1st Century Missions Strategy

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), November 12

unknownThe early church sent out her best teachers to reach the world for Christ, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

Saul and Barnabas go “on the road” with the gospel, but it isn’t a road trip like that of Christian celebrities today. It is rugged and difficult. It is also a missions strategy copied by many believers over the past two millennia.

Paul and Barnabas:

  • Target religious institutions: “When they arrived at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (13:5). They enter into the conversations of the most religious in the town or city.
  • Use the Old Testament story to launch the gospel. Paul preaches, “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. Now for a time of about forty years He put-up with their ways in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment” (13:17-19). Next he chronicles the time of the Israel’s first kings, Saul and David. Finally, he turns their attention to John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus, and then to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He demonstrates through Israel’s story that “that promise which was made to the fathers . . . God has fulfilled for us their children,” that “through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (13:32-33, 38).
  • Follow up with seekers: “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (13:42).
  • Include those with fewer cultural and religious similarities, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves to be unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (13:46).
  • Repeat the same strategy everywhere they go, “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews” (14:1).
  • Encounter unusual people and adversity. Paul and Barnabas meet Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet in Paphos, whose demonic resistance results in physical blindness (13:6-11). Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, comes to faith in Christ as a result of Elymas’ blindness and their teaching (13:12). In Lystra they meet a cripple who has faith to be healed. His healing creates such an uproar that Paul is stoned (14:19). Undaunted, the pair proceeds to Derbe and make “many disciples” (14:21).
  • Return to previous preaching points to “strengthen” and “encourage” those disciples in the faith. They “appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23).
  • Take the gospel message to other cities before returning to Antioch.
  • Report to their sending church how God has “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (14:27).

Some things should never change. The first-century mission strategy that worked effectively then works now.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Acts 12:6-14:20):

What characterizes the missionary-sending church at Antioch?
Describe the content of Paul’s message delivered to those in Antioch of Pisidia. How does his message compare with that of Peter in Acts 2? What does this reveal about their method of engaging Jewish people with the Gospel? How does their method used with Jews differ from that used with a Gentile audience?