DTIM (Dubious Thoughts in Missions) #1: We Need to Do Things Like St. Paul

One of my favorite classic books in Christian Missions is by Roland Allen: Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours; A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces. This looks at the activities Paul and Barnabas, and later Paul and Silas, did in the first two missionary journeys. The book identifies numerous principles (mission principles is really a better way of describing it than mission methods) from Paul, and Allen suggests that we should follow his principles today.

And I think Roland Allen has a lot of good points. We would gain much from understanding what Paul did, and why he did it. That being said, I still think the statement “We need to do things like Paul” is rather dubious.

First (and I admit this is a trivial point), the principles followed by Paul in the first two missionary journeys appear to have been developed by Barnabas, not Paul. The methods used were done from the very beginning of the first missionary journey, and Barnabas was the leader of the missionary band at this point of time, not Paul. And Barnabas was a mentor for Paul, so it is likely, Paul was following the direction of Barnabas not the other way around. Right or wrong, many Christians consider the actions of Paul as having a certain level of authority associated with them. Would they feel it is as authoritative if these came from Barnabas? Jesus and His disciples did travel as a missionary band. The Samaria Missions may have provided some insights as well as the founding of the church of Antioch, and perhaps others. In the end, however, the mission principles that appear to have been developed by Barnabas probably more from the experiences of others rather than on a divine scheme.

Second (and this is probably a stronger point), Paul did not always use these methods. Paul, at least on two occasions (Ephesus and Corinth) broke the pattern of establishing churches, moving on, visiting churches, and moving on. In both Ephesus and Corinth he lingered for over a year. Additionally, in Paul’s so-called fourth missionary journey, he threw out the previous pattern entirely. Now, admittedly, I consider the fourth journey to be a deeply flawed idea (discouraged by both the Spirit of God and the local church leaders) that resulted in little if anything redemptive. The point is, however, that Paul did not believe that the pattern established in the first two journeys had to be followed religiously.

Third, Paul’s ministry setting had a great effect on his methodology. He was a Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jew from Asia Minor who for most of his time in ministry reached out to Greek-speaking Hellenitistic Jews and Greek-speaking Gentiles from areas adjoining the land of his upbringing. In most places he went to were pioneering missions (not counting Rome, Antioch, and his multiple attempts to minister in Jerusalem). For most missionaries today, these circumstances don’t exist. Most missionaries do not work in pioneering fields, and even those that do are not working in a culture very similar to their own, and in the same language as their upbringing. I believe that the missions principles of Barnabas and Paul and Jesus and Philip and others need to be studied and understood. But times change and circumstances change and so methods should change.

I was raised in a church tradition that has elements of “restorationism” associated with it. That is, the church tradition of my upbringing self-identified as seeking to restore the first century church. Actually, a lot of faith traditions (orthodox and heterodox alike) have sought to identify themselves with the first century church. However, the first century church no longer exists. And that is great, because the first century no longer exists neither. We live in the 21st century. We don’t need any first century churches. We need 21st century churches.

Actually, I just realized a dealt with TWO DTIMs, not just one.

NO… we are not supposed to do things like Paul.

NO… we are not supposed to restore the 1st century church for today.

We are to learn from the earliest Christians, but not copy them.

I have written on this topic before. More information is below:

Blogpost: “Missionary Methods: St. Barnabbas’ or Ours?” (March 7, 2011)

Article: “Apostles/Evangelists of the First Three Centuries as Exemplars for Modern Missionaries” (2021)