When we’re considering the missionary task, we need to feel a sense of urgency. There are at least 3.2 billion people who are unreached by the gospel. At the same time, the goal of the missionary task is not simply for every person to hear the gospel, but for people of every language, ethnicity, and nation to profess faith in Christ and walk with lifelong faith in Christ.
How do we do this? By establishing churches that send and support missionaries who are committed to planting new churches. The local church is actually vital to the missionary task.
Consider an example from Paul’s epistles. In Titus 1:5, Paul tells Titus that he left him in Crete to put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town. These elders are pastors or shepherds that would be examples of godly character and teachers of sound doctrine. Titus’ task in Crete is essentially to gather Christians under the authority of elders in local churches.
In 2 Corinthians 8, we learn that it was the churches who appointed Titus to travel with Paul (2 Corinthians 8:19) and his primary work with Paul was to serve churches in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:23). Before Titus was sent to Crete, he was appointed by churches and served churches on his journeys with Paul. Even after his time in Crete, he was sent to serve churches in Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:11).
From beginning to end, the local church is vital to the missionary task. Local churches are authorized to send and are responsible to support missionaries. Missionaries should belong to local churches – before and during their time on the field – and should support work to establish new churches.
Local Churches Affirm and Send Missionaries
Why do candidates need to be affirmed by their local church? Why can’t aspiring missionaries be sent by sending agencies alone? In Acts 13:1–3, the local church is the one that affirms and sends out missionaries. Because missionaries are sent by churches, these churches are responsible to evaluate their trustworthiness.
The local church has the unique perspective of observing the character of the missionary over a long period of time
Churches know candidates better than any training center or missions agency could. They are much more qualified to evaluate their biblical knowledge, character, and skills. Missions agencies and training programs should act as support organizations that are focused on providing logistical help, cross-cultural training, and connections on the field. The local church has the unique perspective of observing the character of the missionary over a long period of time.
Sending Churches Support Missionaries
Local churches are responsible for sending missionaries, but they also play a vital role in supporting the missionaries that they send out. Earlier this year, a missionary sent out by my local church came back to visit us. During the month that she was in town, I watched as members of our church invited her into their homes, encouraged her, and gave her opportunities to share about the work that she is doing in Central Asia.
At the Radical Training Center, sending churches will talk with aspiring missionaries at least every other week to track their progress and identify future areas in which they would like to work in. Sending churches can have a joyful opportunity to support missionaries as they share the gospel among the unreached in hard-to-reach places around the globe.
Missionaries Belong to Local Churches
However, the local church’s role is not limited to sending and supporting missionaries. Every missionary, who is able, should belong to a local church because the missionary task is inextricably tied to the establishment of churches (Ephesians 3:10).
Every missionary, who is able, should belong to a local church because the missionary task is inextricably tied to the establishment of churches
Before missionaries are sent overseas, they must understand what a healthy church is and have experienced that for an extended period of time. During the Radical training program, students will be expected to be a part of a healthy English-speaking church. Once missionaries are sent out, they should seek to join or start a healthy local church.
If you’re an aspiring missionary, consider joining a local church in your community before moving overseas. Submit to the oversight of elders, surround yourself with a godly community, and serve with humility and eagerness.
Missionaries Establish Healthy Churches
Ultimately, church planting is central to the missionary task. Not every missionary is a church planter, but all missionaries should be committed to participating in or launching healthy churches. The goal is not rapid multiplication, but faithful presence among the unreached. In short, the goal is to establish healthy churches.
Thankfully, the Bible is not silent about how churches should be ordered. In Hebrews 10:24–25, the author encourages us to consider how to stir one another up to love and good works and reminds us not to neglect regularly gathering with one another. In Acts 14:23, elders are appointed to oversee and care for the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 shows us that these elders should be above reproach, faithful to their wives, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and able to teach.
The missionary task is the charge to establish healthy churches. Whether you’re a missionary who goes overseas as an evangelist, to help with crisis relief, or medical care, consider how you can help these new believers grow together by regularly gathering in local churches (Ephesians 4:15–16).