and I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting [me] into the ministry,
1 tim 1:12
there can be no doubt paul was used mightily by the Lord. his conversion was dramatic and his transition from persecutor of christians to preacher of the gospel is inspiring. however it was not always as easy or smooth as we may believe. paul was highly zealous and devout, even before his conversion.
circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of israel, of the tribe of benjamin, a hebrew of the hebrews; concerning the law, a pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
and I advanced in judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
but even though he was used remarkably by the Lord, he was not entrusted with this marvelously ministry by the church, or even by the Lord, immediately. In galatians 1, paul writes that following his conversion, he did not go immediately to the church and present himself for the ministry. indeed, the church mistrusted him in the beginning:
and when saul had come to jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.
of course eventually, when barnabas brought him before the elders, they did trust him and he was able to preach in jerusalem and was eventually dispatched to tarsus, by the church in jerusalem to preach there (acts 9:27-30). however, paul's letter to the galatians gives us an idea of what transpired between his conversion and that time when the apostles trusted him enough to accept him into the ministry:
but when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that i might preach him among the gentiles, i did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but i went to arabia, and returned again to damascus.
then after three years i went up to jerusalem to see peter, and remained with him fifteen days. but i saw none of the other apostles except james, the Lord's brother.(now concerning the things which i write to you, indeed, before God, i do not lie.)
afterward i went into the regions of syria and cilicia. and i was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. but they were hearing only, "he who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." and they glorified God in me.
now i do not know exactly how the testimony in galatians corresponds to the chronology in acts, where the time gaps are found, but i do know that the first time paul actually talks about coming before the church with barnabas is at least 14 years from his time of conversion (possibly 14 years from after he returns from arabia, depending on how you interpret it):
then after fourteen years i went up again to jerusalem with barnabas, and also took titus with me. and i went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means i might run, or had run, in vain.
its my inclination to believe that it is only after this that paul was sent to tarsus to preach, because that time in tarsus, he was likely preaching to his own people-the jews-and it says in gal 2:2 that they (the elders) heard of the gospel that he preached to the gentiles. but this is my uneducated opinion (at this point).
in any case, paul sought the Lord heavily and was faithful with the ministry that the Lord did give him for several years before he was anointed and sent out as a missionary by the church in acts 13. all of this to say that if paul, one of the most effective preachers of Christ's gospel had to put many faithful years into the 'small things' before he was set apart as a missionary, how much more must we? this is not to say that Christ did not trust him or he was not capable to be a minister immediately. i don't know that, nor do i know what ministry he did have before he went out to the surrounding areas--although we do know that the church in judea experienced peace, was encouraged by the Holy Spirit, grew in numbers, and lived in the fear of the Lord (acts 9:31)--but we can see that the model of the servant faithful in "a few things" and then trusted with many (mt 25:14-23) continues even here. or so i have discovered thus far...