Successful Mission Strategy: Case Study of Apostle Paul

Paul's successful mission strategy

Mission strategy is actionable plans designed to achieve long-term impact in the life of individuals and groups. Apostle Paul, after the conversion, had a successful mission strategy, which helped him to succeed throughout his ministry.

Schnabel defines “mission” or “missions” as “the activity of a community of faith” that distinguishes itself from its environment in terms of both religious belief (theology) and social behavior (ethics); is convinced of the truth claims of its faith, and actively works to win other people to the content of faith and the way of life of whose truth and necessity the members of that community are convinced.[1]

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim. In a day when many mission organizations are reassessing their strategies for world evangelization, it is perhaps appropriate to examine more closely the methods of the man who is credited with bringing Christianity to Europe. St. Paul received his commission directly from the Lord (Acts 9:15) and did not need to have instruction from the apostles in Jerusalem about what he was to teach (Gal. 1:15-17). Paul describes his mission in terms of movement (sent to the Gentiles) and in terms of intentionality (to proclaim Jesus Christ) [cf. Gal. 1:1, 15-15].”

This manuscript would discuss in brief the strategies used by Paul in accomplishing the greatest success in missionary work in the Bible times and would also examine the strategies Assemblies of God world missions in achieving missionary successes over the years.

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Conceptual Framework


What do we mean by “strategy” first of all? “Strategy” is a combination of two Greek words stratia (“an army”) and algein (“to lead”), and thus it denotes the leadership of an army. The Oxford Reference Dictionary gives a secular meaning: a plan of action or policy in business or politics. Schnabel maintains that “strategy” is concerned with the planning of an engagement and with the question of how plans can and should be realized in specific operations.[2] To the Christian mission, “strategy” means a well-organized plan of action or policy to be followed in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and consolidating the believers in their faith. It implies an order or discipline with which the missioners are to be led to accomplish their mission. G. Van Rheenen defines mission strategy as “the practical working out of the will of God within a cultural context”, because, for him, all missiological decisions must somehow be rooted in theology and take into consideration the cultural context in which the mission is carried out.[3]


Question is often raised as to whether we need to adopt a strategy at all in Christian mission. It is asked with reticence, “Is it important to have an organized plan of action?” The reason for such skepticism is the misunderstanding that following a strategy means to perform a military exercise and that it will not fit into the church’s mission that is entirely dependent upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If ‘strategy’ is essential in the army, in games and sports, and also in political or business circles, then it is hard to believe that it is not needed in Christian circles?

Missiologists insist that it is wiser to do some strategic planning. H.R. Cook, for example, indicates that there is a need for having a personal strategy and so also for having a mission strategy.[4] Van Rheenen argues that there is no missiology without theology, the study of the cultural context, and strategy. However, he cautions that strategy must be a servant, and never be a master, to the mission of God.[5] If the strategy is accepted as an integral part of the Christian mission, then the question arises: had Paul, the first Christian missionary, worked with some strategies?

If so, what are they? An inquiry into these will help us to find ways in which contemporary missions could be made more productive. Even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles will show that Paul worked with some strategic plans and that they were governed by the Holy Spirit (cf. Act. 16:6-10; 19:21; 21:11-14; Rom. 15:18-19).

Paul’s Purpose in Mission

Mission strategy is generally determined by the objectives we set and our ultimate purpose. Paul had a definite aim in his mission and thus he was enabled to set out strategies that will fulfill that aim. He outlines his purpose in Romans 15:15-16 as to offer the Gentiles to God as “an acceptable sacrifice sanctified by the Holy Spirit”. So saying, he identifies his mission as a “priestly service of the gospel of God” (cf. Act. 9:15-16; 26:16-18; see also Act. 20:24 and Phil. 3:13-15a for other kinds of purpose statement of Paul). He had received God’s call for Gentile mission directly from Jesus who revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus (Act. 26:16-18) and got it approved by the apostles reputed to be “pillars” (Gal. 2:9). As far as Paul is concerned, his Damascus experience was his Berufungs vision.

Therefore, he worked to lead people, especially the Gentile nations, to God’s salvation that is in Jesus (see also below the section on ‘First to the Jews and also to the Gentiles’). Paul links his mission to the Gentiles with the Old Testament quotation drawn from Isaiah 52:15b, as he writes, “As it is written, ‘They shall see who have never been told of him, and they shall understand who have never heard of him” (Rom. 15:21). This quotation implies that in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the eschatological blessing of God’s salvation, promised to the Jews, has come also to the Gentiles who had not heard of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord. What was expected in the future when Jews and Gentiles will equally share the salvation of God has come now. That Gentiles will be included in the blessings of Israel is a recurring theme in the Old Testament (for example, Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 28:4,14; Isa. 49:6; 55:4-5; 56:6-8; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 8:22-23).

Paul’s Experience after Conversion

The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 22:3) tells us Saul was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, southern Turkey which in biblical times was part of the Hittite empire. It was a large, successful trading city and had its administration, elected magistrates, and even its currency. In 66BC the city had opposed Cassius (the assassin of Julius Caesar) and was thus rewarded by Mark Anthony who made it a Free City and therefore not subject to taxes. It was located on the busy trading route from Asia Minor and Asia further to the east. Along this route would come traders selling silks, spices from the Orient, and linens, which could explain why his chosen trade was a Tent Maker, see Acts 18:2-3.

The Road to Damascus:

Intent on exterminating the fledgling Christian faith, Saul decided to travel from Jerusalem to Damascus to carry on his mission to eradicate the believers in Jesus. However, on this ‘Road to Damascus’ his life was about to be turned upside down. His journey was going to plan but as he drew close to Damascus, he suddenly encountered the risen Jesus in a dazzling vision of light, so bright that it left him temporarily blind.

Paul the Apostle:

Paul left Damascus and returned to Jerusalem to seek out the apostles. They must have tried to avoid any contact with him for fear of being arrested, or worse. They would certainly have been very skeptical that this once evil man had converted and become a believer in Jesus as the Messiah. He visited synagogues preaching the truth about Jesus Christ to the Jewish population but they rejected him. Eventually, Peter and the other apostles of Jesus accepted him and he joined up with the apostle Barnabas in three missionary journeys that were to bring the new faith to the wider world. He was to become known as ‘The Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

According to the Book of Acts, which was written by Luke, Paul undertook four missionary journeys ending in Rome. It is possible that he undertook further missionary journeys but we have no proof. The following accounts are taken from the book of Acts:

Paul’s First Missionary Journey:

Paul began his first missionary journey around the year 46AD, not from Jerusalem, where you would have expected it to have started, but from Antioch in Syria. Many believers had fled Jerusalem following the death of Stephen, some of them settled in Antioch, others settled in Phoenicia and also Cyprus. This led to some Greek people (non-Jewish) hearing the good news of the Kingdom of God and becoming believers. Some of these Greek’s passed through Antioch on their travels and whilst there they came to the attention of the Jewish converts from Jerusalem. As soon as they realized that non-Jewish people were becoming believers, they all gave praise to God (Acts 11:18-21).

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey:

Paul began his second missionary journey around 49-52AD from Antioch in Syria where his first missionary journey had begun. The intention was for Paul and Barnabas to return to the cities where they had established congregations in their first missionary journey to see how they were getting on and to offer spiritual encouragement and guidance (Acts 15:36). However, the issue of the young John Mark was raised who had deserted them on their first missionary journey. Paul was not prepared to allow him to accompany them on this journey and this decision caused a split between Paul and Barnabas with Barnabas deciding to take John Mark and visit Cyprus without Paul (Acts 15:37-39).

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey:

Paul stayed in Ephesus for about two years, for the first few months he and his brethren concentrated on preaching to Jews in the synagogue but with very little success and some Jews publicly spoke out against Paul’s message and ‘The Way of The Lord’. So, he decided to leave the synagogue and to begin preaching daily in the house of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). After the uproar at Ephesus had died down Paul called the disciples to him, embraced them, and departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Paul celebrated Pascha (Easter) in Troas with the brethren and then quickly passed through several cities before heading for Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 20:14-16). After saying farewell to the elders at Ephesus, Paul and his brethren set sail and after a few days sailing, ‘landed at the harbor of Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload. We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week’ (Acts 21:3-4) These disciples prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.

Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey:

Paul was kept as a prisoner for about two years at Caesaria before the time came for him to be sent to Rome. He was then placed in the charge of a centurion named Julias for the journey to Rome. Luke writes, ‘When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of an army officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment. And Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was also with us. We left on a boat whose home port was Adramyttium. It was scheduled to make several stops at ports along the coast of the province of Asia’ (Acts 27:1-2).

Paul’s Successful Mission Strategies

Choice of principal cities for evangelization

Choice of Principal Cities for Evangelization Paul identified in each region the key cities such as Antioch of Pisidia, Paphos of Cyprus, Philippi, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Macedonia, and Caesarea to carry out his mission. Finally, he landed as a prisoner in Rome, the capital of the Mediterranean world, where he was teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered for two whole years (Act. 28:30-31). Thus Paul was engaged in mission by journeying from one place to another and taking the gospel to the whole eastern half of the Roman Empire, from Jerusalem as far around Illyricum.

First to the Jews and also to the Gentiles

In many cities, Paul approached the synagogue first where he could present the gospel to the Jews. R. Hedlund appreciates this as a good strategy, for by reaching out first to the Jews, the people of the covenant, Paul was acting in accordance with the theological principle that “salvation is from the Jews”.17 He had a deep concern for the salvation of the Jews, for his heart’s desire and prayed to God for the Jews was that they must be saved (Rom. 10:1). Although some Jews did accept Paul’s message, often it was the Gentiles (mostly the Greeks), the “worshippers of God” or God-fearers, the devout converts to Judaism or the proselytes, and many others who had been attracted to Jewish monotheism who accepted the gospel preached by him (Act. 13:43; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4; 18:7).

Paul’s holistic concern for the churches

Paul’s mission was not narrowed only to preaching the gospel, but it included a demonstration of pastoral care and concern. He was not satisfied with just planting churches, but he was keen on constantly nurturing them with the Word of God through teaching, counseling, and writing letters of ethical exhortations (cf. Act. 15:36,41; 18:23).

Paul’s strategy of working as a team of men and women

As a missionary, Paul never wanted to be alone in fulfilling God’s mission, but to work as a team. His strategy was to recruit men and women into missions with him. Luke shows that Paul took along with him one or more of his fellow workers in all his missionary journeys: during his first missionary journey, which started and ended in Antioch of Syria (ca. AD 46-48), he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark (Act. 13:1 – 14:28); in his second missionary journey, which too started and ended in Antioch of Syria making in-roads into Macedonia and Achaia in Europe (ca. AD 49-52), Paul took Silas along with him (Act. 15:36 – 18:22);40 and in his third missionary journey, which started in Antioch and ended in Jerusalem making two to three years of work possible in Ephesus (ca. AD 53-58), Paul took, perhaps along with Silas, Timothy, Erastus, Gaius, Aristarchus, some Macedonians, and others.

Not to build on another’s foundation

Paul made it his ambition to preach the gospel not in the places where Christ had already been named (i.e., proclaimed, acknowledged, and worshipped), lest he builds on the foundation already laid by other missionaries (Rom. 15:20). By “laying a foundation”, he means the initial proclamation of the gospel on which the church is built up and established (1 Cor. 3:10-12). That is, Paul desires that he would preach Christ where he had not yet been preached.

Paul’s strategy in a hostile situation

A notable aspect of Paul’s mission strategy is his use of the hostile situation that arose in the churches as an opportunity to make the gospel known clearly and to consolidate his teaching. Soon after Paul left Corinth after his first visit, there came certain false teachers who claimed to be “apostles” and who questioned Paul’s law-free gospel and the genuineness of his apostleship. They seem to be Jewish Christians who insisted that the Gentile converts should accept circumcision and follow all aspects of Jewish law to be fully saved.

Worldwide Successful Mission Strategy

Reaching: proclaiming the message of hope

Jesus was clear when He instructed the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to all nations.” Matthew tells us it was a command. Luke records it as a promise from the Father as the Holy Spirit provides power to witness in the most remote places on earth.  A major successful strategy in missions is to reach out to those who have not been reached with the word of God.

Planting: God’s plan for expanding the kingdom

Wherever church planting is a priority, the church thrives. Church planting releases spiritual energy that is unique and that invigorates the national or local church or the person who engages in it. Spirit-filled people around the world are planting churches, sometimes in seemingly impossible situations.

Training: cultivating the church for a harvest

In one of Christ’s insightful discourses found in John 4:34–38, He balances the need for evangelistic endeavor (verses 35,36) with an ongoing awareness for those whose earlier work had made significant contributions to the advancement of the Kingdom (verses 37,38). In the team effort in missions, we need to accept the fact we stand on the shoulders of others.

In a strategy designed by the Holy Spirit, Assemblies of God forefathers established local, self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing (indigenous) national churches as a core value of evangelism. Growing churches that are mature enough to trust God for their needs has made Africa one of the great modern-day miracles of church growth.

Touching: A perspective on compassion ministries

Jesus’ inaugural address (Luke 4:18,19) serves as a model for our Spirit-empowered mission. As Pentecostals, we are uniquely equipped to perform ministries of compassion while maintaining a proper focus on evangelism.  The gospel sets people spiritually free and lifts them economically, physically, and socially. Jesus’ ministry model was a perfect blend of Spirit-empowerment, evangelism, and compassion.


Jesus asserts in Luke 4:18-19 that he has been sent by the Lord God to the Jewish people (movement) to bring good news (intention). He then commanded that we should do the same by proclaiming the good news to the world at large. A typical way of accomplishing this is through mission work. There can be no substitute for the testimony of a changed life in Missions. Teaching the world is of no use if we deny our faith by our lifestyle. Jackie Pullinger, called to work among the drug addicts in Hong Kong, said that she had no success in telling people about Jesus until she became Jesus to them.[6]

Missionaries communicate the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior to people who have not heard or accepted this news at home and abroad; they also communicate a new way of life that replaces, at least partially, the social norms and the behavioral patterns of the society in which the new believers have been converted. In general, they integrate the new believers into a new community. The new converts become disciples.

In order that missionaries achieve these, strategies and tactics are required. This manuscript has been able to discuss successful strategies used by Apostle Paul and successful world missions to achieve success in their missionary works.


Bosch, D.J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. New York: Orbis Books, 1992.

Cook, H.R. Strategy of Missions: An Evangelical View. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.

Grassi, J.A. A World to Win: The Missionary Methods of Paul the Apostle. New York: Maryknoll Publications, 1965.

Jackie Pullinger In Robert I. Bradshaw. “The Missionary Principles of Paul and How They Should Apply Today.” The Theological Studies. August 31, 2015.

Rheenen, G. Van Biblical Foundations, and Contemporary Strategies: Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Schnabel In Justin Taylor. “Paul’s Missionary Strategies and Methods.” The Gospel Coalition. November 21, 2011. Schnabel, E.J. Early Christian Mission, Vol. 1. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press / Leicester: Apollos, ET 2004.

[1] Schnabel In Justin Taylor. “Paul’s Missionary Strategies and Methods.” The Gospel Coalition. November 21, 2011.

[2] E.J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, Vol. 1 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press / Leicester: Apollos, ET 2004), p. 500.

[3] G. Van Rheenen, Biblical Foundations, and Contemporary Strategies: Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp. 138-140.

[4] H.R. Cook, Strategy of Missions: An Evangelical View (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp. 25-38.

[5] Van Rheenen, Biblical Foundations, pp. 137-140

[6] Jackie Pullinger In Robert I. Bradshaw. “The Missionary Principles of Paul and How They Should Apply Today.” The Theological Studies. August 31, 2015.

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