As has already been established, Paul has faced multiple challenges throughout his ministry. Contemporary Christian leaders can learn a lot from this great apostle when addressing the challenges of the 21st century. Today’s world is full of disputes, conflicts, and oppositions that arise against Christian faith. None of them, however, create such an all-encompassing barrier for the message of the gospel as the philosophy of postmodernism.
In his book A Primer on Postmodernism, Grenz (1996), explained why postmodernism is so dangerous to the Christian gospel message. He said:
Postmodernism has tossed aside objective truth…Postmodern thinkers have given up the search for universal, ultimate truth because they are convinced that there is nothing more to find than a host of conflicting interpretations or an infinity of linguistically created worlds. The abandonment of the belief in universal truth entails the loss of any final criterion by which to evaluate the various interpretations of reality that compete in the contemporary intellectual realm. In this situation, all human interpretations—including the Christian worldview—are equally valid because all are equally invalid (p. 163).
One could say that postmodernism is a nonconfrontational fundamental conflict to Christendom. It does not come against a certain tenet in Christianity or certain truth it proclaims with an opposing tenet or truth. It places Christianity in the realm of non-existence as a whole: since universal truth does not exist, neither does a worldview that claims to have access to it. Thus, Christianity as a gospel of salvation for mankind through an exclusive faith in Christ is nullified in a postmodern world. It is not a truth that postmodernism even bothers to confront because to postmodernism there is no such thing as “the truth.” Rather, Christian faith becomes an experience of an individual or a community that finds it valid. It is this nonconfrontational nature of postmodern worldview, which does not fight Christianity on certain grounds, but denies the existence of the very ground Christendom claims to stand on, that makes postmodernism so dangerous. In this way, postmodernism accepts Christianity as a religion among others, denying its exclusivity. In a way, postmodernism could be considered a contemporary polytheism.
There have been two extreme responses to postmodernism by Christian leaders. Smith (2006) explained that “Postmodernism tends to be something of a chameleon, portrayed as either monster or savior—either the new form of the enemy or the next best thing to come along” (p. 15). Some Evangelical Christian thinkers, who are more comfortable in the rational apologetics of modernity, avoid facing postmodernism (Grenz, 1996, pp. 161-62). Others engage in Christian universalism, “the belief that God will…redeem all people through the saving work of Christ,” regardless of what these people believe (MacDonald, 2011, p.1). As Laracy (2013) stated, “With the formation of the Unitarian Universalist Church in 1961, the postmodern project finds an even more profound realization” (para. 2). Grenz (1996), however, encouraged Christians to engage postmodernism as a valid philosophy while not giving up their claim to possessing universal truth (Grenz, 1996, p. 165). So would Paul.
Paul’s experience in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20) described earlier could be compared to a postmodern confrontation of sorts. Here, Paul encountered a crowd that did not disagree with him on the specific tenets of his truth, as the Jews did by saying that the law, not Christ, was the way to the true God. The Lycaonians, on the other hand, did not know there was a true God. Therefore, they did not confront specifics of Paul’s message. On the contrary, they treated Paul himself as a god among the many gods they believed in. Rather than giving up on Lycaonians as utterly lost in their ignorance and pagan worship, as some modern-minded Christian leaders give up on the postmodern mindset, Paul met them at the place of their understanding. Paul started his message at the level they understood by speaking about the God who showed Himself in nature. At the same time, he did not accept their attempt to worship him as a god, claiming that Christ was the only way to this one true God, whom Paul came there to proclaim. In other words, Paul engaged his polytheistic counterparts in the way that can teach Christian leaders of today how to engage postmodernism. In doing so, Paul exemplified what Heifetz (1994) defined as adaptive leadership where leaders “diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face” (p. 22).
Christian leaders of today will do well by addressing the postmodernism challenge by implementing the example of adaptive leadership the apostle Paul demonstrated. Grenz (1996) outlined several suggestions of doing that in a Pauline manner: presenting the gospel without compromising its values, but in a way that postmodern mind would appreciate (pp. 165-74). First, Christians cannot afford giving up their claim that they possess the universal truth:
The gospel is inherently an expansive missionary message. We believe not only that the biblical narrative makes sense for us but is also good news for all…It embodies the truth—the truth for all humankind (p.165).
At the same time, Evangelicals cannot ignore the postmodern critique of the failures of certainty of human knowledge (p. 165). As believers, Christian leaders can agree with postmodern thinkers that not all certainty rests with our human rational capabilities (p. 165). They can also embrace the understanding of truth that is more community and experience oriented, as postmodern worldview gives higher status to emotions, intuition, and communal knowledge (pp. 14-15, 167-71). Finally, they can present the message of the gospel in a biblically holistic and diverse way (pp. 171-74). That is exactly what Paul did by becoming a missionary to the Gentiles in a world that considered them unclean and hopeless pagans.
Practical Relevance to Leadership Today
It has already been established that the Apostle Paul was an extraordinary leader. Through his tenacious and uncompromising commitment to the preaching of the gospel, Paul made an impact on Christianity and the world that has lasted for millennia. He also exercised spiritual, authentic, servant, and adaptive leadership models in his ministry. One other aspect this research needs to highlight as being of practical relevance to the contemporary leadership is Paul’s unique perspective on conflict.
One of the founding fathers of the leadership studies, Burns (1978), said this about conflict: “The potential for conflict permeates the relations of humankind, and that potential is a force for health and growth as well as for destruction and barbarism” (Burns, 1978, p. 37). Burns claimed that it was the function of leadership to shape conflict properly (p. 38). A social scientist, Kohlberg (1981) added that conflict was a necessary factor for moral development, saying “…the movement to the next stage involves internal cognitive reorganization rather than the mere addition of more difficult content from the outside… cognitive conflict is the central ‘motor’ for such reorganization or upward movement” (p. 146). Finally, Heifetz (1994) added that adaptive work involves conflict (p. 31). That is why leadership is required “to fire and contain the forces of invention and change, and to extract the next step” (p. 35). It has been demonstrated that Paul’s leadership encountered opposition and conflict from the beginning. Paul, however, handled in the best way the leader can.
Paul, in the words of Burns, shaped conflict properly as the fuel and direction of his mission. Every time he saw opposition, he took it as an opportunity to preach the gospel with more power. He channeled, in the words of Kohlberg, conflict to help the Jews and the early church in their moral upward movement: accepting the Gentiles as equally saved through the sacrifice of Christ. Finally, he used it to fire the adaptive work, in the words of Heifetz, in the minds, hearts, and communities that were willing to change and embrace the newness of the gospel of equality for all. Paul also used conflict as the direction for his ministry: every time he encountered opposition in one town, he knew it was time to preach the gospel and start a new congregation in the next community.
Today’s society is full of political, cultural, and moral conflicts. They permeate the walls of the Church as much as they do the secular world. Facing conflict is never pleasant. It is the hard work of leadership. Sometimes, contemporary leaders react in a natural way by avoiding conflict and compromising their values just to maintain the status quo. That is not the leadership legacy of Christianity’s greatest apostle. Paul never allowed conflict and opposition to discourage him; he never compromised his values. Rather he used tension as fuel for his important goal. Paul rightly embraced conflict, allowing it to shape him, his followers, and his mission.
As has been initially stated, Paul impacted the world for centuries to come through both his writings and his actions. This research focused on his actions as the greatest apostle and the greatest missionary in Christendom. As such, Paul exercised characteristics of a remarkable leader. This research has discussed the leadership models Paul exercised and the principles that can be gleaned from them. Again, the current research has only scratched the surface of Paul’s insurmountable legacy. If Paul’s life could be summarized in several words based on his actions in Acts 13 and 14, it would be commitment, courage, and consecration.
As has been shown throughout the study of biblical context of this research, Paul was a zealously committed person who gave all his time, resources, and energy to the cause he considered important. That was Paul’s leadership characteristic that might have been one of the reasons the Lord chose him as the leader to carry such an important yet difficult mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Just as Paul was utterly committed to destroying the Church before his Christophany, believing it to be blasphemous to his faith; he became utterly committed to preaching the gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles, believing it to be the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
Paul was an extremely courageous leader. No amount of emotional opposition discouraged him from preaching the gospel. No amount of physical danger and persecution stopped him from declaring God’s message boldly in the center of the town or the middle of synagogue. Paul’s courage was unshakable and unstoppable. He could confidently make this courageous proclamation of Romans 8:36b-39:
‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The underlying reason why Paul was able to exhibit such unwavering commitment to the gospel accompanied with such remarkable courage despite all odds was because he was fully consecrated to his heavenly vision. Paul had a spiritual perspective that undergirded his entire mission and directed his leadership decisions. He knew that God Himself called him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He also knew that His reward was heavenly. It was this confident knowledge that caused Paul to consecrate himself entirely to God’s Kingdom, without regard for personal welfare, gain, or ambition. That is why Paul declared in Philippians 3:8-11:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attainto the resurrection from the dead.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul was an embodiment of the words of Chesterton (1908) so fond of another world that he had something to change this world to (p. 83). He used his leadership to be a remarkable agent of change (Heifetz, 1994, p. 85).