Scholars tell us that in a little less than 15 years time, the apostle Paul completed his church-planting mission in four major provinces of the Roman Empire. Before 47 A.D., there were no churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Achaia, and the region of Galatia. By 60 A.D., Paul could write, “I no longer have any room for work in these regions” (Rom. 15:23).
How did he do it? Was the Apostle Paul a super-human, one-man army for God? Or are there other principles that Paul understood that would help us effectively reach our world for the sake of the gospel?
Paul Partnered with Other Believers
In a word, the answer to these questions is partnerships—partnerships with churches, partnerships with fellow missionaries, and partnerships with elders and pastors throughout the world. Paul never sought to do anything alone. He recognized the need to train, to encourage, to strengthen, and to admonish at every stage of church-planting and maturity.
Paul was sent with Barnabas, who was his friend and mentor, on the first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas… Paul and Silas… Paul and Timothy… and the list goes on because the Apostle Paul was always bringing along partners in the ministry. He spoke of his partnership with the church at Philippi “from the first day until now” (Phil 1:5) and hoped that the church at Rome would help him get to Spain, once he was able to visit with them (Rom. 15:24).
Even a cursory look at the letters of Paul reveals word-pictures (fellow worker, fellow prisoner, fellow soldier) and a list of names of all of those who worked alongside of Paul (Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Philemon, Mark, Luke, Epaphras, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clemente, to name just a few). Paul did not leave churches “after they graduated.” He returned repeatedly, “to strengthen the souls of the disciples” (Acts 14:22, 18:23) and the churches (Acts 15:41; 16:5). He sent Timothy to Philippi, to Ephesus, and to Thessalonica. He encouraged the saints throughout the Gentile world to partner with the church at Jerusalem to help with famine relief.
Paul wanted to build up local churches in every region in which he ministered. He appointed elders in the churches. He returned to encourage the elders that were ministering. He sent letters to churches having questions and interpersonal conflict. Not only did he continue to travel, looking for new opportunities to present the gospel, but to find believers who were already doing the work of the ministry (like Priscilla and Aquila). He helped them and became partners with them in other places (Acts 18:18, Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 16:19).
Paul recognized that he could not do the work of missions alone. He needed others with different gifts and abilities. Some were his students-in-training; some were fellow-workers; some were supporters of the ministry financially and in prayer. Ultimately, the increase came from God.
Paul: an Example for Churches Today
Most missionaries and local churches look to the ministry of the Apostle Paul for both inspiration and direction as they seek to obey the Great Commission. Paul used partnerships with churches that he had personally planted, with churches that only knew him by reputation, and the host of individuals that God used throughout his sphere of influence. Perhaps we, too, should delve more deeply into the life and strategy of Paul as we think about our part(nership) in this great work of building the Church of God.