Paul’s Ministry Vision: Strategic or Spontaneous?

Gabriel Wilson, Journal of Grace Theology, Vol. 2, No. 1 – Spring 2015, Pg. 88

Gabriel Wilson


Many have asked “Did Paul have a strategy or deliberate plans in his attempt to grow the body of Christ, or did the early Christian movement expand spontaneously?” I believe the answer is an emphatic yes to the for- mer. In the book of Acts, Luke shows Paul’s ministry vision was intention- ally and strategically planned while also being empowered by the Spirit to fulfill his God-given mission. This concise statement communicates the Apostle Paul’s missionary method. The content of this statement will be further explored in this the paper. However, before beginning it is import- ant to define the italicized words above.

Paul’s ministry vision refers to the big picture. One convincing definition of vision by the authors of Re:VISION is: “a clear, exciting picture of God’s future for your ministry as you believe it can be and must be.” 1 Paul’s vision was to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth through preaching the gospel, planting churches, and developing leaders who would do the exact same thing. This definition of vision is clear and concise and definitely resonates with God’s deepest desires. And it is something Paul thought could, and more importantly, should happen. He was not satisfied in ministering where a foundation had already been laid. His ministry vision was that the whole world would hear and know the gospel. All of his missionary journeys and ministry initiatives fell into this framework. The decisions he made flowed from his ministry vision.

For Paul, such a lofty aspiration could only be accomplished intentionally and strategically planned. In other words, Paul did not just walk around preaching the gospel in hopes that one day the whole world would know it and believe it. From his very beginnings he intentionally reached out to particular groups of people, in particular places, with a particular style of communication, with a particular team. He was intentional in everything he did. All of this intentionality shows his many strategic plans to carry out his ministry vision. What really reveals his strategic plans is the emphasis in his missionary journeys on urban outreach. It was not by accident that he went to the cities he went to.

Paul’s ministry vision, intentional and strategic plans, his mission (which will be explained next), and the success of all of his ministry endeavors were only possible because he was empowered by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled Paul to be a bold witness and the Spirit strengthened, encouraged and guided Paul and his decision making. It was because of the guiding of the Spirit that Paul established his strategic plans. The Holy Spirit is central to the spread of the gospel in the early Christian movement. As Keener writes “the Spirit not only is intimately connected with their mission but is the author.”2 I would agree, yes, the Spirit is ultimately in charge. And at the same time, you cannot just sit around until you hear from the Spirit to make a move. It is our responsibility to be closely in sync with the desires of God and the leading of the Spirit (empowered by the Spirit) while we cast our ministry vision and strategically plan for the future.

All of these things are key contributions to how Paul fulfilled his God-given mission. God-given should be quite self-explanatory. God liter- ally gave Paul his mission. And anyone can clearly read that in Acts. Paul’s mission was simply to be a light to the Gentiles. Yes, he did spend a lot of time in Jewish synagogues, but that will be discussed later. His reason of existence was to glorify God through being a light to the Gentiles. It was his God-given mission.

By now one should know the answer to the question proposed in the title of this paper: Was the way in which Paul did ministry strategic or spontaneous? In essence, everything following will defend my position: Paul’s ministry vision was intentionally and strategically planned while also being empowered by the Spirit to fulfill his God-given mission. While approaching different areas of Paul’s ministry through the lens in which I understand it to be, I will look at both sides of the argument.

Intentional Divine Design

The Apostle Paul was clearly an organized person. This is true even before acknowledging Christ as Lord and being indwelled with the super- natural power of the Spirit. This first section has more to do with how God made Paul. I will argue Paul was wired in a certain way so that he could carry out his ministry vision.

There are many differences from when we first meet Paul in the Bible and when we read the last words that he wrote. He has a different name (Acts 8:1), he is a well-trained Pharisee 3 and he is a persecutor of Chris- tians. Yet there are many similarities from pre-Christian Paul and when we first read the words he wrote. For example, he is zealous, passionate and determined. He is organized and intentional in the things he does. Let us examine two passages to illustrate Paul’s God-given wiring. The first is pre-Christian Paul and the second is Christian Paul:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 ESV)

Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. (Acts 19:21-22 ESV)

Paul did not rely on his reputation to achieve the things he desired. In the first passage he went and got letters from the high priest, giving him ultimate permission to do the things he wanted. The second passage is just one of many allusions to Paul’s organization and strategic way of thinking during his missionary journeys. This passage is strategy-rich: Paul is obedient to the Spirit, he went to Jerusalem in order to reach Rome, and Rome to reach Spain. 4 In addition, he developed leaders who would be eventually sent out from Paul.

1 Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon E. Penfold, Re:VISION: The Key to Transforming Your Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2014), 154.

2 Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 2:1994.

3 Paul was trained as a Pharisee under a well-respected and well-known member of the Sanhe- drin. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today” (Acts 22:3 ESV).

4 Romans 15:24