One of the most accessible resources available to a church planter is the life of Paul the apostle. His life is an inspiration for anyone in Christian leadership, but especially for those engaging in church planting. Not only did Paul plant multiple churches across the Roman Empire, with significant movemental impact throughout his career, he did it with significant resistance and sometimes at great personal cost.
His catalogue of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 tells us that Paul was no stranger to adversity. If he wasn’t a resilient leader when he started planting churches, he soon evolved into one. No one can face the kinds of challenges he faced and persevere through them without developing a tenacity of soul and spirit.
Paul’s achievements, as well as his capacity to endure and reach the finish line, deserve our respect and admiration. In fact, this kind of life is often relegated to a hero status in most communities. There is something compelling about his life that inspires all of us to want to imitate him in some form or fashion. Who wouldn’t want to plant multiple churches across the nation, some of which blow up into full blown movements that impact entire regions for hundreds of years to come?
A surprising insight from the Apostle Paul
At a distance, Paul looks almost untouchable. But if we were to look more closely at his life, we will see that Paul did not show up on the scene of 1st century Christianity as a fully developed leader.
For example, look at his earliest experiences of ministry in the church at Jerusalem after his conversion. His apparently antagonistic approach to evangelizing seemed to have unnecessarily provoked the Hellenists to violent schemes on his life. This led to Saul being ushered out of the city unawares by some clever people in the movement.
What Luke says that followed Paul’s exit is quite telling: “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31). Interesting thing to say after someone leaves. This is basically what Luke said:
Church – Paul = peace, encouragement and multiplication
Wow! Once Paul left, the church in that region flourished!
I am pretty sure this not how Paul saw himself fitting into the equation.
This story in Acts 9 is just one episode at the early beginnings of his ministry. It gets even more interesting when we zoom out and take a broader look at his life.
The Timeline of the life Paul[table width=”675″ colwidth=”20|100|200″ colalign=”left|center|left|left|right”] EVENTS,TIMELINE,DETAILS,TEXT
,5 A.D.,Born in Tarsus,Acts 22:3
,15-20,Attended Rabbinical School of Gamiliel,Acts 22:3
,33,Present at Stephens Stoning,Acts 7:58-8:1
,33-34,Persecutor of the Church,Acts 8:1-3
CONVERSION & CALLING,34,Road to Damascus,Acts 9:1-19
REFLECTION,34-37,Unknown Years in Arabia,Galatians 1:17
PROCLAMATION,37,Returns to Damascus,Galatians 1:17; Acts 9:20-25
PROCLAMATION,37,Goes up to Jerusalem-Escorted out to Caesarea then off to Tarsus,Galatians 1:18; Acts 9:26-30
PROCLAMATION,37-46,Unknown Years in Tarsus,Acts 9:30
DISCIPLED BY BARNABAS IN A MISSIONAL & MULTI-ETHNIC CHURCH”,46,Barnabas travels 100 miles to get Saul form Tarsus and brings him to Antioch,Acts 11:25
,47,Goes to Jerusalem with Barnabas to bring relief for those in famine,Acts 11:30
,47,Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch with John Mark,Acts 12:25
,47,Barnabas and Saul separated out for mission,Acts 13:1-3
APOSTOLIC MISSION”,47-48,”Saul goes out on first apostolic mission with Barnabas and John Mark, with Barnabas leading on the first leg of the journey. It is during this first mission that Saul is renamed as Paul. “,Acts 13:4-14:28
Which Paul do we admire?
The Paul we typically admire is the guy who shows up in Acts 13. It’s the Paul setting out into the frontier to cross geographical and cultural boundaries with the gospel. This part of Paul’s narrative is definitely inspirational. But as we can see, there is more to Paul’s story than this.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul was called to be an apostle around 34 A.D. by Jesus himself, but did not actually live into this calling until 13 years later? What were those 13 years about? Why wait so long? Why not just jump right in and get going? The truth is, Paul was probably not ready to fulfill his calling. Those 13 years served as a time of preparation for him.
What about Paul’s relationship with Barnabas? It seems that Barnabas brought Paul underneath his wing (both in Jerusalem and in Antioch) and discipled him. So while Paul at various times had to establish the fact that his gospel did not originate from other people (See Galatians 1:1-2:20), he was not entirely a lone ranger. The revelation of “his” gospel originated with Jesus, but his preparation to seed that gospel through his apostolic vocation can be traced to several sources, Barnabas being the most apparent.
How about Paul’s time at Antioch? Isn’t it interesting that Paul spent significant time at a church with prophets and teachers? Undoubtedly, Paul went through a season at Antioch where he received equipping to function in prophetic and teaching ministries.
What about the demographics of the Antioch church? Can you see the value of Paul being exposed to one of the first truly multi-ethnic (possibly even multi-cultural) churches in the Christian movement? The implications for Paul to effectively engage his Gentile mission can hardly be overlooked.
Then there’s the first leg of the missionary journey with Barnabas. Notice that Barnabas is mentioned first. This implies Barnabas took the lead and Paul played the role of the “number 2” guy. Needless to say, the “number 2” guy is not the image that comes to mind when most people think of Paul, yet this is the role he played for a season.
The timeline of Paul’s life reveals an interesting pattern as to how he evolved as a leader. Paul went through an evolutionary process of development that spanned over 13 years! It was during these 13 years that God invested in Paul the things that he needed to become an effective church planter.
Three reminders about the calling from the Apostle Paul
Here are some things we should keep in mind as we press into our apostolic callings:
1. Calling and Timing Do Not Always Sync Up
The fact that Paul waited 13 years to live out his calling tells us that being called to plant churches does not always translate into marching orders. I may have entrepreneurial sensibilities and have strong convictions about what needs to happen in a particular place, but it does not necessarily mean the timing is right.
2. Every Church Planter Needs Training
There is somewhat of a romanticized image floating around out there that anyone can plant a church. At some level, I fully believe this. At another level, I don’t. If we think of planting a church as starting a family, then right away we are clued into the timing and training factor. Not everyone is ready to start or lead a family. Barnabas and the Antioch church played this role.
3. God Uses Your Past to Help Create the Future
If you think about it, Paul was being developed to fulfill his apostolic calling even before he became a Christian.(Galatians 1:15) If there is a calling on your life to plant churches, you can rest assured that God will prepare you for it. He may take you on what seems like a detour, but these so called “detours” could function as strategic seasons that end up equipping you to fulfill your calling. One thing is sure, God’s timing is always right.
At V3, we invest in the development of church planters to help them fulfill their apostolic callings. If you are wanting to plant a missional church that can allow you to start a missional movement, then we would love to talk with you and discern next steps.
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