A Missionary Like Paul :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

A Missionary Like Paul

Tim Berrey
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Not every missionary has the same kind of missionary calling as Paul. Both Timothy and Titus were missionary pastors—overseeing flocks in areas not native to them. Aquila and Priscilla might be classified as global nomads if they lived today. After they met Paul in Corinth, they used their freedom to travel for the sake of the Gospel and the fledgling churches springing up across the Roman empire. Mark (commonly called John Mark) functioned more like a missionary intern on the first missionary journey (see Acts 13:5). Nonetheless, even among the many named individuals who contributed to the church’s growth in the first century, no one eclipses the impact made by Saul of Tarsus. There are some things about Paul that we would expect to be true of any missionary: he preached the Gospel wherever he went; he saw people saved almost everywhere he went, and he gathered those converts into churches wherever possible. But there were some things about Paul that set him apart from other missionary laborers.

God-given Calling

Paul never deviated from his calling as a foundation-layer. His calling was to proclaim Christ where Christ had never been named. Once Christ’s name had been proclaimed in a given area, Paul felt his obligation to that area had ceased, and he was ready to move on (Romans 15:19–20). To lay foundations was His God-given calling—a ministry stewardship for which God had given him grace (1 Corinthians 3:10). One might think that this kind of obsession with pushing the boundaries of the Gospel’s reach characterized all the apostles. To some extent this may be true. But Peter did not seem to have the same relentless drive as Paul in this regard; neither did the Apostle John who, according to church tradition, settled down to pastor near Ephesus.

If GFA missionaries are any indication, God is still calling and gifting Pauls today. One missionary couple deliberately selected the place where they have served for decades because it was one of the least reached places they could access. Another couple has already been active in multiple pioneer settings but are not yet ready to hang up their spurs; they desire the Lord to continue to use them to open more new fields. The spirit of Paul still exists in modern-day missions. My advice to those to whom God has given a similar calling: stir up the gift that is in you!

Not a Pastor

Another thing that marked Paul and set him apart from at least some of the other apostles is that he never viewed himself as a pastor. Paul refers to himself as a preacher, as a teacher of the Gentiles, as an apostle, and as a servant of Christ—never as an elder. This is a contradistinction from Peter, for example, who calls himself both an apostle and an elder (1 Peter 1:1; 5:1). The Apostle John refers to himself as the (unnamed) elder in the opening verse of his second and third epistles (2 John 1; 3 John 1). Paul’s calling as a foundation-layer meant that he did not pastor. He did not even view baptizing his own converts as a core element of his ministry calling! Paul seems to have understood how people might attach spiritual benefit to the person who baptized them. Such thinking detracts from the power of the cross, and Paul wanted no part of that! He taught, he discipled, he lectured, he rebuked, he prayed, and he revisited. But when it came to pastoral work, his practice was to appoint leaders to oversee the new congregation. This practice of not pastoring is what enabled him to plant churches over such wide swaths of the Roman empire. Paul’s method in this regard is one that missiologists still hold up as ideal; however, putting it into actual practice is challenging! Every field is different. Every missionary is different. Every ministry is different. The Lord is the ultimate judge of our ministries as Paul himself understood. To Him we rise or fall. Nonetheless, it may do our missions efforts a world of good to periodically assess ways in which we can trim our pastoral role as a missionary in order to encourage a church’s indigenous growth.

Inclusion of Nationals on Ministry Team

Finally, Paul included those he reached as a part of his ministry team, giving them adequate opportunity for the exercise of their gifts. Granted, other apostles also did this: Barnabas clearly mentored Mark (Acts 15:39), and church tradition suggests Mark also benefited from time spent with Peter. But other than perhaps our Lord Himself, Paul included others in his ministry efforts on a scale virtually unprecedented. In fact, Paul set a precedent for others to follow! Paul was not power-hungry or concerned that his kingdom efforts receive proper recognition. Instead, Paul gave every indication of being a team player. The Holy Spirit, of course, assigned him Barnabas as his first ministry partner (Acts 13:2). But when he and Barnabas parted ways, Paul chose Silas to accompany him (Acts 15:40). As soon as the opportunity allowed, he added Timothy (Acts 16:1-3) and then Luke (Acts 16:10) to the missionary team. Paul drew ministry-minded people to himself like flypaper draws flies and magnets draw iron. At one point on his third missionary journey, as many as seven brethren from widely varying geographical backgrounds were part of his missionary team (20:4).

Paul entrusted those who were trustworthy with ministry opportunities fitting to their gifts. He sent Titus to Crete (Titus 1:5), but left the milder-mannered Timothy at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). He brought Aquila and Priscilla from Corinth to Ephesus, sensing the help they would be to the believers there (Acts 18:18-19). Tychicus rose in Paul’s esteem after helping with money, was advanced to becoming a courier of Scripture, and ultimately functioned as an interim pastor while Timothy paid a final farewell visit to Paul in prison (Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 4:12, 21).

In addition, Paul’s letters abound with references to coworkers. Romans 16, the hall of names, reveals how greatly Paul valued those who labored with him for the sake of the Gospel. Paul may have been a pioneer, but he was not a loner. He did not have an Elijah complex (1 Kings 19:10)! Foundation-layers may be the first in a given area, but they know that Christ will bring in others to finish the building they have begun.

Are You a Foundation Layer?

In closing, I would like to challenge each reader of this article to consider what gifts God may have given you. Our Lord’s Great Commission assumes the need for pioneer foundation-laying missionaries. How else is repentance and remission of sins in His name to be preached among all nations (Luke 24:47). Someone must be the first to go to a given people! Will you be that first? Are you sure that other factors—such as relationships, fears, luxuries, comforts, and hobbies—aren’t keeping you back from what God has made you to do?