Paul, the First Church Planter
Planting churches is not a new concept. Itâ€™s as old as the first
century. The Apostle Paul was the first church planter, and as such,
is a primary example for church planters today:
1. Paul is part of a team.
Our concept of the great apostle to the Gentiles may be that of a
rugged individualist, setting sail against a host of opposition. But Paul
is, first and foremost, a team player. In his first letter to the
Corinthians, he addresses the team concept of church planting. â
€œWhat, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants,
through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each
his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it
growâ€� (1 Corinthians 3:5-6).
Paul (also known as Saul) is the quintessential church planter --the
first on any field (See Romans 15:20-21). Apollos is the preacher,
instructed and encouraged by Priscilla and Aquila, and well prepared
to teach those Paul converted (Acts 18:24-26). But the real power
in the partnership is our life-giving and sustaining God, who alone is
able to create life and foster growth among both church planters and
the people they approach.
2. Paul has a sponsoring church.
Commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul was
sent out by the church in Antioch with his preaching partner
Barnabas. The Antioch church was a diverse congregation
composed mostly of Gentiles:
In the church at Antioch, there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called
Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch)
and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, â
€œSet apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.â€�
So after they they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent
them off. --Acts 13:1-3
3. Paul is prepared.
Paul was well prepared for his work, both physically and spiritually. â
€œWhen Paul was arrested during his last visit to Jerusalem (A. D.
57) and brought before the military tribune who commanded the
auxiliary cohort in the Antonia fortress,â€� according to F. F. Bruce
in Paul the Apostle of the Heart Set Free, the tribune was confused
as to who he was. Paul identified himself as â€œa Jew, from Tarsus
in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean cityâ€� (Acts 21:39). He also pointed
out that he was a Roman citizen by birth. Bruce continues,
If he was born a Roman citizen, his father must have been a Roman citizen before him.
Roman citizenship was originally confined to freeborn natives of the city of Rome, but
as Roman control of Italy and the Mediterranean lands extended, the citizenship was
conferred on a number of other people who were not Roman by birth, including certain
Paulâ€™s Roman citizenship insured his safe travel throughout the
Mediterranean world and his acquaintance with the dominant culture
of his time.
4. Paul knows his culture.
Paulâ€™s familiarity with his audience serves as a goal for church
planters today. Bruce lists three major contributions of Paul: 1) his
contribution to Greek Literature, 2) his contribution to Christian
mission, and 3) his contribution to Christian thought in his presentation
of the gospel, the good news of Godâ€™s grace.
Summarizing the Hellenist scholar, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-
Moellendorff, Bruce says, â€œPaul . . . did not directly take over any
of the elements of Greek education, yet he not only writes Greek but
Church planters need to learn, not just the language of the people
theyâ€™re seeking to serve, but their very way of thinking.
5. Paul respects the independence of his hearers.
In a wonderful example of planting independent churches that can
outlive their planter, Bruce quotes Roland Allen:
In little more than ten years St. Paul established the Church in four provinces of the
Empire, Calatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before A. D. 47 there were no Churches
in these provinces; in A.D. 57 St. Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and
could plan extensive tours into the far West without anxiiety lest the Churches which
he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support.
6. Paul preaches good news.
Finally, according to Bruce, Paulâ€™s message rested on two firm
foundations: 1) God has reached out to make us his own, thus
changing us. â€œGrace is manifested not only in Godâ€™s
acceptance of sinners but in the transformation of those thus accepted
into the likeness of Christ.â€� And 2) Love, not law, is what
prompts us to obey. â€œLove is a more potent incentive to doing the
will of God than legal regulations and fear of judgment could ever be.â
If todayâ€™s church planters follow Paulâ€™s example and preach
this really good news, people and neighborhoods will be changed.