When you look at the missionary practices of the apostle Paul he seems to be all over the place. He receives support and he refuses support, he circumcises his converts and he abominates the idea of circumcising his converts, he lives like he’s under the law and he lives like it doesn’t exist, he eats certain foods and abstains from certain foods.
And there are many other tensions in his missionary service. It appears at times that his methodology is haphazard and inconsistent. The diversity of his approach warns us against building strategies on one facet of his missionary service. The driving force in his methodology is the gospel. His mantra was: I do all things for the purpose of the gospel (1 Cor 9:23).
His burning passion was to see the gospel advanced to all the nations. This drove his every decision. What is most beneficial for the movement of the gospel? Because every context was different and because he faced diverse circumstances, the answer to this question always varied. The reason he received support at certain times and not others is because refraining and receiving in these various scenarios furthered the gospel.
The reason he circumcised Timothy and not Titus was for the advance and protection of the gospel. The reason he becomes all things to all men, which inevitably changes the way he engages different people, is for the sake of the gospel.
There is a lot of freedom in how we go about building strategy and mission methodology. If we keep the gospel at the center of it all our methods will inevitably be very fluid. We will be more sensitive to our context and more willing to shift and move according the circumstances in front of us.
The number one problem with every mission methodology is that it is built off one portion of Scripture and it fails to take the rest into consideration. It is paradigm driven rather than principle driven. We get locked into a certain methodology that appears to be bearing fruit and we then believe it is the only or the most effective way to reach people.
This principle of “all things for the gospel” liberates us from the slavery of missionary methods and enables us to engage people in fresh ways. There is much to draw from in Scripture regarding various strategies for going about mission. At the heart of them all is the principle of gospel advancement.
But if we would be well rounded we need to sit at the table with all the various missionary voices. We must not restrict ourselves to Paul. We must sit down at the table with Jesus, Peter, Timothy, Titus, Epaphras, James, Silas, Stephen, Phillip, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquilla, Silvanus, and Barnabas among others.
We need to hear the perspective of married couples as they have engaged mission. We need the voice of the single man. We need the voice of the church planter, encourager, preacher, evangelist, and apprentice. Each of these missionaries will give us a fresh perspective.
We may utilize the various strategies implemented by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Barnabas at various times in our ministry. As we are driven by the gospel, we will find that fluidity between the various methods is most appropriate rather than rigidity and dogmatism. If we weave all our methodological thinking through the gospel we will be just fine. We will be free and equipped to do what is best in any given context.