Paul the Architect
In part 1 we looked at how Paul responded to the people of God (Jesus-following Jews and-Jesus following Gentiles) when they found themselves in a time of crisis. The solution was to find identity. Once you know who you are and what you should be doing, you can address the crisis. Identity for Paul is the Gospel story. He no longer considered his former self alive; it passed away on the cross. A new self was born! But what does one do with the new self in Jesus?
As a kid I would read Acts and would be blown away by the person of Paul. Who was this guy? What kind of human travels and re-travels the ancient world in seemingly constant danger? Who gets shipwrecked? (Think about it, do you know anyone who has?) Who bobs up and down in open waters for a day, seemingly abandoned by God, and later willingly hoists another sail, after such epic trauma? Who gets tenderized via stoning, to the point of death, gets dragged out of town with the trash, only to stand up and walk right back into town? I get why people in Lystra regarded Paul as a god. Mere mortals don’t do these things. Truly Paul’s new self was caught up in Christ. Thus, Paul was the archetype missionary and reflection of Jesus. He would do anything – anything! – to be able to declare the Gospel which saved him.
Yet in my youthful hero worship of Paul the MIssionary I think I missed out on one of Paul’s most important job titles, one that we, the shepherds of the church in crisis, really need to see right now.
“Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. …
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-13
Most translations render the original here (σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων) something akin to “skillful builder.” But Paul was more than a talented laborer. Though he was certainly that, Paul describes the builder here as the selector of building materials and the designer of the building. Those aren’t decisions day laborers get to make. This may be a new paradigm for you but Paul regarded himself as the literal translation of the original Greek - a “wise architect!”
Paul did not just see himself as an evangelist or even as a church planter. Paul saw himself as the architect of a church planting network. He had a definite plan for places where he wanted to work and for places he wanted to avoid. He was careful to revisit works he had started while also making time to start new faith communities. When he could not be physically present he wrote letters of instruction and encouragement to build up the network and he encouraged his churches to pass on his letters to other churches in his network. He had a team of apprentices he was purposely raising up to bolster the greater building project for Asia Minor. He leveraged burgeoning friendships with people he had never met to plant churches in places he had never been. These aren’t just the actions of a willing firebrand (though few have ever burned hotter). These are the actions of a thinker, a planner, and a designer for the skillful and strategic distribution of the greatest story ever told. Paul saw God as a planner and designer of masterpieces to be used for good works (Eph. 2:10) It should not surprise us that Paul tried to image God in the same way.
Now how can Paul the Architect be a game changer for us? By redefining our job in the present church crisis. No longer do we have to see ourselves as just willing servants, charged with the excruciating task of dispensing spiritual services to a dilapidating church, helpless to make systemic changes even though we know the system needs change. No, we too can become architects. We can rebuild the house with a new layout. We can become designers of new things, new faith communities, new approaches, selecting from the best of our materials to hand out a timeless faith for this place in time. Paul the Architect becomes a role model for our task for our time. If we can adopt this view of self, whose personal identity is in the Gospel story and whose job it is to distribute it with planning and network coordination, this would be a task not only worthy but also deeply fulfilling. God the architect has selected us for this time and place. Can we see our challenge afresh, becoming coordinated designers and builders of a new house for the lost of our generation?
Next time: Part 3, Partnerships for the Gospel