In Luke 10, Jesus appoints two-man teams to go on what looks like the first short-term missions trip. Before he sends them, he warns them they’ll be vulnerable. Instructing them to depend on the kindness of strangers, Jesus says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5–6, CSB).
Referring to this passage and using its language, many contemporary missionaries see this “person of peace” as the secret sauce in a successful missions recipe. They often define this person as a local who is willing to have spiritual conversations and serve as a social bridge into the community and who might host and facilitate Bible studies.
According to some, finding a person of peace is essential to a fruitful entry strategy for a missionary. However, this interpretation of Luke 10 is exegetically flawed, and following this philosophy to identify a person of peace is potentially dangerous.
The context of Luke 10 and its place in redemptive history is important for understanding Jesus’s instructions. In this narrative, Jesus sends his followers into the villages outside Jerusalem and throughout Israel to announce the arrival of the kingdom, an arrival ancient Israelites long anticipated.
We should note that in Luke 10, Jesus’s ministry hadn’t yet reached its climactic purpose. The announcement the disciples were sent to herald was not yet the fully formed gospel that Paul referred to as “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1–5). Therefore, we shouldn’t conflate the announcement from Luke 10 with the post-resurrection gospel and the message entrusted to contemporary missionaries.
More importantly, after the events of Luke 10, the audience to whom Jesus sends the disciples changes and expands, as does their approach. Just before his death, Jesus commissions his disciples with instructions reminiscent of Luke 10, yet he adapts them for a different situation (Luke 22:35–38). His messengers will no longer rely on the welcome and support of a person of peace; instead, they’re to take their own supplies. Following his resurrection, Jesus also tells his apostles that as witnesses to his death and resurrection, they must preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins “to all nations” (Luke 24:46–48).
‘Person of peace’ proponents dislocate Jesus’s command from its redemptive-historical setting.
These significant changes call into question the ongoing validity of Luke 10 as a case study for modern missions. By using it to formulate contemporary strategies, proponents dislocate Jesus’s command from its redemptive-historical setting while maintaining terminology that gives it an air of biblical authority.
If it was Jesus’s universal command for missions, one would expect the early apostles to continue seeking persons of peace as they traveled. Yet this terminology and approach don’t appear in their ministries.
For example, when we look at Paul’s ministry, we don’t find any mention of a person of peace or compelling evidence this was part of his strategy. Some might refer to Lydia or Jason as examples of persons of peace. Or we could note how Paul worked with others like Priscilla and Aquila. But he consistently referred to people like them as partners or coworkers in the gospel (Rom. 16:3–4). Unlike some conceptions of a person of peace, these fellow workers were those with a shared faith in Christ and commitment to his mission.
Like in the instructions from Luke 10, Paul did have a pattern of working in pairs or teams rather than going alone. He also kicked the dust off his sandals when his message was clearly understood and rejected (Acts 13:46–49; cf. Luke 10:10–12). But Paul didn’t seem concerned to find a person who would serve as a social bridge into the community. In fact, though he made a habit of going first to the Jews in the synagogues, he immediately preached Jesus as their Messiah instead of trying to garner their approval. In so doing, he usually lost access to the community instead of gaining it.
Wherever Paul went he used each opportunity to teach and preach the gospel, demonstrate Jesus was Messiah and Lord, and call out idolatry. This wasn’t an attempt to cultivate social influence but was instead an “open statement of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2).
At this point, proponents of finding a person of peace might argue this model is sociologically strategic even if not biblically mandatory. For example, it’s often the case that a new believer’s social and familial networks are seedbeds for the gospel (e.g., Acts 10:24–48). Therefore, advocates for this method see it as expedient to intentionally identify a hospitable local with an extensive network who can vouch for the missionary and introduce others to his message.
Wherever Paul went he used each opportunity to teach and preach the gospel.
While this is true—and helpful when it occurs—we believe there’s a difference between sociological observation and biblical prescription. When made a mandatory component of missionary methodology, this model becomes potentially dangerous.
Such methodologies risk hijacking the missionary’s task. If we believe fruitful labor won’t occur until we find someone with an extensive social network and influence, we bias ourselves against faithfully and hopefully investing in the marginalized or those less socially connected. We also might delay gospel proclamation for an indefinite period of time in order to cultivate favor with our hearers, a practice completely foreign to the apostles.
Furthermore, even if you don’t believe this practice is a biblical mandate, by insisting others follow it, we can convey that this method has more authority than it does. And if we fail to carefully read and apply Scripture, we’ll lead others to follow in our exegetical missteps. Poorly modeling biblical interpretation is especially egregious on the mission field because a young church desperately needs the ability to cultivate responsible leaders who can read, understand, and apply the Word faithfully in their context.
For these reasons, let’s leave behind the person of peace strategy. While we appreciate the benefits of social networks for gospel transmission, we believe missionaries should use every opportunity to preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures to all people, making disciples who will do likewise.