The first thing to note is that Paul was not a loner. He stands out. That is certain. But he follows Jesus’ model of taking a team approach. Michael Moynagh (in “Church for Every Context”) reminds us that Jesus “both assembled a team of disciples and sent them to announce the kingdom in pairs.” Paul, for example, points out, 1 Corinthians 3:6 – I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow, Then in verse 9 – we are fellow-workers in God’s service.
Paul saw himself working with others and, not only did he see himself that way, but he put into practice what he saw. Paul had a series of colleagues but, time and time again, we read of him engaging in ministry as a partnership. It was not just Paul who set out alone on his first missionary journey. He went with Barnabas, and they were commissioned together. Acts 13:2 – While they were offering worship to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me, to do the work to which I have called them’. And note that, though we would probably put Paul first when we mention this pairing, the record has it the other way round – Barnabas and Saul. We might also note that they clearly very quickly brought in a third person to offer them help and support. In Acts 13:5 we read: Arriving at Salamis, they declared the word of God in the Jewish synagogues; they had John with them as their assistant.
Mind you, Paul didn’t always get on with his colleagues – so maybe there is some comfort to draw there. Acts 15:39 – The dispute was so sharp that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Interesting that John Mark is John in chapter 13 and Mark now at the end of chapter 15, though I think that is neither here nor there.
But what is of clear interest is that Paul’s dispute with Barnabas didn’t put him off the notion of a team as a good way to work – because, immediately, in 15:40, we read of Paul acquiring a new colleague: Paul chose Silas, and started on his journey, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Paul and Barnabas had fallen out over John Mark. But that experience doesn’t put Paul off seeking a third member for the team either – because the beginning of chapter 16 tells us how Timothy was identified and brought in as the third member of this new team. Moynagh points out: “Later, as Paul’s teams grew in size they became more culturally diverse, which must have further helped them to relate to the diversity of people they encountered.” And so, for example, Acts 20:4 – He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and from Asia Tychicus and Trophimus. That I make a team of eight including Paul.
What else can we say about these teams with which Paul worked?
In Acts 18:4 Paul is involved in conducting discussion groups. But then, in verse 5, Silas and Timothy arrive and Paul is able to devote himself entirely to preaching. We are not actually told that they took over the discussion groups, but they must have. Similarly, from 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, we can conclude that, in the main, Paul left the conduct of the sacrament of baptism to others. Verse 14 – Thank God, I never baptised any of you, except Crispus and Gaius. It is probably fair to say that, down through the centuries, we have largely developed a ‘jack of all trades’ model of ministry. Is it time to revisit that? If it is, how can we helpfully do that revisiting? And, if it isn’t, why not? It is good to understand both why we do things and why we decline to do things.
Maybe this dividing up tasks is why Luke became such a valued member of the team on the second and third missionary journeys – and could it be that Luke’s job was to be a reporter, to collect the stories. Moynagh again: “Larger teams enabled Paul to keep breaking new ground while still supporting churches recently established. When disputes threatened the church at Corinth, for example, Paul sent Timothy to help resolve the situation.” That is recorded in 1 Corinthians 4:17. And that suggests that teams usually need leaders.
Another point, though one that I am less clear about relating to our situation, is that Paul’s teams were largely self-funding. He was keen not to depend financially on the people he was trying to reach. And I guess that last bit is something we ought to take on board. Paul did receive financial support, but he was largely self-supporting. His tent-making was what sustained him. It is also worth noting on this point that resources were pooled as necessary, and that is very much how we try to operate as a denomination. Giving to central funds is about ability to give not about paying for what you get – and that reflects 2 Corinthians 11:9 – If I ran short while I was with you, I did not become a charge on anyone; my needs were fully met by friends from Macedonia.
Another thing to say about how Paul operated and how he engaged in team ministry is that it was an opportunity for net-working. Congregations supported each other, particularly in becoming bases for mission. Is there possibly something to learn there?
And another very different thing to note is the use of temporary workers. Not everyone was called to a life of full-time Christian ministry. Folk like the slave Onesimus, from the house of Philemon, were a bit like gap year students, serving full-time for a while.
So, what, for Paul, are the keys to effective teamwork?
The first thing to say is that great care was taken over selection. Paul was willing to break with Barnabas when it wasn’t working. He preferred to lose a team, and wait for the right one, rather than proceed with the wrong one. Second, if trust was a priority, so were forgiveness and reconciliation. The relationship with Mark was eventually sorted out. 2 Timothy 4:11 – Get hold of Mark and bring him with you; he is a great help to me. Third, decision-making was shared. 1 Thessalonians is stated, in its first verse, as being from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy and it goes on to talk about ‘we’. We always thank God for you all … we continually call to mind. Fourth, team members shared their lives. There was a common purse – and “Paul’s theology of sharing spiritual gifts within the body was presumably forged partly from the experiences of his teams. Fifth, Paul encouraged supportive delegation. We have already noted something of this, but we might additionally note how the pastoral epistles, assuming they were written by Paul, are brimming with instructions and encouragement. Then, finally, and to quote how Moynagh puts it: “Paul’s extended network of associate workers became like a ‘holy internet’, exchanging news, advice, encouragement and, in particular, good practice. The Macedonians’ generosity became a prod to the Corinthians. The Thessalonians’ response to the gospel became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. … ”