Saturday, May 21, 2022

What Was Paul’s Secret Sauce?

 “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:2

Years ago, a church was having a farewell dinner for their pastor, who was moving out of state. Partway through the dinner the pastor noticed that one of the charter members of the church—a sweet, gray-haired widow—was crying. So, the pastor went up to her, put his arm around her, and said, “Don’t be so sad. The next pastor might be better than me.” She responded, “I doubt it! That’s what they said five years ago when they hired you!”

There’s no doubt: Doing life-changing ministry has its ups and downs, for both churches AND the pastors who lead them. When Paul and Barnabas traveled through Galatia, the first town they visited gave them a cease-and-desist order and kicked them out. In the next town, they narrowly escaped before their critics carried out a plan to beat them and stone them to death. And in the third town, Paul’s haters DID stone him and left him for dead. From a human standpoint, Paul and Barnabas’ ministry wasn’t going so well.

But Paul and Barnabas returned to every one of those towns, encouraged the disciples they’d made there—and planted churches that would last. How? For centuries Christian leaders have wondered: “How on earth could Paul roll into a town, lead people to Christ and—in a matter of just a few months—plant a healthy, self-sustaining church that survived and thrived without him?” What was Paul’s secret sauce?

Well, his secret sauce really wasn’t so secret. And it wasn’t even complicated. It was actually quite simple, and the Bible reveals it to us in Acts 14:22-23. Here are the three keys to building a healthy new church that survives and thrives long after its founding pastor leaves town.

Key #1: Paul laid a foundation of Christ-centered gospel teaching (v. 22). When Paul and Barnabas made their way back through the towns they’d been tossed out of, they spent time “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” How did they do this? They strengthened and encouraged them in God’s Word—specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Years later Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul’s teaching could be summarized in three powerful words: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! And the churches Paul planted didn’t close their doors six months after he left town, because there is no better or stronger foundation for a church than the foundation of Jesus Christ: crucified, buried, and resurrected to glory.

Key #2: Paul appointed and trained mature Christian men to pastor their church in his absence (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” Every day churches rise and fall on their leadership. Just as kids start to think and act like their parents after living with their parents for years, a congregation starts to think and act like their pastor after a few years. If a pastor’s teaching and preaching are shallow, the congregation’s relationship with Christ will tend to be shallow. But if a pastor sets a good example of being faithful in prayer and the study of God’s word, loving people and prioritizing the next generation, the congregation will tend to follow in his footsteps.

But wasn’t every Christian in these new towns a recent convert? Where, then, did Paul find qualified candidates to appoint as elders/pastors? Remember where Paul almost always went when he arrived in a new town: to the Jewish synagogue. Most likely, there he found Jewish men who had spent years studying the Old Testament and living moral lives before Paul ever rolled into town. So, in all likelihood, they were the ones who, after becoming followers of Jesus, were able to become Christian leaders in a short amount of time.

Key #3: Paul trusted the Holy Spirit to protect and lead the church long after he was gone (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us that when Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, “with prayer and fasting, [they] committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Just a few hours before Jesus was led to the cross, he told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you … But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” No one in human history was as good a teacher as Jesus. Yet even He left before He had finished teaching his disciples all they needed to know, because they couldn’t absorb any more at the time. So, when it was time for Him to leave, Jesus fully trusted the Holy Spirit to pick up where He left off and lead His followers into all truth. In the same way, Paul could move on to the next town without any guilt, shame or regret—because he, too, was leaving the new Christians in the very capable hands of the Holy Spirit, who would pick up where he had left off.

These are three powerful keys that we should never forget. When it comes to building healthy, self-sustaining churches—and healthy, self-sustaining Christian kids and grandkids: Lay a solid foundation of simple, Christ-centered gospel teaching. Raise up and train mature, godly leaders. And finally, trust the Holy Spirit to protect and lead those around you long after you are gone.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit

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