Monday, June 9, 2008

Acts: Elders (14:23)

At the end of Paul’s first journey, there is and almost “throw away” statement. As Paul and Barnabas head home to report to the church that sent them out, they head back through the communities they have been to, and they appoint elders to lead the churches.
This is a bit amazing when you remember that these churches are weeks, maybe months old. There were no seminaries, no New Testament texts yet to guide the new bodies. It seems at first glance that Paul and Barnabas are placing a lot of faith in these young leaders (or perhaps in the Holy Spirit who embodies believers.) In any case, it is not something that a lot of missionaries would do today.
It seems, however, that Paul had a somewhat systematic approach to his work. Not only did he have a strategy for approaching new communities with the Gospel, but he also had a strategy for how he taught the new believers. In spite of what it may look like reading his epistles today, Paul had a program—a “new believers” curriculum that he taught all believers everywhere. You can see it in the pattern that emerges in Ephesians and Colossians, but also in other passages. Thom Wolf sees the whole teaching as being divided into three main categories labeled Faith, Love, and Hope.
However it was done, Paul grounded new believers quickly and effectively in the Gospel and the behavior of the Kingdom. Effectively enough, anyway, for him to be able to appoint lay leadership for the churches he founded within weeks of founding them. How effectively are today’s missionary strategies in establishing bodies of believers that will survive and thrive within their own cultural context?

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