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Did Paul Train Leaders Like We Do?

Did Paul train leaders like we do? No.

To go forward we must go back. We must tell the story of how the LCMS drastically outpaced immigration growth in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Please pick up Mike Newman’s book Gospel DNA to learn more about this story. We must go back to the story of the sixteenth-century church of the Reformation. I have told some of that story in Part 2 of Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders. We must go back to the simple discipleship methods of Jesus (a very good place to start), which I wrote about in Part 1 of Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders.

Today’s blog is based on a lesser-known work by an Anglican Bishop from the early twentieth century, Roland Allen. Allen wrote Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces in 1912. Allen observed how Anglican churches sent missionaries to the global south, using their western, institutional, higher-education training models to start and sustain new churches. He knew something felt wrong. Allen became obsessed with understanding how St. Paul started and sustained churches in the first century. He found a profound difference between Paul’s leadership development methods and the missionary methods of his twentieth-century church body.

In 2022, I observe the same disconnect between the way in which Paul developed leaders for the church and the way the LCMS does it. Caveat. I am not trying to shut down our seminaries. I love our seminaries and the professors and administrators who have led there over the years. I would not be the pastor I am today apart from their faithful service to the church. That being said, times have radically changed.

The LCMS finds itself firmly in the midst of a post-Christian, secular culture. Some of the components of the early church have come to our contemporary doorstep. We do not need to shut down what is now to embrace what is to come. The Lord can do a new thing in the midst of an old thing. That is what Jesus brought to the Jews of the first century. We should learn from the methods of the early church as they wrestled with starting a new thing (Christianity), which built on an old thing (Judaism).

Paul was a remarkable leader. Paul didn’t immediately transform from a zealous Jewish leader to a multiplying leader of the early church. Paul was disciplined and deeply searched the Scriptures for a decade (approximately from 40 to 50 A.D.) in Tarsus. Paul was deeply prepared to make a reasonable and Old Testament-based case for Jesus being the promised Messiah. After ten years of preparation, Barnabas and the other Apostles commissioned and sent Paul to take the Gospel into Jewish and Gentile communities, disciple leaders, and help local churches start and grow. (Read N.T. Wright’s biography on Paul to go super deep on Paul’s story!)

Let me touch on the three differences between Paul’s methods of congregational leadership development and current LCMS methods.

1. Mutual Responsibility

“St. Paul ordained as elders members of the church to which they belonged. He did not establish a provincial school to which all candidates for ordination must go, and from which they might be sent to minister to congregations in any part of the province, at the bidding of a central committee…the elders were really of the church to which they ministered.” -1

One of the problems in sustained growth of churches is pastors changing congregations

every three to five, or even 10 to 15, years. Congregations lose trust in their pastor’s sustained commitment to fulfill the “vision” he was charged to create from the elders or the board of directors. Likewise, pastors don’t feel a deep sense of responsibility to the congregation for whom they bring Word and Sacrament. It takes a number of years before the “outsider” pastor begins to feel like an “insider” and “one” with the respective congregation.

When I left the seminary for my first call 14 years ago, I remember hearing that the average length of a first call was between three to five years. Even though I was young, something inside of me said, “That doesn’t sound like an ideal situation for the local church.” That “prophecy” was fulfilled after five years at my first call. It was hard to leave. I love the congregation I currently serve. We love one another and trust has been gained. That love and trust would be lost if I left for another congregation.

We should raise up pastors and leaders from within our congregations. Deep love, trust, and mutual responsibility will be the more natural foundation for pastoral leadership. I am not saying that external leadership development through our seminaries should never be used. I am saying that we should initially encourage congregations to raise up their own pastors and leaders, and adapt our training models toward that end. This would be much more in line with the model of the early church.

2. Plurality of Pastoral Leadership

“The elders (plural) so appointed were not young. They were apparently selected because they were men of high moral character, sober, grave, men of weight and reputation…in the provinces he (Paul) ordained to be the first leaders of the Church, men who thoroughly understood the condition and requirements of their congregation, men who were respected by the congregations for their moral and social position.” -2

Christian character and the ability to lead in their local context were the foremost prerequisites for becoming a part of the elder team of the local church. Also, these elders are what we title “pastor” today. They were ordained for Word and Sacrament ministry in their local context. Paul identified leaders whom the church, and he, already believed possessed the characteristics of a Jesus-filled leader.

And these leaders were never alone. They were an elder team.

I have often thought it strange that some young men receive calls to unfamiliar places. I know our seminary placement directors and council of presidents do the best they can to make sure seminary graduates are placed in contexts where they will thrive. Yet these leaders are sent alone. They are not sent as a team. At least Jesus sent disciples out two-by-two (Luke 10). We send our residential pastoral students out on their own. I commend the trust and faith of our called and sent ministers of the Word. Yet I’m left wondering, “Is this how Jesus and the early church would have done it?”

3. Pastoral Qualifications Were Primarily Moral

“If they (elders) added to moral qualifications intellectual qualifications so much the better, but high intellectual qualifications were not deemed necessary.” -3

Highly intellectual teachers were still needed in the early church. These leaders were teachers and often “bishops” who oversaw the formation of elders. In his book, Allen quotes the Didache.-4 He writes, “If it be possible let him (the Bishop) be a teacher, or if he be illiterate, let him be persuasive and wise of speech: let him be advanced in years.”

There are many arguments about local pastors needing to be fully trained in understanding the Hebrew and Greek of the original biblical manuscripts. According to the Didache, the early church bishops did not make this a requirement, let alone local elder teams. As long as the teachers were winsome communicators of the Gospel, full of wisdom and advanced in years (not a young, new convert), they were needed for training other elders.

Please let that fully sink in. In the early church, the trainers of Word and Sacrament ministers were judged based on their character and competence rather than the depth of their academic knowledge.

I believe we have this upside down today in the LCMS. Our higher education system appears to put a greater emphasis on content (head knowledge) over craft (the “doing” of ministry in a local context) and character (leadership wisdom and displaying the fruit of the Spirit).

Imagine a church body where local congregations discerned the characteristics of Jesus in their future pastors, gave them the ministry experiences to hone their unique ministry crafts, and then set an expectation for ongoing Lutheran content (head knowledge) to be given to their upcoming and current leaders. This would look a lot like Paul’s methods in the early church.

Please let the ULC know how we can help you live this reality by visiting us at


1 - Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods St. Paul’s or Ours. Forgotten Books, 1912, 134.

2 - Allen, Missionary Methods, 135.

3 - Ibid., 137.

4 - The Didache, also known as The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, is a brief anonymous early Christian treatise written in Koine Greek, dated by modern scholars to the first or second century AD.

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