Many if not most scholars consider Apostle Paul the most important leader in the history of the church, with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul’s influence cannot be overstated in spite of him never having oversight of a megachurch (he started small house churches in about 30 cities); he wasn’t always very prosperous (often he spoke about being hungry, thirsty and naked as in 1 Corinthians 4:11); he wasn’t a celebrity leader (often he was met by mobs of angry people wanting to kill him as in Acts 9, 14:11, 19); he was not very well known during his lifetime outside the cities and regions in which he planted churches (his fame spread beyond these regions after his lifetime through his letters to the churches); and he was diminutive, not necessarily good looking, and may not have been a great orator (2 Corinthians 10:10).
This says a lot about how today’s standards for measuring success stack up against the values of God laid out in Scripture. I have asked myself the question: If Paul were alive today, based on what is mentioned above, would he ever have been a celebrity preacher or featured on the front pages of newspapers and Christian magazines?
Too often the “American dream” can taint our standards for success. Because of this some younger pastors and leaders are more swayed by the standards of the secular world than biblical standards regarding priorities, focus, ambitions, and goals. As I read the New Testament I see that there were ten key reasons why Paul had so much historical influence and impact.
1. He developed spiritual sons and daughters
He called Timothy his son and developed him into apostolic ministry, which evidently was his pattern for ministry. When he wrote to the Corinthian Church he emphasized that he was their father in the gospel, not just a teacher (1 Corinthians 4:15).
2. He poured into key leaders who could reproduce others
Paul showed that the primary key to establishing strong churches was to take aside faithful, capable people with the gift of teaching, disciple them, and release them to minister to the congregation (2 Timothy 2:2). This also goes along with the Jethro Principle that Moses followed in Exodus 18:15-23, in which the primary leader focuses on developing those with the potential to lead others so masses of people can be cared for without leadership burnout.
Paul also understood how God places leaders in the body of Christ so the foundation of the church is solid. Read 1 Corinthians 12:28-31.
3. He established solid churches in key cities
Paul had a vision for urban ministry and evangelized in the main cities of the Roman Empire. For example, in the New Testament we see Paul concentrated much of his ministry in Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Laconia, Derbe, and in other cities. He went where the most people lived so the gospel could have a transcultural, trans-regional, and multi-generational impact!
4. He developed a complex apostolic network that has lasted for 2,000 years
Every house-church Paul established eventually led to establishing other house-churches in the same city, which eventually led to a network of house-churches in each city. Each networked city church then became an apostolic hub that networked with all the other city church networks that were held together by authoritative apostolic letters and sent-out itinerant leaders. Thus, Paul became a master at building complex apostolic networks that were able to communicate the gospel to the polytheistic, multilingual and multiethnic cultures of his day.
5. He was able to identify the main issues and write about them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
Paul was so connected relationally with each house church through his complex apostolic system of networking that he was able to have his ear to the ground and address problems before they got out of hand and a church was destroyed (e.g. read the letters to the Galatians, Thessalonians and Philippians to name a few).
Not only that, but the letters he wrote were so saturated with prayer and the inspiration, wisdom, and doctrine of the Holy Spirit that God has used them to make up a large portion of our New Testament, which has instructed billions of believers for 2,000 years!
6. He was courageous and faithful under persecution
Paul was so devoted to Christ and His church that he lived as a dead man on furlough! It didn’t matter if he was stoned to death; he went right back to the same city of his persecutors after he was raised back to life to continue to preach the gospel (Acts 14:19-20)! He wrote in Philippians that he wanted to magnify Christ in his body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20-21).
7. He was passionate about Jesus Christ and kept first things first
The secret of Paul’s success was his ability to forget his past success and continue to keep his head and his heart upon the greatest prize in the universe: the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul said that he counted all things as dung in order that he may win Christ and that it was not he who lived but Christ who lived through him (Philippians 3:1-15 and Galatians 2:20).
Today, too many leaders forget that our main obligation is not to the people we minister to, but to love and seek the Lord who called us to minister!
8. He learned how to be strong in his weaknesses
While most leaders today brag about their ministry successes, Paul learned to glory in his weaknesses so the power of Christ may rest upon him (read 2 Corinthians 12:1-7). He understood that because of human pride God has to allow adverse circumstances in our lives to buffet us so we would learn to trust in God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). (I don’t know of one high-level leader in the world who doesn’t live with incredible challenges either in their personal life or ministry!)
Paul was so used to ministering in his weakness and with physical discomfort that he was able to worship the Lord in prison even after being beaten and chained (Acts 16), which released an incredible move of God that resulted in a revival in Europe! Paul knew that every adverse situation in his life would be turned around for the good of the gospel so that, no matter what Satan threw at him, Christ would always be glorified in the end (read Philippians 1:12-14)!
9. He had an incredible love for the church and God’s Kingdom
Paul was constantly concerned with the state of the churches he founded. He was constantly longing to be with those he led to Christ (Philippians 1:8) and follow them up (Acts 15:36).
Too often we have a goal of winning souls without a plan for nurturing, training and assimilating these souls into the church. Jesus made it very clear that if we love Him we would feed His sheep (John 21:15-17).
10. He finished well
Unfortunately, many of the leaders who walked with Paul responded like the Twelve Apostles of Jesus when He was arrested: they forsook him! After his arrest Paul wrote to Timothy that no one stood with him except Luke (2 Timothy 4:9-11).
Many have told me that a high percentage of successful leaders do not finish well. Paul did. This is what he wrote to Timothy in his final letter preceding his imminent death: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering [torture?] and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
In light of the life of Paul, I believe that we, as the body of Christ, need to redefine our goals and measures of success so we can also finish the race with joy and lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus on the last day.
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