I think it is safe to say that the most prolific church planter that we can read about in the scriptures was the Apostle Paul. He started many churches where there were no churches before and taught new disciples to do the same.
As a result, as we think about a Biblical Roadmap for Starting New Churches, I think we should look at how Paul entered a new area and began the process of starting a church.
I’ve walked through each of the new churches in each of the towns in Acts 13-20 where we can see that Paul labored himself to start the church. It is clear to me that there is a pattern in how Paul did his work and my goal here is to show how Paul did that work, and then look back at the work and teachings of Jesus and see if there are similarities or ideas that we can understand from Jesus that may have informed how Paul worked.
Paul’s Entry Pattern
Here are the entries into each city that I could find for Apostle Paul:
Cyprus – The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. Acts 13:4-5
Pisidian Antioch – “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39
Iconium – At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. Acts 14:1
Lystra – “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. Acts 14:15
Derbe – They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Acts 14:21
Philippi – On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. Acts 16:13-15
Thessalonica – As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Acts 17:2-3
Berea – As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:10-11
So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:17
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23
Corinth – Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 18:4
Ephesus – They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. Acts 18:19
In addition, because we are talking about how Paul entered an area, I’m going to give honorable mention to a dream that Paul had about a man in Macedonia who was asking for help as it is illustrative of what Paul believed should be happening in each of the areas where he was traveling:
Macedonia – During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9-10
I believe that there are some clear patterns that we can point out in how Paul entered a city. His goal was to ultimately to start a church, which I will discuss further in another post, but he was working to take his first steps, and I see these patterns:
First, Paul seemed to typically seek out places where religious types of activities were happening. In all of the locations except for Philippi, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue in that town. Taking advantage of a Jewish tradition to allow travelers and visitors to speak at the assembly, Paul spoke directly and clearly of Jesus as the Messiah. In Philippi, Paul and his team went to a river where it says they expected to find a place of prayer. That was the location that he shared the Gospel, speaking about Jesus.
Next, as I started to mention above, I think we can say that Paul spoke about Jesus immediately and directly. He didn’t wait, try to make relationships or friendships in the town, or do other types of programs to make in-roads with the community. He simply spoke about Jesus and referenced the scriptures directly, attempting initially to reason with the Jews about the identity of the Messiah.
Finally, we don’t see that news about Jesus hadn’t reached these areas yet, so Paul was speaking with non-believers who would become the new disciples. Some of them would go on to lead the new churches that would be formed and others would become leaders within the movement that Paul was starting through his evangelism. The point in this is that the non-believers were those that would become believers, disciples, and leaders in various forms.
Clearly, Jesus preceded Paul and taught his disciples who would ultimately go on to make disciples. Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’s 12 disciples that he taught directly, but can we see any of Jesus’s practice and teaching in the way that Paul worked as he entered a new town?
First, I want to look at what Jesus did as he went to new locations. How did he practice evangelistic entry with non-believers? Here are some examples:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4:25-26
Speaking from the Prophecies
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” Luke 5:17-26
In Jesus’s case, his task was different than that of Paul’s in that seemed to primarily be to help others understand A) his identity, and B) how to enter the Kingdom that he was establishing here on earth. As a result, he used miracles to show who he was. He used the Prophecies. I see that he even spoke directly about his identity and what the people should do as he called them to repentance and belief so that they could enter the Kingdom.
Some have said that Jesus never said, “I am the Son of God”, choosing instead to call himself the Son of Man, so he was only giving the people what they could understand, a small bit at a time. But I’m not sure that is the case. I think that if you look at the reaction of the people, most especially the Jewish leaders, it seems very clear that they understand the claim that he is making. They fully understand as he is speaking with them and teaching them that Jesus is saying that he is Divine, that he is saying that he is, himself, God. That is why they are accusing him of blasphemy, and ultimately why they wanted to crucify him.
The other thing that I notice in how Jesus practiced is that, like Paul, I don’t see that he ever waited to share the Good News with someone once they were ready. It is true, likely given his ongoing and masterful conversation with the Holy Spirit, that he was wonderful at understanding what people needed to hear and speaking to them directly…but he did speak to them directly and immediately. He shared with them and allowed the other person to determine what they would with what he had shared with them.
How did Jesus teach his disciples to speak about him with others? Here are a few teachings that I think we can consider:
Sharing Our Testimony
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:18-20
Being Witnesses to What God Has Done
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Sowing Gospel Seed
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29
Sowing Gospel Seed in Different Soils
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:1-9
Sending Out the Disciples
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:7-8
Here I will make some observations about how Jesus taught his disciples:
First, he seems to put a premium on being witnesses, in sharing testimony of what God has done in our lives.
Second, the Good News Gospel message that he tells them to share is that of the Kingdom of God. This connects to the message that Jesus delivered in that they were to identify who is the King, or to use another term, the Messiah.
Third, I see that Jesus is teaching that they should share the message liberally, broadly. In fact, he suggests sharing the Gospel seed so liberally that some goes on hard paths and in ground that is not good for growing the seed. Note that he never teaches them to remove rocks or weeds prior to sowing. Instead, he says that they should sow the seed. Later, he says to make disciples, which is probably the process where rocks and weeds are removed. But first? Sow the seed.
And finally, Jesus gave his disciples authority and taught them, in connection with sharing, to heal people. Whether they have a sickness, have a spiritual malady, or even are dead (!), they should perform these miracles in connection with the sharing of the message.
How do Paul and Jesus Connect?
So, how do the practices and teachings of Jesus overlap with what we see Paul doing as he goes from town to town? Here are a few ideas:
- Like Jesus, Paul starts by sharing with the Jewish people but doesn’t ignore the Gentiles. In other words, he works with all people.
- Like Jesus, Paul doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t shy away from sharing the truth of the Gospel, immediately and directly.
- Like Jesus, as Paul shares, he looks for disciples who will follow.
- Although not noted above in the section about Paul, like Jesus, Paul miraculously heals people of both physical and spiritual problems
To conclude this post, then, I will say that I believe that it is fair to say that the third step, following waiting upon the Spirit and praying for God to move, is to share the Gospel. This is what we see that Paul did, and we can connect it to Jesus’s teachings. This is, by far, not the last step, but it is one of the first steps as we engage a community: Going to non-believers and sowing Gospel seed, looking for those who will become disciples.
To tag a practical application to this (if you’re still reading!), our team has adopted the use of two different tools for sharing the Gospel. The first is a simple way to share our story called the 15-Second Testimony:
The second is a simple way to share the Gospel called the Three Circles. Hope these are helpful!