything to do with it. So it behooves us to live in such an authentic way where our lives, perhaps more so than our words, will be what draw people to Christ. We have got to be holistic and eschew hypocrisy at every turn. And I like how Barbara brought Gorman's theme of Cruciformity into this--lives conformed to the Cross will be unique and different among our culture--and most authentically appealing to draw people to Christ.

francisco G said...

One of Paul’s missionary strategies was simply to spend time with people arguing and reasoning. For Paul it was very important to instruct people in a way they could understand the mysteries of Christ. If you read passages like Acts 17:2,4,17; 18:4,19; 19:8,9. You will see this desire of Paul to invest his words in people’s minds and hearts. I think that Paul put more emphasis on reason and words than anything else. He obviously prayed for people as Luke Gordon mentions but even prayer had in the end a rational purpose to enlighten the heart and mind to understand the riches of the Glory of Christ Inheritance for us who believe. Ephesians 1:18. For Paul, Faith is something one is able to receive and understand. Romans 10:17. He tells the Corinthians that he rather speaks 5 words “in Spanish like in my Reina Valera” than ten thousand words in other tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:19. Although his "conversion" was not something we can call rational.

Barbara said...

I, like Paul R., feel humbled by the reminder of how important prayer was to Paul. My curiousity has been peeked and I think I will re-read his prayers, because if my memory serves me right, didn't he pray for the church as a community more than for individuals? And what did those prayers look like and how might they inform our prayer for the church universal today? I don't know...but I have some reading to do! BTW, it has been a blessing to be in class with each of you!

Anonymous said...

i observe Paul's great strategies is that he always lean on to God, every plans he had he always consecrate it to God. so i therefore conclude that one of his best strategy is that he always connected to God.