Church Membership is for Every Christian, Especially Missionaries

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Church Membership is for Every Christian, Especially Missionaries

Vince Lombardi famously began coaching professional football teams by holding up a ball and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” It doesn’t matter the arena of life, there is something in us that resents being told the fundamentals. Yet just like in football, a firm grounding in the fundamentals is crucial to enduring faithfulness in the Christian life.

We never graduate from the gospel, and we never move on from the local church. Every Christian needs the fellowship of the saints, intentional discipleship, consistent encouragement, and faithful teaching. Even if you’ve moved across the world to spread the gospel, you need the local church. Missionaries need to believe and act like they understand the command to commit to a local church applies to them.

Missionaries Need a Local Church Where They Live

When I speak of missionaries needing to be church members, I am not speaking about membership in a sending church. Missionaries need meaningful membership in the place where they live. They need a local church where they can commit and submit to those around them.

A sending church can’t really be to a missionary what the local church is meant to be to its members.

Many sending churches continue to call their missionaries “members,” but a sending church can’t really be to a missionary what the local church is meant to be to its members. I’m thankful for the ways that sending churches continue to support missionaries, but missionaries need believers right where they are. The local church is a group of fellow Christians who are committed to regularly gathering together and encouraging one another to persevere (Hebrews 10:25). That requires proximity, vicinity, and intimacy that the sending church can’t provide.

Missionaries as People

Missionaries have chosen to live lives full of sacrifice. Simply managing regular, everyday life responsibilities are more difficult than they are in your native country. They live far from family and many will experience a sense of loneliness and constant reminders that they don’t belong.

Some will experience the discouragement that comes from desiring marriage when there are no single Christians in your city. Others will face the hardship of raising children who grow up strangers to their own grandparents.

On top of that, there is a daily anxiety of desiring to see people saved yet living in a place with few or no Christians. All of this on top of the self-imposed questions of worth and how suffering causes you to wonder whether you’re cut out for this life.

Missionaries face all kinds of challenges––and they don’t have extra powers that normal people lack. This is to say, they, just like anyone else, need encouragement. This is one reason why we are commanded to not neglect the gathering of the saints: to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Missionaries as Christians

It may not be possible to prove from the Bible that missionaries are supposed to join local churches, but the Bible is very clear on the importance of the church for Christians. Assuming missionaries are Christians, they should ordinarily pursue the ordinary means of grace Christ has provided for his people.

Missionaries need help to follow Jesus. They need to submit to the authority of a local church that will help them follow Jesus faithfully. They need to serve a body (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4–8), pray and sing with saints (1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19), and hear God’s Word preached (1 Timothy 2:17).

They need to commit themselves to the ordinary means of grace that God has promised to use to bring about spiritual fruit in the lives of his children. Like newlyweds who need ongoing accountability, missionaries should continue to receive the help and blessings of a local church.

Missionaries as Examples

Missionaries need to consider that they are to be examples of Christian maturity to young converts. In my context, there are countless professing Christians who have learned from what their missionary mentors did, rather than what they said. The missionaries often told them that they, the new believers, needed to be a part of the church.  But since their models and mentors did not gather with any church, these young believers saw that it wasn’t that important.

If someone was watching me in order to learn what a mature faith looked like, what would they see as important?

If you, as a missionary, want to have a positive impact on the kingdom in your country, you need to ask yourself this question: if someone was watching me in order to learn what a mature faith looked like, what would they see as important? What would they miss?

I know missionaries who have had a tremendous positive impact on indigenous Christianity––far beyond the people who heard them speak––simply by keeping that basic Christian commitment to regularly gather with and submit to a church in their city.

God Will Not Call Us to Disobedience

Missionaries should be careful not to believe they will be more effective if they are disconnected from the local church. Why are we quick to assume that our situation is unusual? So often I hear people raise the challenges of life overseas as a reason why missionaries don’t need to bother with joining a local church, but obedience to the Lord will never include disobedience to the Lord.

God has given the Great Commission to the church, and where he calls, he provides.

Caleb Greggsen pastors an English-speaking church in Central Asia.

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!