Separate Administrative Structures for Church and Mission (4th of 5). Paul and Barnabas led “field-governed” missionary bands.

Here are four reasons we are saying Paul and Barnabas’ missionary team was “field-governed.”

First. Paul added or dismissed members of his missionary team without consulting the Antioch church. Paul and Barnabas understood themselves to be authorized to dismiss John Mark from their team without referring this decision to the Antioch church. Furthermore, “it should be observed,” writes Frank Severn, “that neither Antioch nor Jerusalem determined who should join the Pauline team.”[1] John Pellowe agrees:

If the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas was a ministry of the Antiochian church, then one might wonder what the relationship of the team was to the other churches from which Paul drew his team? . . . Was the team’s ministry their ministry too? Did they have as much control as the Antioch church? If so, how would competing priorities of the various churches be resolved?[2]

We have names of more than 20 missionaries who joined Paul and Barnabas’ teams or established their own teams (You can read a six-page paper, “The Companions of Paul in Acts” here). Their names are

  • Barnabas
  • Timothy
  • Silas
  • John Mark
  • Erastus
  • Aristarchus
  • Gaius
  • Trophimus
  • Tychicus
  • Luke
  • Sopater
  • Prisca and Aquila, wife and husband (Prisca is always mentioned first)

Here are more of Paul’s co-workers:

  • Phoebe
  • Euodia
  • Syntyche
  • Apphia
  • Junia
  • Epaphroditus
  • Epaphras (who established the church in Colossae).

Finally, there are

  • Sosthenes
  • Tertius
  • Apollos

All these were missionaries, “firestarters,” carrying the flint with which to strike the sparks where “the people walked in darkness.” Paul’s 20+ co-workers came from at least 14 different congregations. John Pellowe writes:

A search of the names mentioned in Acts 20:4 shows they came from churches in Berea (Sopater), Thessalonica (Aristarchus), Galatia (Gaius and Timothy), Ephesus (Trophimus) and an unspecified location in Asia (Tychicus). It appears that, like Timothy in Acts 16:1, these were men whom Paul met and enlisted on his mission trips.[4]

Second. None of Paul’s co-workers seem to have been “sent” by a congregation. Paul or Barnabas invited this one and that one to join their team; in this way Silas and Timothy and other new missionaries heard and obeyed the Holy Spirit’s calling.

Third. Paul left Antioch planning to go to Asia but the vision of a Macedonian asking Paul to “come over here and help us” changed his mind, taking him to Europe. This change did not need to be discussed with the Antioch church. Here is the text:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10).

Fourth. When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, it was Paul who gathered the church together. The Bible says, “Paul and Barnabas gathered the church together, and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). The church leaders in Antioch attended the meeting like everyone else. The leaders were not asking Paul and Barnabas to report back; Paul wanted the entire congregation to glorify God for his mercy.

Blincoe: Had the Antioch church given money for Paul’s ministry, Paul would probably have written to thank them. Apparently, the Antioch church did not fund Paul’s ministry. The church at Philippi did help fund Paul’s ministry. One of the reasons Paul wrote to the Philippians to thank them for funding some of his ministry:

You Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help once and again. Not that I seek the gift; but I seek the fruit which increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:15-19).

Missionaries who accept money from churches or individuals should feel ardently accountable to express gratitude and to report how the support was used. God bless the missionary donors and the supporting churches.

Blincoe: Therefore, there were two governing structures in New Testament Christianity. Paul and Barnabas governed their own missionary bands that they led, and elders or overseers governed the churches that the missionaries established. If a church gave them money, Paul and Barnabas reported back to that church. The Antioch church does not seem to have any self-understanding that it was a sending church. There are separate administrative structures for church and mission. A lighthouse administrates the lighthouse; a team of firestarters go into complete darkness, striking the sparks that will start new gospel fires. Firestarters make decisions that seem good to them and to the Holy Spirit.

Next: Separate Administrative Structures for Church and Mission (5th of 5). “Everyone is Entitled to His Own Opinion, But Not To His Own Facts.”

Previous: Separate Administrative Structures for Church and Mission (3rd of 5). The Holy Spirit is probably not active in a congregation that does not discern God’s missionary call. 

[1] Frank M. Severn, “Mission Societies: Are They Biblical?,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 36, no. 3 (2000): 323.

[2] Pellowe, A Practical Theology for Relations between Churches and Self-Governing Agencies, 107, 115

[4] Ibid. 107.