Because of the orderly fashion in which the book of Acts is written, and because of the missions and leadership principles Luke deals with, we may assume he intended Acts to serve as a training manual for pastors and missionaries who were committed to spreading the Gospel. Unfortunately, most Christian leaders don’t accept the Book of Acts as a guide for how to plant and multiply churches. I am convinced that if spiritual leaders spent just half their time doing what Paul did, the world would already have been evangelized several times over. And the churches they planted would have been born with multiplication in their genetic code.
Why don’t missionaries and pastors follow the principles and practices of Paul? I asked that same question recently of a group of young missionaries in training with All Nations. Here are some of their answers:
1. Fear of Death. People just don’t want to die like Paul did. Paul’s methods for reaching the unreached and the unchurched are so radical that they guarantee fierce opposition, even persecution and death.
2. Intimidation. Most of us don’t think we are a “Paul.” Pastors and missionaries excuse themselves by saying Paul was a “special person with a special anointing.”
3. Pride. On the other hand, some leaders think they can improve on the way Paul did things, so they don’t take his methods and principles seriously. One missionary said to me rather flippantly, “If Paul were alive today he would change the way he did things.” When I asked him why he thought that way, he didn’t know. He just assumed Paul would learn from our understanding and make changes accordingly. What arrogance!
4. Unfocused Goals. Many spiritual leaders have unclear goals of what they want to accomplish. Staying busy in ministry can easily take the place of being effective in ministry.
5. Unbelief. For some, the challenge to trust the Holy Spirit to break Satan’s strongholds over cities and nations requires steps of faith and obedience they are not willing to take.
6. Ignorance. Few leaders have taken time to seriously study the church planting methods of Paul. Some even believe Paul had no concern for the poor. They suggest that by planting churches Paul had not thought through the best way to advance the kingdom of God.
7. Confused Missiology. Another reason I see for the church not following Paul’s method of church planting is that people have changed, added to and amended how Paul did missions so much that he now gets blamed for all the slip-shod, unfocused, ineffective activity that is being done in the name of “missions.” This is especially true for short-term missions activities, where so much more could be done if the leaders of these outreaches would apply the principles and practices of the great apostle. It should be pointed out that many of the churches Paul started were established on “short term” outreaches.
8. Poor Interpretation of Scripture. Some movements and churches have neglected the Pauline methodology because of the misunderstanding about what Jesus meant when he instructed his disciples to “...make disciples of all nations.” There is a grave mistake in the thinking of some that cross cultural missionaries are commissioned by Jesus to reform the social, economic, educational and political structures that exists in nations. “Discipling nations” has thus come to connote transforming a nation rather than spreading the gospel. This approach to missions actually devalues the important ministry God has given to ordinary persons in a local church. Christians are to be salt and light in society, but that is not the calling of the cross-cultural missionary. When cross-cultural missionaries attempt to civilize rather than evangelize, they will colonize.
9. Inconsistent Application of Paul’s Principles. According to Roland Allen (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?), some people have neglected Paul’s methods because they have “...adopted fragments of St. Paul’s method and have tried to incorporate them into alien systems...” The failure that has resulted from these hybrid methodologies has been used as an excuse to reject the apostle’s methods. To quote Allen again: “For example, people have baptized uninstructed converts and the converts have fallen away; but Paul did not baptize uninstructed converts apart from a system of mutual responsibility that insured their instruction.” Obedience based discipleship based on hearing and obeying the Spirit as He instructs new converts is a much surer way to prepare followers of Jesus for baptism.
10. Disrespect For the Apostolic Calling of the Church. The Pauline approach to missions has lost it’s stature in some circles because some spiritual leaders have borrowed the term “apostle” to reinforce their position of authority or dominance over their followers. Others have wanted recognition or prestige in the Body of Christ. “We are apostles,” they claim, expecting have the same title means they deserve the same respect those early apostles had. Those were men of great courage who opposed the Roman Empire, withstood the fierce persecution of the Jewish leaders, and suffered and sacrificed to spread the gospel all over the world. If so called apostles were truly “sent ones” they would be giving their time and energy to pull down Satan’s strongholds in the 10/40 window, endure stoning and jail sentences, plant scores of churches among the unreached, and spreading the good news of Jesus with courage and passion.