the weblog of Alan Knox

Local and Itinerant

Posted by on Mar 31, 2009 in service, spirit/holy spirit, spiritual gifts | 6 comments

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was going to cover two different aspects of the ways in which God uses people to serve the church. I covered the first aspect in yesterday’s post “Speaking and Serving“. Today, I am covering the second aspect “Local and Itinerant”.

It seems, as we study Scripture, that believers offered two types of service to churches: itinerant service and local service.

When I say “itinerant service”, I’m talking about service offered by those believers who travel from place to place, sometimes staying in one place for an extended period, but never with the intention of remaining in one place. Paul and Barnabas would be included in this group (following the events of Acts 13:1-3. Similarly, many of their travelling companions would be included in this group (i.e. John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke).

“Itinerant service” included many types of giftings, and it would be difficult to distinguish some giftings as only itinerant. However, it seems that the apostolic gift was intended as an itinerant gift. Even as an apostle and even with the desire to go where there was no gospel witness and no church, Paul did return to the same areas many times in order to strengthen the churches there. So, “itinerant service” is not limited to travelling to areas where there are no churches.

Several passages of Scripture refer to this type of “itinerant service” to the church. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, Paul seems to point to a group of people who are travelling from place to place. Similarly, we see that Paul did not intend for Timothy and Titus to remain in Ephesus and Crete, respectively. Finally, John commends Gaius for taking care of those brothers who were travelling through his area.

Besides “itinerant service”, there seems to be another type of service offered to the church as well: “local service”. In this case, I’m using the word “local” as an antonym for “itinerant”. Those who offer “local service” intend to remain in one place, serving the church in that place. In fact, this would probably be the predominant type of service recognized in Scripture.

Before Acts 13:1-3, it seems that both Paul and Barnabas intended to remain in whatever place they were in, serving the church there. Similarly, Paul intended for the elders in Ephesus to remain in Ephesus caring for the people there (Acts 20:28). When John writes his third letter, he distinguishes between those brothers who are travelling, and Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius, who apparently remained in the same location.

However, just because someone offers “local service”, this doesn’t mean that that person never travels to another location. However, it does mean that the person intends to return to their home location. For example, Epaphroditus brought a gift to Paul from the church in Phillipi, but intended to return. Those who travelled for a short time (to help Paul, for instance) would often serve alongside Paul while with him, but they still intended to return to their home location.

Do you think it is legitimate to distinguish between itinerant service and local service? Do you this distinction is helpful? Why or why not?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-31-2009

    1. Yes I think the distinction is very helpful.

    2. The reason being we now have to ask why Paul says one should be able to receive pay but obviously contridict himself in Acts 20 around verse 32.

    So I think to marry the two when Paul is making a huge distinction has caused great confusion in the local church today. My opinion but I think it may be important to distinguish.

    Oh, yeah I think another thing could be what I can expect from the two. I think the service they provide could be much different also.

  2. 3-31-2009

    I also believe it is important to make the distinction for reasons I’m not going to get into.

    My question is: Do itinerant preachers have to be a member of a church or represent a particular denomination? How does that work?

  3. 3-31-2009


    You brought up some good points. Thanks.

    Provident 360,

    I think we’ll have a hard time finding denominational distinctions in Scripture.


  4. 4-1-2009

    I think the distinction is helpful on several levels, and I think the blurring of the two causes a lot of confusion in the modern church.

    Modern pastors are, in my opinion, treated in a way that scripture describes for itinerant workers. (This treatment includes financial support, often housing as well, etc.)

    It would be helpful for us to get back to an understanding of local vs. itinerant. We end up treating local like itinerant, and treating itinerant like…I don’t know how to describe it. But I think we’ve missed the boat on both of them.

  5. 4-1-2009

    I think the importance of the distinction is lost if we imagine local servants and itinerant servants as doing essentially the same things when in the same place.

    The work that we see itinerants doing in the NT–the resource they were for troubled churches, and the way in which they provided those resources–is missing today, and I think is in part the cause of the current state of the churches. Itinerants came, often in teams, and stayed typically for weeks or months. Paul (and it is reasonable to believe those he trained) refused funding from those he was serving at the time (no consulting fees). In Titus 1:5 they “set in order the things that were lacking” (what we might call today organizational development). They “ordain[ed] elders” (what we might call leadership development today).

    Today, this work is partially attempted by a variety of well-intentioned substitutes: seminaries, denominational officials, church consultants, conferences, seminars, even books, TV and radio. Have these proven adequate for what Paul called “the work?”

    I think we have too long lost a clear (if obscured in our traditions) NT church resource, that team of men designed to do the work that is now not being done at all, or not being done well.

    But will we break with our traditional views, and return to what we discover in the bible? Some will; some are.

  6. 4-1-2009


    Thanks for reading and commenting. Like you, I think the distinctions are important, and often blurred today. I’m just starting to think about some of the implications.


    I also think that local and itinerant workers will fill different roles in the church, but all for the same purpose – to strengthen/build up the churches. I’ve enjoyed the interaction with you, and I apprecaite your helping me think through these issues.