When we look at the way the Apostle Paul discipled others, we see him capitalizing on what people are already doing. He shows up where they are: in the temple courts, where the philosophers are debating, in the ports where people are coming and going, where the work is being done.
Sometimes the Apostle Paul was a “professional” missionary receiving support and other times he lived bivocationally as a tent-maker. What opportunities did that bivocational status afford him? Through his tent-making trade he met Priscilla and Aquila, who he discipled and who later joined him in ministry:
Whenever doors of opportunity for effective ministry open, the challenges are right there with us. The apostle Paul understood that:
But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. — 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 NIV
Paul saw the opportunities for effective work, even in the face of opposition. The door opened, he walked through it, and there were adversaries. With great opportunities comes great opposition. It’s not much different for us. Whenever we move in a direction that can make a difference for the Kingdom, spiritual warfare increases. All sorts of obstacles, challenges, and adversaries seem to come out of the woodwork.
We’ve been going through the book of Acts recently in our church gathering. It’s been interesting to take another look at Paul’s church planting strategy. He was seeking to make disciples, so he’d go to the synagogue where he would find God-fearing gentiles who were intrigued by his message.
It was almost always the people on the fringes of the synagogue society that Paul was reaching. The God-fearing gentiles would come to Christ and then create a bridge to the rest of the gentile community. At that point, the Jewish leaders would then become jealous and a division was created in the synagogue.
On one of Paul’s missionary journeys we was heading into the province of Asia, fully intending to preach the gospel there and plant churches as he had done in other places—a fine goal. But an odd thing happened at the border of Mysia: “They tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas” (Acts 16:7-8) That night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia, standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9). “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” (v. 10).
It was great to reconnect with my friend Neil Cole at a conference we were both speaking at. Neil and I have partnered together on various projects in the past, and it’s exciting to see how God is continuing to work through his ministry. He has kept his focus on this grassroots, bottom up type of leadership development, and that’s always been one of Neil’s great strengths: staying faithful and focused, keeping the main thing the main thing.