Paul’s Timeline: A Change of Heart
I want to share with you a person’s change of heart. I want to paint a picture of his movement from being a brash proclaimer to becoming a sensitive cross cultural missionary. This person is the great apostle Paul.
Let me start with a verse describing Paul’s way of ministry. He goes to a place of prayer. He sits down with women and talks to them. (Acts 16:13) I think this is unusual for Paul to do. I say this because from an earlier narrative, we see Paul rebuking demons, confronting authorities, preaching fearlessly to Jewish men at a synagogue, and leaving a worker (John Mark) behind for “purist reasons.” (More on this later.) But now, we witness his new approach, that of personable visit with a woman named Lydia. What Paul is doing here is a shift of perspective, a change of strategy, or perhaps a gentler way of doing missionary work. Let me explain by going back a few chapters earlier.
In Acts chapter 13, we see Paul enjoying some measure of success in Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch. In Cyprus, he publicly confronted a local magician and experienced a miraculous work. In Antioch (Pisidia), he preached a fiery sermon leading many people to believe. These are confrontational ways of doing ministry. He had relative success, but still an aggressive approach to winning people to the faith.
In Acts chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas entered a synagogue in Iconium, and after a time of ministry, they were threatened with stoning. They had to flee the place. When they came to Lystra, Paul, in a loud voice, uttered healing to a person in front of everyone, which resulted in a public uproar. Many of the locals thought Paul and Barnabas were gods, divine beings pretending to be humans. This resulted, eventually, with the crowd stoning Paul and Barnabas. They miraculously survived the persecution and went on their way to other places with much greater results.
It is fair to say that Paul’s earlier method of missionary work was aggressive and confrontational. After the Jerusalem Council in Acts chapter 15, we see Paul with a change of heart. What I am trying to say here is that Paul’s timeline was a movement from an inexperienced missionary to being a wise and careful one. Before he was combative and rash. Later in Acts chapter 16, we see him as gentle and considerate of the opinion of the general public. He even had a companion go through circumcision, just to appease some Jewish opinions. (See, Acts 16:3) We clearly see Paul’s mellow approach to ministry when he chose to visit a place of prayer “by the riverside” and not the usual synagogue. He decided to meet up with the women rather than with the leading men of the area. Change of plans? Looks like it. Doing the ministry in a gentler way? Definitely!
Paul’s timeline here is that he is becoming a more mature worker. He is listening to people, the prayerful women in the area, and avoids outright confrontation. It did not mean that because he was becoming gentler, he was able to stop the violent resistance to the preaching of the word. In fact, Acts chapter 16 mentions the casting out of a demon possessed slave girl, the violence that ensued, and the incarceration of Paul and Silas in a Philippian jail. There was still an adverse reaction to the preaching of the gospel, but this time it was not a direct result of Paul and his company’s work of ministry. (See, Acts 16:19 and 17:5) In Thessalonica, they encountered another violent reaction to their preaching. At this point, Paul allowed the local believers to whisk him away to safer locations, away from the violence. (See, Acts 17:10) A change of heart? Looks like it. Doing ministry in a gentler, non-confrontational way? Definitely!
Let me suggest at this point that Paul’s change of heart is a conversion to a cross cultural way of doing ministry. This is usually a gentler approach and avoiding unnecessary confrontation. Most of the time this approach results in nonviolent ways, but almost always leads to a dialogue and a healthy exchange of mutual understanding and respect. I am suggesting here that Paul’s conversion or change of perspective is a cross cultural ministry conversion. We see this shift clearly when Paul visits Athens and meets up with the Greek philosophers. His speech in the midst of the Areopagus is full of common themes that Greeks can relate to. He is becoming more sensitive to the people’s ways and enters their world with an astute admiration for their beliefs. Do you remember Paul’s reference to the “unknown god” in his speech? (See, Acts 17:22-31). Movement to maturity? Looks like it. A cross cultural way of doing ministry? Definitely!
One more thing. People who are converted to cross cultural ministry are very forgiving. They are able to accept the faults of others and are open to second chances. They are also quick to admit their own short comings. Look at Paul. At first, he did not want John Mark to be included in the work. (Acts 15:37-38) Later, however, he changed his mind. He stopped his “purist reasons” and opened his heart to a fellow worker with a storied past. (See, Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11) Paul recommended John Mark to the ministry.
Do you see Paul’s shift of perspective from this cursory study of Acts chapters 13-16? The Lukan narrative of Paul’s visit with Lydia was the turning point of Paul’s change of heart. From Acts 16:13 and onwards, we see Paul practicing a gentler way of doing missionary work. From this point on, we could now consider Paul as a seasoned cross cultural missionary.
Do you know anyone who has been converted to cross cultural ministry? Is his or her timeline similar to Paul’s timeline? How can we help someone experience a change of heart just like Paul did? What are the ways of becoming a mature and sensitive cross cultural ministry worker?