Mission Precision: Defining Missionary - Radical

Mission Precision: Defining Missionary

What is a missionary? Is every Christian a missionary? What is a missionary team, and what purpose does it serve? In this episode of the Radical Podcast on Romans 15:14–24, Pastor David Platt provides a biblical definition of missionary. By carefully defining missionary and missionary team, we should have a clearer understanding of our strategy to take the gospel and plant churches among the unreached.

  1. A missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church.
  2. A missionary crosses geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers.
  3. A missionary makes disciples and multiply churches.
  4. A missionary works among unreached peoples and places.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to turn to Mark 3.

We’re thinking about key terms when it comes to mission in the church. Terms like: “gospel,”  “evangelism,” “conversion,” “disciple,” and “disciple-making.” What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to make disciples? And another term: “calling”.

I want us to think about two terms together: “missionary” and “missionary team.” I think these terms are particularly important for me as I lead The International Mission Board (IMB) and we send out missionaries around the world.

I look at the broader evangelical world and I see a lot of confusion about this term and ways that this term is used unhelpfully. So, if you were to ask, “What is a missionary?” there are a variety of ways people might answer that question. Some people might say, “Well, every Christian is a missionary.”

You’ll hear a famous quote from Charles Spurgeon: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an  imposter.” He said that in a sermon from 1 Peter 2 on the preciousness of Christ:

“He who really has this high estimate of Jesus will think much of Him and  as the thoughts are sure to run over at the mouth, he will talk much of  Him. Do we so? If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep  your good news to yourself. You will be whispering it in your child’s ear. You will be telling it to your husband. You will be earnestly imparting it to  your friend. Without the charms of eloquence, you will be more than  eloquent: your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of His  sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an imposter. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the Kingdom of Christ or else you do not love Him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about Him.”

Along those lines, some might say, “Of course, God’s called every Christian to be a missionary. He’s called every Christian to tell of Christ.”

Others might say, “Well, wait a second. No, I thought missionaries were those who moved to  other countries, so that’s what a missionary is, a Christian who goes to another country.” That leads to the question: if a Christian takes a job overseas and they live in another country, do they classify as a missionary?

Some might say, “Oh, no, no, no. People need to be involved in ministry in a country overseas.” Some say, “Full-time ministry.” Others say, “Part-time ministry.”

Then it becomes a question of how many hours a week do you have to give to ministry in order to be classified as a missionary?

Other people differentiate missionaries from plain-old Christians based on the type of work they do and say, “Well, a missionary is focused on evangelism and church-planting. So then, simply going  overseas and working in an orphanage, for example, doesn’t make somebody a missionary.”

Or, what if I move to London to pastor an international church there just like I pastor the Church at Brook Hills here? Does that make me a missionary just because I’m doing it there instead of here? You might say, “No.” Others might say, “Maybe.” Still others might say, “I don’t know.”

So, is every Christian a missionary? Or, are just a few Christians missionaries? If it’s just a few— if it’s a select group—then what qualifies somebody to be in that select group?

Distinct roles of missionaries in Romans 15:14–24

Maybe a better way to put this is: is there a distinct role or function of a missionary that sets missionaries apart from other Christians in some sense?

Now, there’s a reason there is a lot of confusion around this term and it’s because Scripture doesn’t give us an explicit answer to who or what a missionary is. In fact, if you scan through the Bible,  you’ll discover that you won’t find the word “missionary” anywhere. It’s not in our English Bible primarily because it comes from the Latin word “mittere” which means “to send” and the Bible wasn’t written in Latin. It was written primarily in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).

There is a Greek word that corresponds closely to that Latin word: “apostoline” which means “to  send.” It corresponds with the word “apostle” that we see in the New Testament over 130 times. So, you might think, “Well, that clears everything up, then. We’ll just talk about how the Bible defines ‘apostle’.”

Unfortunately, that’s where we don’t get a lot of clarity because that word “apostle” has a range of meanings in the New Testament.

Look at Mark 3:13-15:

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he  desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he  also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send  them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.

Jesus sets these disciples apart and sends them out. That’s what the word “apostle” means: “sent  one.” There is similar language in Matthew 10 where we see the names of the apostles listed there. In  Luke 6, Jesus chooses 12 disciples and then He names them apostles.

Over and over again, Luke refers to that group as apostles, but it’s interesting when you get to the  Book of Acts, which Luke also authored, he starts to use the word “apostle” to refer to people outside those initial disciples. So first in Acts 1:26, Matthias is chosen to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. Then he continues referring to the 12 apostles in chapter after chapter until Acts 14 where, he refers to  both Paul and Barnabas as apostles which sets the stage for the Letters in the New Testament from Paul  where he repeatedly introduces himself as one, “…called to be an apostle.”

  • “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of  God…” (Romans 1:1)
  • “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the  Gentiles…” (Romans 11:13)
  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes to great pains to defend his apostleship.

Now, there are The Twelve, Paul, Barnabas and then there are a variety of other instances in the  New Testament where people are referred to as apostles:

  • James, the Lord’s brother, in Galatians 1:19
  • potentially Apollos in 1 Corinthians 4:6-9
  • Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25
  • possibly Silas and Timothy according to 1 Timothy 1:1 and 2:7
  • also possibly Andronicus and Junias in Romans 16:7

We know that some of these were called apostles in the sense that they personally encountered the Risen Christ and Jesus designated them as apostles with a unique role in the foundation of the church. That would specifically include The Twelve and Paul, but there’s no question this word “apostoline” and its form from the New Testament is also referring to other people as well. Including people who served as messengers sent out from the church for a particular task.

It’s these variations that has led to many views among biblical and missiology scholars regarding who or who doesn’t count as an apostle and in what way. It’s not just outside scholarship having discussion and debate, but also within the IMB, which I have the opportunity to lead. We walk through  with our leaders and ask, “How does the Bible define these key terms ‘missionary’ and ‘apostle’?” Not everybody in the IMB agrees on every point. So, you take a passage like Ephesians 4—which is an  important text on the church and leadership—and Paul says in verses 11 and 12:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

Some people think the reference to “apostles” in this verse is a reference to missionaries like we might think of apostolic missionaries today. Others, including me, think that’s a reference to the smaller group of apostles who had a unique role in laying the foundation of the church.

I could tell you why those other people are wrong and those other people could tell you why I am wrong. I could point to Bible-believing scholars who agree with me. Others could point to Bible-believing scholars that agree with them. My whole point in mentioning all of this is there’s often a variety of different thoughts that come into people’s minds when they think about who or what a missionary is.

Defining Missionary

This is the question that I’ve had to answer along with leaders around me in the IMB: how are we going to define “missionary”? Because there is absolutely a sense in which every Christian is a  missionary. If “missionary” like apostle means “sent one,” then without question, every single follower of  Christ has been sent out by Christ to make disciples of all nations.

We talked about this in the sermons about calling and disciple-making. A fundamental part of what it means to be a follower of Christ is to fish for men. To be a disciple of Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus. “As You sent Me into the world, so I  have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). So in that sense, every Christian is a missionary and I agree whole-heartedly with Charles Spurgeon.

At the same time, I also disagree with him because there is clearly evidence in Scripture of some  Christians who are uniquely sent out from the church for a particular purpose and as such, there’s a sense in which a Christian who moves overseas or to another context as a missionary is different than a  Christian who stays right where they live, making disciples in the context of the community around them.

That then leads to the question: what is somebody doing when they cross a geographic or a  cultural barrier for the spread of the gospel?

I want to give you a definition of “missionary” based on how we understand it in the IMB in a  way that I hope will be helpful in distinguishing that there is something unique that God does in certain people’s lives. Everybody is called to make disciples right where we live, but there is something unique that God does in certain people’s lives to call them to go beyond where they live to make disciples in another context for the spread of the gospel in the world and I want us to think about what that means and how Scripture shows us that picture.

Romans 15:14–24 summarizes how God calls us

Romans 15:14 is a passage that I think, better than any other, summarizes that sense in which  God, in His sovereignty and providence, calls out certain people for particular tasks of spreading the gospel specifically to those who have never heard the gospel. At the end of this Book, Paul is recounting  his ministry, why he’s done what he’s done, where he’s been, and what he’s doing now:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ  Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished  through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while (Romans 15:14-24).

In this picture, I want you to see a portrait of a missionary. Here’s a definition I want to put before you to think about. This is how we think about missionaries in the IMB and the goal is not to be  missionary police, “If you don’t qualify, if you don’t fit all these categories, then you should not call  yourself a missionary.” Again, we’ve talked about how there’s a range of meanings here. There’s a sense in which every Christian is a missionary, but here’s how we view and understand missionaries in the  IMB.

I want to encourage you to hang with me because, in the end, I will basically ask the question, “Is  God leading you to be a missionary in this way?” So what does “this way” mean? Think about a  missionary, a disciple of Jesus, set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church to cross geographic,  linguistic and/or cultural barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. That’s a pretty loaded definition, but let’s think about it and unpack it step by step.

A missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church. At the most basic level, a missionary is a “sent one” who goes out from the church in the power of the Spirit as a representative of Christ.

This is the picture we see in Acts 13. The Spirit sets apart Saul and Barnabas.

Now there were in the church at Antioch… While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3).

This was done in a way that was not done for everyone else in the church in Antioch. Most of the people in Antioch just stayed right where they lived, making disciples near home. The Spirit was setting apart Paul and Barnabas to go out from the church at Antioch on a particular task and that’s why they’re called apostles in Scripture. So here is this word from which we get “missionary.” They’re being “set apart” by the Holy Spirit and “sent out” from the church for a particular task. When we think  “missionary” we’re not just thinking about “Christian” or “church member.” Yes that, but there’s something more going on here because the Spirit sets some people apart and the church sends them out for a particular purpose.

This is where we, in our definition of “missionary” in IMB, add that this person is sent out from the church and affirmed by the IMB. So, just a quick background, the IMB represents 40,000 plus churches who have pulled together their resources for the spread of the gospel to those who have never heard it and as the Spirit sets apart different people from different churches to go out as missionaries, we have processes through which we discern with that church whether or not the Lord is indeed leading that person to another place. We have all kinds of assessment processes to walk through: Are you growing as a disciple? Are you giving your life to making disciples? Is the Lord calling you to do this in an Acts 13  kind of way?

Now, to do this, what would the Lord be calling you to do? That’s where the definition continues.

A missionary crosses geographic, cultural and/or linguistic barriers. A missionary crosses one or more of these barriers for the spread of the gospel. That’s what we see happening in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas leave Antioch and begin to travel to different cities and different regions so they’re crossing geographic barriers.

In Acts 22:21, Paul is talking about Christ’s call on his life and he describes it in both geographic and cultural terms. He says, “And He said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you [so there it is, you’re sent out]  far away to the Gentiles.” “I’m going to send you. You’ll be sent out “far away” to the Gentiles— geographic barriers. “…to the Gentiles” —across cultural barriers.

Romans 15:14–24 gives us an example of missionaries

That’s exactly what we see in Romans 15. Paul has gone to the Gentiles from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum and many different geographic places. There’s clearly a sense in which the apostle or the missionary is crossing barriers for the spread of the gospel. It could be any of the above:  geographic, cultural and/or linguistic.

I mentioned London. We have missionaries in London who have been sent out from churches to cross a geographic barrier, but not necessarily a linguistic barrier. So what makes someone a missionary is not just that they’re learning another language. That may or may not be involved. When Paul was on his missionary journeys, he wasn’t learning new languages, but he was crossing geographic and cultural barriers.

At the same time, I would say most IMB missionaries are crossing that linguistic barrier. They’re going deep in language and culture in other places in order to learn how to clearly communicate the gospel to certain people and places. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all those, but it’s going to involve at least one of those. Missionaries are set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church to cross geographic,  cultural and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team.

A missionary is part of a missionary team.

Missionaries serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities in the missionary task. We will cover that in more depth when we dive in deeper into the term “missionary team,” but this phrase and this definition of a missionary are really important because we see in Acts 13  that Paul and Barnabas went out as a team together and as we read throughout the New Testament, we see this picture of team.

We saw it with Jesus sending out His disciples. In Matthew 10 and Luke 10, He sent them out two-by-two and the picture we see in the New Testament is team. Paul and Barnabas going out. You get to the end of Acts 15 and you see Paul and Barnabas have split ways and Paul brings Silas on his team and then we see Timothy and others join in. So, Paul is almost always traveling with a team. In Acts 16,  Paul is discerning where the Lord is leading him and it’s not just him, it’s them.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been  forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8).

Now, it’s interesting when you get to verse nine in that chapter:

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was  standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:9-10).

Even when God is speaking to Paul as a missionary to direct, lead and guide him, it’s not just him. It’s “them” together; Paul working with different people as part of a team. Obviously, on that team,  different people had different roles and responsibilities. It’s really encouraging.

In the very next chapter, Romans 16:3-16, you will see a whole catalogue of different people playing different parts; interacting with Paul on his missionary journeys. In verse seven, Andronicus and  Junias are mentioned. Some believe it is a reference indicating they were apostles.

The reason I want to point that out is that it’s important to realize Paul was not the only missionary on the pages of the New Testament. There were different people with different roles and responsibilities in teams working together; crossing geographic, linguistic and cultural barriers for the spread of the gospel.

So in summary, the work of the missionary team involves evangelism, discipleship, church planting and/or leadership training, all aimed at seeing disciples made and churches multiplied.

Romans 15:14–24 teaches us a missionary makes disciples and multiplies churches.

What do missionaries do? The definition I gave earlier is: missionaries are set apart by the Holy  Spirit, sent out from the church to cross these barriers as part of a team that focuses on making disciples and multiplying churches.

That’s just an effort to summarize the missionary task. Missionaries don’t just go across barriers for the fun of it or just to live general Christian lives. They go with a specific purpose. They go to proclaim the gospel, to evangelize, to be witnesses for Christ, to proclaim the gospel to people. As people come to Christ, they want to see them grow in Christ. They’re making disciples. They’re baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded us.

As people are coming to Christ, missionaries gather them together into churches and, in those churches, they help raise up leaders and pastors for those churches. They train leaders to shepherd those churches and they work with those churches to train up missionaries to be sent out from those churches. All of that is involved in the missionary task. So, missionaries are going for a specific purpose.

Not just to do good deeds around the world. Yes, as followers of Christ undoubtedly that, but they have a specific focus. They want to evangelize, proclaim the gospel, disciple, draw people to Christ and help them grow in Christ; gather them together in churches, work toward healthy church formation and multiplication,  training up leaders for those churches. That’s what missionaries are doing in the context of teams.

People will ask me, “Do I need missionaries to focus on evangelism or church planting or  leadership training?” And the answer is: “Yes, all of the above.” Missionary teams evangelize, disciple,  plant churches, multiply churches, train leaders. All of those are core components of the missionary task.

Again, on a missionary team, different people might have particular gifts for this part of that task or that part of that task, but they’re all working together. Missionaries, in the context of a team, work together to see the church planted.

Picture Acts 14:22-23 as it describes the end of Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul and  Barnabas have gone to these different cities and have led people to Christ. They’ve gathered them together into churches. They’ve appointed elders for those churches and they’ve entrusted them to the  Word and the Spirit. This is what missionaries do around the world and this is what Paul is saying when  he says in Romans 15:19, “…from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the  ministry of the gospel of Christ.”

What he says next is interesting:

“and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,“Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who  have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:20-21).

Basically, Paul said, “I’ve fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem around to  Illyricum.” Does that mean everybody was saved from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum? The  answer is clearly “no.” Not everybody was saved, but people had come to know Christ in those places. They’d been baptized. They’d been gathered together into churches. Pastors had been raised up for those churches. They were carrying on ministry and so then (this is the heart of the missionary) the missionary is saying, “Once that work—that task—is done in a particular place, the missionary is looking to move on to places that have not heard the gospel.

A missionary works among unreached peoples and places.

Missionary teams plant churches and/or facilitate church planting among unreached peoples and places, entrust leaders of the church with responsibility for mission (i.e., equip them to shepherd the church and send out missionaries), then move on to plant the church among unreached peoples and places.

This is what is driving Paul. “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where  Christ has already been named…” (Romans 15:20). So the missionary is always moving continually toward seeing Christ preached where He’s not been named.

Now, this is a good point to come back to and think about “team” again, because it’s not just Paul who’s involved in this task in the New Testament. When we look in the pages of the New Testament, it’s  Paul alongside many other people and all of them are working together in different ways to see Christ preached where He’s not been named; to see disciples made and churches multiplied.

This is where I want to come back to the importance of team. No Christian was intended to live in isolation, so none of us as followers of Christ is intended to live the Christian life on our own. We need the body of Christ. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Hebrews 10 all make that clear. So, if no Christian was intended to live in isolation, then certainly no missionary making Christ known in another place where  He’s not been known is intended to do that in isolation.

In the New Testament, disciples on mission most often serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities. When we look in the New Testament, we see, at the very least,  biblical precedent for teams with Jesus sending His disciples out two-by-two, with Paul and Barnabas being sent out together, then Paul and Silas, and after that Paul and Timothy. All kinds of different people working together as a team. We see biblical precedent for this.

Scripture points to strong personal, practical, and pastoral reasons for disciples on mission not to serve in isolation from others. We need brothers and sisters. We’re not intended to live as lone rangers in the world as followers of Christ. Much less missionaries spreading the gospel of Christ to places where it’s not yet gone.

Evangelistic reasons exist for disciples to exalt Christ in the context of Christian community. Think about John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It’s our love for one another. There’s something unique about Christian community that’s a part of the display of the gospel in the world. Jesus said this in John 17 when He prays for unity in the church in the world, in a way that it will display the glory of the Father.

So, when we put all that together, we in the IMB have said, “We believe it is best for missionaries  to serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities in the missionary  task.” The reason this is so important is that when we think about missionaries, if we’re not careful,  we might just think, “Okay, the Apostle Paul, he’s a missionary. I’m just not. I don’t have the same gifts as Paul did. I don’t really have the same leadership abilities as Paul did, so maybe I’m not a missionary.” But we have to see on the pages of the New Testament all kinds of people doing all kinds of different things so we don’t get into too narrow a view of “missionary” and we lose sight of the importance of team.

When we talk about team in the IMB, we’re talking about:

A missionary team is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly, partnering with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places.

Different people on that team with different roles and different responsibilities in the missionary task saying, “We need others alongside us in this task,” and realizing, that team doesn’t just involve missionaries like IMB missionaries who are serving together. It involves national believers—especially as  people come to Christ, many times they become a part of the missionary team in a particular place. Or we come alongside other Great Commission partners in different places so, teams can be made up of all kinds of different people who are doing this work together.

The important thing is for us to prioritize being a part of team that’s doing this work together. I  want to encourage anybody who is wondering, “Is the Lord leading me to be a missionary?” not to think about missionaries as lone rangers. As you think about sending out missionaries from the church say,  “We want to send out missionaries in teams.” That doesn’t necessarily mean, in every single church, you’re going to have at least two who are going out from that church. That’s part of the beauty of what we get to be part of in the IMB by helping different churches. The Lord sets apart one person from one  church for the missionary task and another person from another church for the missionary task and we can bring them together on teams in different places around the world, but it’s important that we serve on teams.

Teams don’t have to just be comprised of the people who go out together. The reality is, as people come to know Christ—or there are Christians in a particular place—then they can be part of teams. National believers in different parts of the world or other Great Commission partners that we come alongside in the journey can be part of teams. The important thing is: missionaries are not intended to serve in isolation.

With that Scriptural picture in mind, I look at the church culture around me in North America and  I see millions of followers of Christ. I look at a world where there’s 2.8 billion people who have little to no knowledge of the gospel. Christ has not been named among them and I’m convinced that God is calling out multitudes of missionaries. By missionaries, I don’t mean every Christian.

This is why I want to be intentional to say, “Yes, there’s a sense in which every Christian is a  missionary.” But if that’s where we stop—if our understanding of the definition of “missionary” is that we’re all called to be missionaries right where we live—then we’ll never complete the Great Commission. Because there are 2.8 billion people who don’t have a Christian near where they live and unless some  Christians cross some geographic, cultural or linguistic barriers to take the gospel to them, they won’t ever hear the gospel.

They’ll continue to exist without the gospel and so, I pray continually that God would raise up more and more and more missionaries; men and women set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent out from the church to cross geographic, linguistic, cultural barriers as part of a team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached people and places where people have not yet been reached the gospel.

In light of this picture we see in Scripture, I would encourage every follower of Christ to ask the  Lord, “Are You setting me apart to do that?” Just ask Him. Ask Him now, today. Ask Him periodically in your life. It’s what I encourage pastors to do. Have an Acts 13 kind of moment in your church a couple of times a year when you just worship and fast and pray as a church and say, “Lord, here we are. Are You  setting apart anybody from this church right now?” Seek Him; listen to Him.

Then as you sense, “Maybe  He’s leading me to do this,” then walk through a process with your church. That’s the whole picture: set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church, the church laying their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sending them out. The church tended to be involved in this process of discerning with brothers and sisters. “Is the Lord leading me to do this?” Ask Him. Ask Him as an individual follower of Christ. Ask Him as a  church, “Who are You setting apart from us?” Then just be open to where He’s leading.

I pray that God will raise up multitudes more men and women, set apart by the Spirit, sent out from His church for the spread the good news where He’s not yet been named.

Let me pray toward that end.

Oh, God we see You orchestrating the calling of missionaries in the New Testament; setting people apart for the spread of the gospel in the world and we believe You are doing the same thing today.

You’re setting people apart for the spread of the gospel to those who’ve never heard it. So I pray that You would, in a Matthew 9:35-38 kind of way, raise up multitudes more laborers for the harvest field. That even in the hearts and lives of those who are reading this right now, You would trigger in their hearts and minds a desire to go as a missionary, if You are leading them to do this.

That You would grant them grace with the brothers and sisters around them, in the church where they are, to discern how You might be leading them. And God I pray that in the days to come, You would mobilize multitudes more men and women from Your church for the spread of the gospel where there is no church. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

How can we apply this passage to our lives?

Question 1

What’s wrong and what’s right about the following statement: “Every Christian is a missionary.”

Question 2

How is a missionary’s calling unique, given that all Christians should make disciples?

Question 3

What role does a church play in identifying who should (or should not) serve as a missionary? What are some of the dangers of ignoring the church in this process?

Question 4

What are some benefits of sending missionary teams rather than individuals?

Question 5

List some ways that Christians who do not sense God’s gifting or leading to pastor a church might be used on a missionary team?

A missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church, to cross geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. 

  • A missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church. 
    • At the most basic level, a missionary is a “sent one” who goes out from the church in the power  of the Spirit as a representative of Christ. 
  • A missionary crosses geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers.
    • A missionary crosses one or more of these barriers for the spread of the gospel.
  • A missionary is part of a missionary team. 
    •  Missionaries serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities in the missionary task.
  • A missionary makes disciples and multiply churches. 
    •  The work of the missionary team involves evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and/or leadership training, all aimed at seeing disciples made and churches multiplied.
  • A missionary works among unreached peoples and places. 
    •  Missionary teams plant churches and/or facilitate church planting among unreached peoples and places, entrust leaders of the church with responsibility for mission (i.e., equip them to shepherd the church and send out missionaries), and then move on to plant the church among other unreached peoples and places.

Missionary Team 

A missionary team is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly, and partner with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places. 

  • In the New Testament, disciples on mission most often serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities. 
  • Scripture points to strong personal, practical, and pastoral reasons for disciples on mission not to serve in isolation from others. 
  • Evangelistic reasons exist for disciples to exalt Christ in the context of Christian community. 
  • A missionary team is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly,  and partner with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places. 
  • Teams may be comprised of missionaries, national believers, and/or other Great Commission partners. 
  • There are multiple pathways through which missionaries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications, involves various types of training, necessitates appropriate measures of accountability, and includes different levels of financial and/or other support.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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!