In our culture, the activity of evangelism is often atomized, and individualized. This fits in well with the prevailing worldview of Western Europeanized societies. The concept of celebrity feeds the illusion of individual triumph in areas of beauty, wealth and talent –Do you have the X factor? No one wants to face the fact of their insignificance; and so we cluster around the limelight for our few minutes of fame. Within the subculture of westernized churches of this culture, the same impulse persists. Consequentially, conversion is seen as a solitary decision and evangelism as a one-to-one activity (even in mass crusades the invitation is made one to one). We are invited to make Jesus our “personal Lord.” Notable conversions are celebrated in books, films and Christian conferences.
By comparison with our individualistic approach, Paul lived and worked closely with other believers in active fellowship. His co-workers were not disciples, in a formal sense, (though Timothy does look like an apprentice, at least at first), but rather a traveling fellowship, a family. Totting up the names at the end of Paul’s letters and adding those peppered throughout the book of Acts, one arrives at a group of about a hundred traveling Christians. In his doctrine, as in his practice, Paul emphasizes the fellowship, the togetherness, of Christians in worship and action; they are members one of another, and all together members of Christ. And note this: this fellowship is emphasized in their evangelism.
It was thus right the way through Paul’s ministry: Straight after conversion he joins with the Damascus believers (Acts 9:19), links with the Jerusalem group (v. 26), and stays with the apostles (v. 28). He ministers with Barnabas for a year in Antioch (11:25-26), and goes on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark (13:2-5). Then he travels with Barnabas and other believers to the Jerusalem Council (15:2).
Later he sets out with Silas (15:40); recruits Timothy in Lystra (16:3) and in Troas, they are joined by Luke—attested by the abrupt change in the Lucan narrative from “they” (v. 8) to “we” (v. 10)—and all four of them travel to Philippi together (16:12-18). From Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy travel as a team to Thessalonica, leaving Luke in Philippi, as noted by the “they” in the narrative (17:1-15). They work together in Thessalonica and Berea until Paul has to be removed from danger (vv. 13-15). Though Paul works alone in Athens –briefly- he does so while waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him (v. 16). He goes on to Corinth, where he stays with Aquila and Priscilla, presumably in ministry with them and also sharing work opportunities (18:1-3).
Silas and Timothy join Paul in Corinth (v. 5). From 1 Thessalonians 3:6 it seems that when they arrived in Corinth, they brought Paul an account of the Thessalonica situation, which prompted his first letter to the church there. Paul’s second letter to them was probably also written from Corinth, not too much later. Importantly, both of these letters were sent by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as seen from the opening verse of each letter, and from the fact that both letters were almost completely written in the plural (apart from 1 Thess 2:18 and 2 Thess 2:5; 3:17). In fact in all but two of his letters to churches (Romans and Ephesians), Paul included others with him in the opening greetings. The point is this: even his letter-writing was collaborative.
At Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla join the group, traveling with Paul to Ephesus, and remaining there to work with Apollos, while Paul journeys on to Caesarea and Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). A little later, Paul goes through Asia Minor back to Ephesus (18:23; 19:1).The opposition in Ephesus forces a transfer from synagogue to “the lecture hall of Tyrannus”, taking the disciples with him (19:9). His associates are carefully described: Timothy and Erastus “ministered to him” in Ephesus in v. 22; Gaius and Aristarchus are called his “traveling companions” in v. 29. When Paul travels on to Macedonia, he does so with a team of seven men (Sosipater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus; 20:4). Joining Paul again at Philippi (20:5-6), Luke stayed with Paul on his trip back to Jerusalem (21:15) and on to Rome (27:1; 28:16). In his farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders Paul referred to “my companions” (20:34), for whom he provided by working with his own hands.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was received by the brethren, James, and the elders (21:17-18). Later in Caesarea, Felix told a guard to “permit [Paul’s] friends to take care of his needs” as a prisoner (24:23). Besides Luke, Aristarchus accompanied Paul on his trip to Rome (27:1-2). In Sidon, the centurion guard allowed Paul to go ashore so that “his friends … might provide for his needs” (27:3). In Italy, Paul was met and cared for by the brethren in Puteoli (28:14), and on his trip to Rome he was met by brethren who came down from the capital city to accompany him (v. 15). At the sight of these companions Paul thanked God and was encouraged (v. 15).
From this sketch, it is evident that evangelism in the early church had a different flavour to ours. It emphasized mobility, simplicity, mutuality and urgency. It emphasized the principle that in mission we travel together. Further, in that activity of traveling, the group exemplifies the body of Christ: a diversity of gifting operating to one end. It seems quite a different story from the current view of evangelism undertaken by paid professionals or an activity happening within static premises. That whole invidious concept of “church” as a holy place to which people must be brought is totally alien to the New Testament picture, of course, but- more so- here the Biblical evidence suggests a traveling community. Where is that exemplified in the years since? One thinks of the early experiences of YWAM, the Chinese House Church movement, Wesley’s networking of class meetings and leaders in the eighteenth century and …fill in your own blanks from a hundred other incidents of church history. The message is apparent: whenever the kingdom has expanded quickly it has utilized the methodology of Acts.