When a young man or woman express that they wants to go into ministry, it’s usually assumed that it’s a pulpit ministry. They’re told that they’ll need to buckle down for a lengthy term at seminary and a hefty bill to pay the price. On the day they graduate, they somehow doesn’t feel any more qualified to minister to people than when they went in.
They’ve had his nose buried in texts, but like Spurgeon once said, “He’s at home among the books, but at sea when it comes to men”. Many seminary grads who once dreamed of “tearing it up” for Jesus come to the realization that at the end of their seminary term they have no idea how to do what Paul did in the book of Acts. They can alliterate points, protect Christian orthodoxy, yet they are unable to do the most important thing that Paul did…plant a church.
Paul was not a Pastor. Sure, he did pastoral things, but Paul was a front-line, church planting, missionary. In 2013 I wrote a book called “Church Zero” that maintained that the New Testament model of ministry was about EXPANDING outwards, in contrast to the modern obsession with building upwards. Many leaders today are consumed with getting a bigger widescreen; a better website; a larger parking lot; a more comfortable sanctuary seats, or multiple services.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t concerned about any of that. To be frank, he didn’t have time to. Rather than being insular and inward focused, he was committed to spreading instead of gathering. Pastors are rightly committed to gathering people together for worship, but reading the book of Acts, you get the sense that Paul’s ministry was in stark contrast to today’s pastors. You could almost say that Luke’s description of Paul’s ministry doesn’t fit that of a Pastor at all.
But if Paul wasn’t a Pastor, what exactly was he? The Greek term apostolos means “sent one” or missionary. In other words, he was a man on the move. Like a serial killer, you could bet that if Paul struck once in one are, he would strike again in another. Like a gospel Navy Seal, Paul would infiltrate a culture, and with deadly efficiency, complete his objective, nail his target, and “whoosh!”, he was gone. On to the next one!
The comfortable glass slipper of a mega church would never have fit the apostles travel worn soles. Paul would rather plant churches “where Christ has not been named” than to stay in on spot. And although there are mega churches in the New Testament like Jerusalem and Antioch, God used to send out missionaries throughout Judea, Asia Minor, and beyond. Simply put, they were sending agencies.
In contrast to Paul, the apostle James was a “sending apostle”. He stayed put and deployed others to strike out into the darkness. When the New Breed Church Planting Network first started up in Europe, Dai Hankey and I were convinced that we were both “serial planters” and that we’d always be on the move like Ronin. Nonetheless, Dai stopped “walking da’earth like Kane from da Kung Fu” and began training up multiple planters from his church planting headquarters. He adopted Paul’s method towards his third missionary journey, wherein he established a church planting hub in Ephesus, through which the 7 churches of Asia were planted by his padawans in under three years (Acts 19:10).
The difference between Dai and a Pastor is that Dai’s focus is on raising up others who will duplicate what he’s done in order to rapidly facilitate a vast number of church plants. This is in contrast to many pastors who are trying to shepherd those that already in the church. That’s a valuable ministry in itself, but the apostle is called to go and plant more churches, expand frontiers, and lead God’s people out onto the field of mission. You might say that these serial planters are a type of special forces in God’s army. Even the military has a brigade of specially trained operatives who specialize in accomplishing dangerous missions with little promise of reward. Such is the life of a church planter.
I’ve been thinking that we need more gospel special forces operatives in the Kingdom of God. I can’t help but wonder if that’s what most going into seminary hoped they’d be when they got out. We just haven’t concentrated on training them in this specialized skillset. We’re still training preachers and pastors, when the current missiological climate calls for a more apostolic ministry. I’m pretty sure that if we focused on training apostles instead of pastors, things would start to look a whole lot more like the book of Acts.