I’m often temped to skip right over the later parts of Paul’s letters. You know, those sections where he begins to thank a bunch of people with names that are hard to pronounce and who we know almost nothing about.
- “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you” (Rom 16:23).
- “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything” (Eph 6:21).
- “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, la sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
- “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12).
The motives for including these names vary. At times, Paul is sending greetings on behalf of these individuals to the churches to whom he writes. It’s clear that these relative no-names have spent time laboring among these other church and are known well by them. Other times he thanks those who have served him from other places—the people who brought him gifts or words of encouragement from the churches Paul has helped plant.
What’s clear is that Paul understands these men and women as essential to his work as an apostle. In a very real way, Paul credits them with the fruit of his ministry, recognizing that he would never have been able to do the things he’s done were it not for the care of others. Though we may know nothing about this enigmatic figures, they are the means by which God established His church in the first century.
Paul’s awareness of their role prompts him to do something simple—something that is easy for us to miss if we’re not careful. He says thanks. Paul is able to look back over his missionary work, see the fruit God has brought, and point to others as the means God used to reap such a great harvest. It’s certainly true that some of these people were not with Paul on each of his missionary voyages. Many weren’t beaten like Paul or thrown into prison for proclaiming the gospel. But, in a very real way, they were with Paul. He took the churches with him as he fulfilled God’s unique call on his life.
The same is true of church planters today.
No church planter, or church plant for that matter, is in existence without scores and scores of people who have invested in the work. Most of these people will never be known by anyone but the closest inner-circle of the church planting team. Some have given money, others have given prayers, many have invested time, but they all have a very real stake in the work of church planting.
Sadly, we who lead church plants across North America, are prone to forget this reality. For most of us, it is not intentional—there’s just so much to do each and every day. There are services to plan, people to disciple, needs to be met. What often gets lost in the shuffle is the simple act of givng thanks to those who God has used to build his church.
It’s instructive for us to note Paul’s example. As an author of many of the letters in the New Testament, Paul surely had many things he could say. There’s much about God’s character, man’s need and Jesus’ work that needs explanation. And, Paul certainly had much to do. He was, after all, the foremost church planter in human history. Yet, in the relatively short span of each of these letters and amidst his busy schedule, Paul choose to spend a great many words just to say thanks.
Today’s church planters should follow suit. To fail to give thanks demonstrates a prideful posture that diminishes the vital role others play in effective church planting. To give thanks, however, reminds us that we haven’t, and can’t, do this alone.
Published April 11, 2017