TEAM PROFILES FROM ACTS
The purpose of this research is to stimulate reflection on the makeup of missionary teams. The Book of Acts is full of examples of missionary teams, especially in association with the apostle Paul. This discussion looks at several missionary teams from Acts, briefly examining the purpose of each team and listing the team members named. Profiles are given for the team members, focusing on their backgrounds before joining the ministry team. Analyzing these characteristics will help developing ministry teams look for biblical patterns in the development process.
This study attempts to present biblical research in a way that leaves analysis to the reader. Follow up the biblical references provided in order to investigate these concepts further. Questions at the end will help generate reflection and discussion.
Antioch ministry team
One of the first ministry teams Paul worked with was a group of prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Five men were on the leadership team, including Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas was first dispatched to Antioch by the Jerusalem church after men from Cyprus and Cyrene began evangelizing among the Gentiles there (Acts 11:20-22). He soon recruited Paul to join him in ministry (Acts 11:25-26), and by Acts 13 the leadership team had expanded to five. The team’s primary purpose was teaching to build up the church (Acts 11:26; 13:1). This team ordained Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey (13:3).
The other three members of the team represent a diversity of backgrounds. Simeon, also called Niger, is mentioned only in reference to this ministry team. He has both a Jewish name, Simeon, and a Roman name, Niger. The Roman name most likely came from his having a dark complexion, perhaps indicating that he was from Africa or some other region of the Jewish Diaspora. Lucius from Cyrene was a Hellenistic Jew and may have been among those who first started preaching to Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:20). Manaen is described as a foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, the ruler who figured prominently in the execution of John the Baptist (Luke 3:19, 20; 9:9) and the crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:6-12). While scholars disagree about what this relationship would have been, it most likely means that he was raised from childhood with Herod and had a close relationship with him. With such high political connections, Manaen may have been a man of great influence.
TEAM FOR FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
When Paul and Barnabas were serving at the church in Antioch, the Holy Spirit called them to set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1, 2). This journey took the missionary team to Cyprus and throughout Asia Minor to preach the gospel and plant churches in new territory. Acts records only three members: Paul, Barnabas and John Mark. The profiles for Barnabas and John Mark follow.
Barnabas was one of Paul’s earliest ministry partners and a leader in the Antioch church. Luke introduces Barnabas as “a Levite, a native of Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). This means he, like Paul, carried dual cultural credentials. As a Levite, he would have received thorough and conservative training in Scripture. As a Hellenist, he would have been familiar with Greek culture and well-prepared for outreach to Gentiles. Luke counts Barnabas among the earliest members of the Early Church and records his act of generosity in selling his land (Acts 4:36, 37). His name, which means “son of encouragement” or perhaps “exhortation,” indicates his role in building up the church through prophetic ministry. He had some wealth because he owned land to sell. Even so, Paul and Barnabas worked to make a living for themselves (1 Corinthians 9:6).
Long before his ministry with Paul, Barnabas was a mature believer and an established leader in the church. He was active among the Jerusalem Christians in the first days after Pentecost (Acts 4:36, 37). The Jerusalem church trusted and respected him enough to accept his opinion of Paul (Acts 9:27) and also sent him as a representative to investigate the conversion of Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:22). While there, Barnabas encouraged the believers and continued to build up the church (Acts 11:23). Luke describes him as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). He had already proved himself as a trustworthy worker on several occasions before his appointment as a missionary to the Gentiles.
Barnabas also played an instrumental role in Paul’s ministry. He recognized Paul’s authentic conversion and helped him gain access to the Jerusalem church (Acts 9:27). He remembered Paul’s call to the Gentiles, and while ministering in Antioch he invited Paul to come join him in ministry (Acts 11:25, 26). From this point the two men worked together. They were both sent with an offering for the Judean Christians (Acts 11:30); together they were set apart by the Holy Spirit for the first missionary journey (13:1, 2); and both testified against the Judaizers at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Barnabas was a full partner in Paul’s ministry, although Paul did much of the speaking (Acts 14:12). Barnabas was not Paul’s subordinate. Both men shared a call to the Gentiles and worked together for a time. Barnabas felt free to disagree with Paul concerning whether John Mark should be allowed to rejoin the missionary team, and each went his separate way on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). This was probably not the end of their working relationship, however, since the Corinthian and Colossian churches were familiar with Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6; Colossians 4:10).
John Mark was a Jewish Christian in Jerusalem. His mother’s house hosted a group of Christians who prayed together for the apostle Peter (Acts 12:12). A further description of this home mentions an outer gate and a servant girl, suggesting that Mark came from a wealthy family. He was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10) and accompanied Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch after they had delivered an offering during a famine (Acts 12:25). John Mark quite possibly was an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, particularly the events of the Passion narrative. Such experience would have made his testimony valuable on the missionary journey. The text offers no rationale or credentials leading to his selection for the team (Acts 13:5). He later withdrew from the group and returned to Jerusalem while the team continued its ministry (Acts 13:13). This decision caused Paul to view him as unfit to accompany the team on the second missionary journey and led to a split between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). Apparently, John Mark eventually overcame his shortcomings, and Paul overcame his misgivings. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he asks Timothy to bring Mark with him since he is useful in ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark also had further interaction with the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and would go on to write the Gospel of Mark.
TEAM FOR SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Sometime after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, Paul decided to revisit the churches from the first missionary journey to see how they were doing (Acts 15:36). Barnabas and Paul sharply disagreed over whether to take John Mark along with them, so they went their separate ways (Acts 15:37-39). Paul chose Silas to accompany him, and they set out for the churches in Asia Minor (Acts 15:40-41). Timothy soon joined them in ministry (Acts 16:3), and the three traveled through Asia Minor and eventually to Europe, strengthening existing churches and planting new ones. Others joined the team along the way, including Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:2) and Luke the physician (see discussion on Luke below).
The missionary journey began in Antioch (15:40) but marking its end is more difficult. Many people mark the end of the journey with Paul’s return to Antioch (18:22, 23), which includes some extended stops, such as the year and a half he spent in Corinth (Acts 18:11). Because of the relative continuity in co-workers and purpose, it is more helpful to look at the second missionary journey together with Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus, which lasted two or three years (Acts 19).
Silas was a Jewish Christian living in Jerusalem who, like Paul, was also a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 38). Even before his association with Paul, he was recognized as a leader among the brothers by the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22). The Jerusalem Council chose him, along with Judas (called Barsabbas), to take the letter containing the decision about requirements for Gentile Christians, perhaps indicating his familiarity and comfort level with Gentile culture. Silas and Judas were both known as prophets, and upon delivering the letter they also spent time in effective cross-cultural ministry in Antioch by “strengthening and encouraging the brothers” (Acts 15:32, 33). When Barnabas and Paul parted ways, Silas accompanied Paul on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). Paul refers to Silas as an apostle of Christ, meaning he had been personally commissioned by Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
Timothy is first mentioned at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 16:1. He was a member of the church at Lystra and had developed a good reputation among the Christians in the surrounding area, which led Paul to add him to the ministry team. He grew up in a multicultural household: his mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. Timothy and his family probably accepted Christ when Paul and Barnabas visited the area during the first missionary journey (Acts 14). He had been trained in the Jewish faith and the Scriptures from birth (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Even so, he had not been circumcised. Paul chose to circumcise him to remove barriers in ministering to Jews, since the Jews in the area knew Timothy was also a Jew (Acts 16:3).
Timothy and Paul developed a close relationship that Paul describes as “a son with a father” (Philippians 2:22). Instead of a natural leader, Timothy may have been reserved or timid (1 Corinthians 16:10, 1 Timothy 1:7). He was also physically weak, suffering from “frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). While Timothy was clearly younger than Paul, it is difficult to tell how young he was when he was called or when Paul wrote to him (1 Timothy 4:12). In any case, Paul praised his faithfulness in ministry and esteemed him highly (Philippians 2:19-22).
Aquila and Priscilla
Aquila and Priscilla were a husband and wife who joined Paul’s ministry team in Corinth. Aquila was a Jew; his wife’s ethnicity is unclear (Acts 18:2). The couple moved from Rome to Corinth when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in response to their unrest caused by the introduction of the gospel. Aquila and Priscilla were likely involved in the first church in Rome before being forced to leave. Like Paul, they made tents and worked together with him in support of the ministry (Acts 18: 3). They traveled with Paul to Ephesus, where they remained while Paul continued on to Antioch (Acts 18:18). They had a teaching ministry in Ephesus, which included instructing other teachers such as Apollos (Acts 18:26) and hosting a house church in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Luke, the author of Acts, was also one of Paul’s traveling companions. He was present for segments of the second and third missionary journeys. Although his name is never given in the Book of Acts, he wrote several passages using the first person “we” to indicate his presence on the team (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-8, 13-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-44; 28:1-16). Most scholars believe that Luke was a Gentile Christian from Antioch. He was a physician (Colossians 4:14) and his work with Paul continued beyond the first imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). Because Luke includes no material about himself, it is difficult to discern when he met Paul and how he was chosen for the ministry team. He was a physician, so we know he was educated. His masterful use of the Jewish scriptures lead many to speculate that he was a God fearer like those mentioned elsewhere in Acts.
Erastus was one of Paul’s helpers in Ephesus. He was sent ahead into Macedonia with Timothy, while Paul continued to minister in Asia (Acts 19:22). He continued to minister with Paul, because Paul later notes his presence (2 Timothy 4:20).
TEAM FOR THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
After working in Ephesus and Asia for an extended period of time, Paul put together a team to travel with him through Macedonia and Greece to visit the churches there and eventually bring a collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-3). Luke mentions Paul’s desire to travel to Jerusalem in Acts 19:21 but only vaguely refers to the collection (Acts 24:17). However, in his letters Paul clearly expresses his intention to bring a collection to the church at Jerusalem to help relieve the believers’ poverty (Romans 15:25-31; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul is unable to make this journey until Acts 20. He and several brothers representing churches from Greece, Macedonia and Asia traveled throughout these regions, encouraging the churches and bringing the collection. Paul viewed this journey as a “final tour” of the churches in the east before turning his attention westward toward Rome and beyond (Acts 19:21; 20:25; Romans 15:24). Luke lists seven travel companions with Paul, including Timothy (Acts 20:4). Luke himself was on this team since the term “we” is used in the passage. Titus was also likely part of the team since Paul had placed him in charge of the collection (2 Corinthians 8:6). The journey finally made its way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15), where Paul was imprisoned and eventually sent to Rome.
Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus from Berea, was one of the men who accompanied Paul on the journey to take the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He is probably the same person Paul referred to as being one of his kinsmen (Romans 16:21). This means he was Jewish, and possibly one of Paul’s relatives.
Aristarchus was present during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and accompanied Paul both on his journey with the collection for Jerusalem (20:4) and eventually to Rome (27:2). He was a Jewish Christian and a Macedonian from Thessalonica. When he wrote to the Colossian church, Paul indicated that Aristarchus was one of the only Jewish Christian missionaries working with him (Colossians 4:10, 11).
Secundus was a Gentile Christian, also from Thessalonica. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.
Gaius was a Gentile Christian traveling with Paul. Whether this is the same Gaius who was caught up by the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29) is unclear.
Tychicus was one of the Gentile brothers chosen to represent the Asian churches. He continued to be one of Paul’s fellow workers and delivered Paul’s letters to the Colossians (Colossians 4:7) and the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21, 22). Later, Paul tells Timothy that he has sent Tychicus to Ephesus to minister (2 Timothy 4:12) and considers having him go to Crete to relieve Titus (Titus 3:12).
Along with Tychicus, Trophimus was sent as a Gentile representative of the Asian churches with the collection for Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Paul’s association with Trophimus caused Jews to assume Paul had taken a Gentile into the inner court of the temple, which led to Paul’s arrest (21:29). Trophimus continued to work with Paul, since Paul later told Timothy that he had to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20).
Titus was a Gentile convert under Paul’s ministry (Titus 1:4; Galatians 2:3). Little is known about Titus’ background outside his working relationship with Paul. As a Gentile convert, Titus was chosen to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1). His presence on the team was significant because it preceded the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 when James and the brothers made a decision about not requiring Gentiles to follow Jewish ceremonial law. This journey to Jerusalem was probably the same one Paul and Barnabas undertook in response to the famine (Acts 11:29, 30).
Titus was a strong leader, in contrast with Timothy’s timidity. Paul dispatched Titus to handle the quarrels of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:5-16), the deteriorating pastoral situation in Crete (Titus 1:5), and to minister in Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). He was a highly trusted associate of Paul’s, being put in charge of the collection for the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:6). He is mysteriously absent from the Book of Acts, although he was likely present for the first relief mission to Judea (Acts 11:30) and the third missionary journey because of his association with the collection.
This survey of some of Paul’s ministry teams and co-workers should provide a starting place for reflecting on what constituted a missionary team in the New Testament church. Examining the profiles of these individuals reveals several characteristics that are important for members of a missionary team. Below are several questions to aid in reflection.
1. Purpose: Did Paul’s missionary teams have a clear purpose for ministry? What was their focus or goal at the time of their formation?
2. Commissioning: Were Paul’s missionary teams formed and sent in response to the leadership of an individual or a group of believers?
3. Selection: How were team members chosen to join the team? Who had the authority to appoint new team members?
4. Characteristics: What characteristics did Paul’s team members have in common? Are these characteristics still important for church planting teams among resistant people groups today? Why?
5. Call: How important was the call of the individual members of Paul’s teams?
6. Longevity: How important was commitment for team ministry?
7. Relationship: What was the relationship between the team leader and the members of Paul’s missionary teams? What kinds of relationships did Paul have with his fellow workers?
8. Diversity: From where did Paul’s team members come? How was this diversity an advantage? How might this look in a contemporary church planting context?
All Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Bruce, F. F. The Book of the Acts. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Douglas, J. D. and Merrill C. Tenney. The NIV Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Martin, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.