A missionary is a disciple-maker, a spiritual parent, one who leads others to become Christ-followers. The local church is critically important as the training ground for becoming a missionary. Too often local churches have not fostered a culture of discipleship because making disciples has been relegated to “missionaries.”
The local church’s role is to call, equip, and send missionaries. It calls by preaching and teaching the Great Commission; it equips by giving its members the tools necessary to lead someone to Christ and help them grow; and it sends by providing a place for each member to use his spiritual gifts in the kingdom of God. A church that is not accomplishing these basic tasks or is passing them on to a Bible college is missing its purpose. A Bible college’s role is to provide more specific training. But a Bible college is not intended to replace the local church’s task of raising up disciple-makers.
The greatest missionary-sending congregation of all time was perhaps the Moravian community at Herrnhut, Germany. From 1733-1742, seventy missionaries went out from the community of 600. Many died young from persecution and difficult conditions. By 1760, after 28 years, 226 missionaries had been sent out, and the Moravians worldwide numbered in the thousands.
Why did this happen? (1) They considered missionary work to be a primary reason for their existence, and children were raised with that realization. (2) They had continuous revival for years, and the Holy Spirit kept their focus clear. (3) They encouraged study for missionary purposes (such as geography, culture, and language) more than training for secular careers. (4) Those called to foreign missions felt honored and blessed to make the sacrifice.
If a local church today had these characteristics, we would see similar results. Children get their views of mission work and secular work from the conversations and lifestyles of their elders.
Someone has said that God calls workers in the midst of revival. There’s a lot of truth to that. How many preachers and missionaries have been called during camp meetings, revival services, and missionary conventions?
I understand that revival is not a constant state of being. However, every church should have times when God visits with special manifestations of His presence, bringing conviction and grace upon the worshipers. At such instances God can touch the heart of a person with a call to Christian service.
Along with that, pastors should challenge their congregations with some frequency about the church’s role in fulfilling the Great Commission and confront their young people with the need for knowing and doing God’s will. Why should we encourage them to look for high-paying jobs when the harvest fields lack workers? Why not point them toward the most satisfying vocation of all – the building of God’s kingdom?
The Church is The Thing when it comes to revealing God’s manifold wisdom to the world (Eph. 3:10). As the church produces disciples who understand what God is up to in the world, the natural result is that the life and influence of that Body of Christ in one place will spread to other places. It’s a little like strawberry plants: plant a few, fertilize them well, and in a few seasons you will have runners (and strawberries) everywhere!
In Acts 13, missions resulted from a church that was praying, fasting, and listening. They heard God’s clear direction that He had a special, set-apart work for Paul and Barnabas. The same is true today. Missionaries are a by-product of a healthy, Spirit-filled church that is “on mission” with God. Being willing to release the gifts and talents to Kingdom work elsewhere is one hallmark of a sacrificial, Christ-centered congregation.
Missionary vision rests upon the pillar of the local church. That is biblical. Prayer support, moral support, and financial support come from this pillar. Mission organizations are to help the church, not take its place, by providing things like logistical help and cultural expertise.
Local churches can facilitate a deep interest and desire for missions – or they can ignore or sometimes even smother missionary concern. Get prospective missionaries (and Christian workers) involved in the church. The local church is a training ground for Christian workers. It is the first-in-line to recognize gifting and calling. I recommend that a potential missionary secure approval for going “to the field” from his spiritually-minded church. If a spiritually-minded church cannot recommend the potential missionary, any mission board would do well to do more serious vetting of the candidate. If the church is not spiritually-minded, then materialism and “better jobs” will negatively impact a potential worker.
The local church should be the seed bed of all missionary activity. It was to a local church in Acts that the Spirit spoke, separating Paul and Barnabas to be cross-cultural witnesses of a resurrected Christ (Acts 13:2).
The local church is to fast and pray that the "Lord would send forth laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38). This emphasis in prayer will help create a missionary focus within the community of believers.
The local church is to disciple and equip all believers to be witnesses, some of whom will leave the local church to serve in other settings (Ephesians 4:12).
The local church is to motivate and guide all believers under its leadership to a biblical understanding of their spiritual gifts, that they may find their divinely appointed places in ministry.
Finally, the local church is to send and support those whom God calls out of its membership to missionary posts of duty.