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An Interview with Paul: What might the Apostle say about the church today?

Interviewer: How do you mean?

Apostle Paul: Well, I have always thought that regularly sharing meals together – as my countrymen have always done, as Jesus did, and as my fellow apostles did – would always remain an indispensable element of discipleship. As I see it, these church spaces, which are so good for proclamation and worship, don’t equally serve for table-fellowship.

One of my most painful memories was confronting brother Peter after he had taken to excluding some from the joy of sharing table-fellowship; and another of my saddest moments was when I had to write to the Corinthians and rebuke them for turning table-fellowship into something that was unrecognisably different from what Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed. I believe that Christ Jesus wanted saints, for all time to come, to share meals together, around tables, in small groups, recalling that particular meal he shared with those who were apostles before me.

 
Interviewer: Does anything else strike you about these spaces?

Apostle Paul: One of the things I considered most important in my own ministry – and something I regularly commended for other leaders – was the overwhelming importance of sharing lives. After all, the message I preached was about the one who was descended from David, in the flesh. My travelling companion, Luke, recorded many examples of how I shared with unbelievers in their own homes, and how I strengthened the faith of believers also by sharing my life with them, often in their homes. On more than one occasion, I reminded the Thessalonians that both their turning to God, and their growing in Christ, were not simply on the basis of my words, but in the context of sharing lives on a particularly deep level. And the most important thing I left with the Ephesian elders was their memory of how I lived among them. I don’t envy those overseers today who try to reach out to unbelievers and who seek to bring believers to maturity in Christ without a similar dimension of spending frequent and long hours in the homes and around the dining tables of the people they love – modelling a whole way of life.

 
Interviewer: You mention the word ‘overseers’ – what did you regard as distinctive about the ministry of an ‘overseer’?

Apostle Paul: I had always intended that the key roles of overseers were both to teach and to care for a small number of people – in the context of the overseer’s own home, and in the manner of a family. It’s here that an overseer models being a spouse, a parent, a neighbour; and it’s here where the words they say will be measured against the lives they lead. It’s always been obvious to me that ministry would be deeper and more effective within a small number of especially close relationships – much as our Lord chose to do – which is why I placed so much emphasis on people imitating the way I live, and why I focused so much teaching on relationships in the home, that is between husband and wife, master and slave, parents and children. I imagine that in churches which focus more on sharing words than lives, it would be too easy for people, including leaders, to hide the true state of their relationships.

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2010

About the Author: Andrew D. Clarke, M.A., Ph.D. (Cambridge), is Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of numerous books and articles including A Pauline Theology of Church Leadership (T&T Clark, 2008), Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (Second edition; Paternoster, 2006), and Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers (Eerdmans, 2000). Faculty Page

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