Friday, August 20, 2010


As a seasoned pioneer missionary with twenty five years of church planting and upwards of fifteen thousand ministry miles under his belt, the apostle Paul unveils his crowning strategy for Spain in his letter to the Romans. As far as first century Roman Empire dwellers were concerned, Spain was the western “ends of the earth” (India to the east), and therefore the eschatological fulfillment of God’s pursuit of his glory (Is 66.19).

He writes: “I no longer have any room for work in these regions...I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you” (Rom 15.23-24).

There is an explicit and implicit charge in these matter-of-fact logistical plans for the first century Roman church and twenty-first century American church. Paul betrays a twofold stratus of commission calling. Explicitly, Paul highlights the calling of “foundation layers” such as himself - men and women commissioned to preach the gospel where it has yet to be heard.

This is Paul’s calling. And as a man duly called he expects “help,” propempo, the NT technical term for missionary support - funding, lodging, travel, regional coworkers, etc. Its Paul’s calling but the church’s task. Spain is Rome’s opportunity.

But there’s also an implicit charge. There is work to be done by “builders,” those Christians left behind. By this point, Paul has scarcely sprinkled the eastern Mediterranean world with a handful of fledgling house churches in major metropolises.

Take the church in Corinth for example. As far as we can tell several house churches of fifty plus believers constituted Paul’s plan for Greece. After that he felt claustrophobic in the region to know that one solitary city had that many Christians. There was no room for him to work.

The implicit charge is that members of these house churches build. They take Paul’s meager eighteen months of planting (Corinth) and begin to water. They organize themselves into a healthy church; care for their members; preach the Word, disciple, serve the Supper, guard the gospel; reach out to neighbors and coworkers with the good news; and begin thinking about multiplication in Greece.

This is the builder’s call, no less than the pioneer foundation layer. I suspect for all his gifts, Paul would have made a lousy builder. That’s probably why far from disparaging Christian builders in Rome, he greets them with reverent admiration in the following chapter.


Jon Furst said...

A good reminder that there is a need for special gifting at all stages of church growth. It's sad when there are great starters who can lay a great foundation but nobody who knows how to fit the rest of the building together. It is for this reason that I am glad for the Pastoral Epistles in which Paul gives us a glimpse of what continuing the work of building looks like.

P.D. said...

how might this change, or challenge current church planting strategies?

david gentino said...

Good question PD. Studying Paul again with Eckhard Schnabel has me rethinking missions.

At the very least I hope it empowers church goers. We usually talk about missions in terms of goers and senders - if you're not called to missions, send somebody who is.

That's good and necessary but incomplete. The whole structure of mission in the NT is based on the assumption that there are foundation layers and builders. Everybody is somebody. Everybody is called to a task.

In addition to raising up foundation layers from their midst church goers are really empowered to build, disciple, evangelize, plant.