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The apostle Paul’s missionary team

In his article on teamwork, Christophe Paya writes: “The New Testament presents few if any individual endeavors. Sending missionaries is always a collective project, even two-by-two in the midst of a larger group. If you count all the different names in Acts and the Pauline letters, you arrive at a total of about 100 people associated with the apostle’s ministry (1)”.

We could mention, for example, among the men: Barnabas, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke, Aquilas, Epaphroditus, Apollos, Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus, and Demas. Among the women: Damaris, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Mary, Euodia, and Syntyche.

Paul describes them using different terms, which reveal something of his own heart towards them: Luke, the beloved physician (2), or their shared experiences: Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ-Jesus (3), or their common ministry: Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier (4).

He is concerned about each of them, he intercedes for them, he deeply remembers how they ministered to him … or abandoned him. He seeks their well-being, as he commends them into the care of the different local churches.

In his study of Paul’s teams, missionary Bard Pillette brings out several conclusions not frequently noticed (5):

  • Paul worked with 41 itinerant colleagues, for variable lengths of time. But only 15 of them ministered for an extended period. And only about 10 of them maintained a close relationship with Paul until his death. These latter men worked together for periods of from 14 to 25 years. Titus, for example, from 43 A.D. to 68 A.D.
  • Paul rarely had more than two co-workers with him.
  • During the longer periods of ministry in the same location, Paul was often confined in prison.

According to Pillette, missions should take such realities into account today. We should not be surprised when people are willing to commit for quite different lengths of service. We need to be more flexible and offer different possibilities for involvement. Even if it is still highly desirable for church-planters to commit themselves to longer-term projects, there is also a place for shorter periods of engagement, which may allow greater discovery of the different ways one can work within a missionary team.

All the comings and goings within our mission over these past few years reflect a similar reality. It means a huge effort at adapting, along with considerable emotional investment and redefinition of roles. To do this in a God-honoring way is only possible when each of us dies to himself and allows the Holy Spirit to triumph in his life. What we are experiencing in the missionary team shows that we are in the process of learning this. We recognize our failures, but we’re also seeing the re-establishing of relationships that glorify God, through confession and mutual forgiveness.

Yet it was those long-term objectives that truly united Paul’s colleagues during months and years of service. We see it in his message to the elders of the Ephesian church: … if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. […] Pay careful attention … to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (6).

Proclaiming the Gospel to every person, and taking care of the Church of God, two enduring objectives for a team moving ahead!

Jeannot Gauggel

(1) Dictionnaire de théologie pratique, Éditions Excelsis, pages 178, 180.
(2) Colossians 4:14.
(3) Philemon 23.
(4) Philippians 2:25.
(5) Paul and his fellow workers, The Emmaus Journal, Vol. 6, Nr. 1, Pages 119-128.
(6) Acts 20:24, 28.

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