In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis declares that ‘in virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples’ and continues “All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangilization. Every Christian is challenged to be actively engaged in evangilization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”[1] Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. He said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”[2] Pope Francis wants us all, laity, religious and clergy, to take this to heart and begin to find ways to implement it in our parishes and dioceses. This essay examines Paul’s missionary model through his journeys as recorded in Acts[3] and the letters he wrote, the consequences of that model to Paul, and applying that model in today’s culture.

When Paul arrived in a new location, he sought out the local synagogue where the local Jewish community, and God-fearing Greeks, would meet. Paul would preach the Gospel and share the understanding of salvation history that he had gained as a Pharisee under Gamaliel[4] and then how this related to the person of Jesus using the theology he developed after his experience on the road to Damascus.[5] Some of the people who heard the message would be persuaded, join the community of believers, be filled with the Holy Spirit and the church would grow. However, others hearing the same message would perceive a threat.

The missionary experience included miraculous healings for example the cripple in Lystra which set up a cultural religious clash. Paul had to explain that he and Barnabas were not Hermes and Zeus in human form which disappointed the fanatical crowd.[6]

Paul’s teaching encouraged economic change, for example, as people no longer wished to have the goddess Artemis in their homes sales of the silver idols would have reduced or at least been threatened. The silversmiths whose livelihood depended on the sale of these artifacts were understandably outraged.[7]

 Finally, Paul’s fellow Jews, who like Paul before his dramatic change, where zealous and understood the importance of routing out and destroying those who were disobeying the law. They not only rejected the message but sought to violently punish the traitor, Paul.[8]

The local authorities perceiving a growing threat to peace and their own authority would expel Paul and his followers from the location. Often Paul received beatings and imprisonment at the hands of the authorities which nearly killed him and certainly left mental and physical scars.[9] Paul often boasted of his weaknesses and how God turned that to strength and how Jesus told him “My grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness.”[10]

Whilst journeying Paul stayed connected with the communities that he had set up, receiving news, and writing letters to encourage their faith, to correct their behaviour and their interpretation of the Gospel.[11]

Paul did not attempt his missionary work alone; he did it with trusted individuals: Barnabas, Titus, Timothy & Philemon are examples. Paul established key mentoring relationships with these writing to them to encourage and instruct even while he was a prisoner in Ephesus[12] and later Rome awaiting his execution. These trusted friends would bring food and writing materials to the prison in which he was housed, without them he would have surely starved, especially in Ephesus.

After a journey Paul reported to the mother church in Jerusalem his experiences of the work God had done through him. To begin with there was rejoicing at the growth of the church.[13] But later there were theological disagreements for example over circumcision or eating certain types of food. These heated disagreements were resolved through the church council at Jerusalem where the church together decided the way forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. James, the brother of Jesus, who was effectively the bishop of Jerusalem, made the final decision.[14]

Today we live in a culture focused on design, media image, personal style, and entertainment this can be seen simply by scrolling through social media at the often one-sided, unbalanced, and inflammatory writing. The culture is corrosively secular, pluralist, and individualistic seeking to drive out and silence people with differing opinions. The experience is like Paul’s though the topics are different.

Paul’s missionary model encourages us to approach our local churches, places where people gather in town and on-line to proclaim the Gospel with courage. Paul’s message is that we have all (Christian and Non-Christian) sinned and fallen short of God, that Jesus’s life and death paid the price for our unworthiness and that through Jesus we can be reconciled, have a relationship with the Creator God and eternal life. All we need do is turn to Him in faith and proclaim Jesus as Lord of our lives. Proclaiming this truth, though, will highlight sins in our lives, and people will change as a result. This like with Paul will bring us in to disagreement with the society and the culture around us. We should expect to be met with violence and arrest from those who oppose the message, as in the case of Isabel Vaun-Spruce who has been arrested several times for quietly praying close to an abortion clinic.[15]

Therefore, like Paul, we must do this missionary work with our trusted brothers and sisters, form close mentoring relationships with those who accept the Gospel message and encourage each other making use of today’s equivalent of letter writing, social media. We will then be able to support one another when the culture clash turns people against, who then do all they can to alienate and silence us.

Finally, we should share with the wider church our experiences and celebrate the growth we see through the power of the Holy Spirit and discuss and resolve our disagreements seeking clarification from mother church when required.

In conclusion Paul’s missionary model is a good model for missionary discipleship today and will have similar consequences for those of us who use it. The courage shown by Paul on his missionary journeys is outstanding. He stood up for his belief in Jesus in the face of fierce and violent opposition from his own Jewish community and from the secular authorities. He found innovative ways to challenge the local dominant philosophies. He wrote advice and encouragement to the fledging communities including correcting and criticising inappropriate behaviour. He established mentoring relationships with key individuals within those communities and with his missionary colleagues. We should follow Paul’s example in today’s missionary environment. 

[1] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World – The Joy of the Gospel Evangelii Gaudium. (London: CTS, 2013), 120.

[2] Mt 28,19

[3] Ac 13-14; Ac 16-18; Ac 19-21

[4] Ac 22:3

[5] Tom Wright, Paul A Biography, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018) Pg 68-79

[6] Ac 14, 11-18

[7] Tom Wright, Paul A Biography, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018) Pg 259 – 262

[8]  E.g., Ac 13,50; Ac 14,19; Ac 17,5-9; Ac 18,12-17; Ac 21,27-36

[9] Tom Wright, Paul A Biography, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018) Pg 304

[10] 2 Co 12,9

[11] e.g., Eph 1,15-23; 1 Cor 2, 1-5; Gal 4, 8-11

[12] Tom Wright, Paul A Biography, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018) Pg 268

[13] Ac 13,13 – 14, 28

[14] Ac 15,13-21

[15] Jeremiah Igunnubole & Lois McLatchie, Challenging thought–crimes- Charity volunteer arrested for silent prayer, ADFInternational.org, accessed November 7,2023, https://adfinternational.org/isabel/.