Saul was born to Jewish parents living outside of Palestine in Tarsus around 5 AD. He grew up and became a Pharisee trained under the renowned rabbi Gamaliel. Passionate for Judaism, he persecuted the first Christian community in Jerusalem. After consenting to the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Saul had a vision of Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus. Jesus spoke to Saul saying, “Why do you persecute me?” After this experience Saul was baptized, became zealous for the Gospel, and became known at the great apostle Paul. Paul went all over the middle east and Asia minor preaching the Gospel and building communities in the middle-late first century AD. Paul was known as a great preacher, but would not receive any kind of payment for his preaching. Instead, he would rely on his skill as a tent maker to provide for his basic needs.
Paul’s strategy began by trying to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, the one Israel had been waiting for. He preached in synagogues and after he had worn out his welcome, he would move on to the Gentile population of the city. Sometimes he would set his sights on large Gentile cities such as Corinth, Ephesus, and Athens (among others). His heart was set on telling the whole world the Good News of Jesus Christ. He was set on evangelizing Rome and all the way to Spain! He became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles because of his success in dense Gentile populations. He built small communities in each of the cities he visited. Paul would stay with them awhile and then leave one of his companions with them as he went to a new city. Although he had a deep passion for the Gospel, Paul’s genius is that he used small communities to build Christianity on a solid bedrock of relationships. After leaving, he wrote letters to these communities based on the reports of his companions. The surviving letters are now found in the New Testament.
Saint Paul is generally considered the Church’s greatest missionary. In most circumstances, people point to his success in preaching and writing. One thing alluded to above that is often overlooked was his community building strategies. Paul established the Gospel in communities through their relationships and their daily lifestyle. In this, Paul would plant Christianity in a city by building a community way of life that served as a kind of center from which the Gospel could be spread to others. Paul can teach us much today about building relationships founded on the Good News of Jesus Christ that are always on the lookout to invite others into our communities. Paul was arrested for his preaching a number of times. Finally, he paid the ultimate price for the Gospel and was martyred in Rome in the early to mid 60’s AD.