As pastor, you are the leader in developing and attesting the ministry fittedness of those in your congregation for ministry.
Here are thoughts that will fuel your understanding of this significant role, written for a prospective missionary candidate:
- Arguably the most essential step toward the mission field is developing the ministry skills in and through a local church setting that you’ll need on the field. The apostle Paul, the greatest missionary in church history, is a highly appropriate example of this truth.
- The church at Antioch observed Paul doing significant ministry in the church at Antioch for several years before he was released to the mission field (Acts 11.25-26). In fact, Paul was “in training” for as much as twelve years between the time of his conversion and “call” to missions and his actual departure for missionary work.
- Paul did not simply volunteer to go to the field. The elders set him apart through the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3). While this incident is not typical, and while it is not wrong to volunteer for the mission field, confirmation of “the call” does not happen in a vacuum. Michael Griffiths writes, “The most that an individual can do is express his willingness. Others must determine his worthiness. The individual may be free to go, but only his church knows if he is really fitted to go.” (in Get Your Church Involved in Missions)
- The local church attests to the veracity of God’s calling as it confirms your mix of gifts, skills, training and inclination. The Bible does not authorize missionary candidates to “lay hands on” themselves.
Let this sink in! It is important for you to understand and make it practical in your spiritual values and priorities:
- The local church is central to God’s plan for ministry and missions to all nations!
Here is a simple overview of biblical principles showing the centrality of the local church in understanding its priority for the task of missions.
- Those who received the Great Commission directly–the Apostles, their contemporaries, and their helpers–fulfilled the mandate by planting and organizing indigenous churches (see all the book of Acts!). They understood that the fruit of obedience to the Great Commission resulted in the establishment of new local churches everywhere.
- The Great Commission, as expressed in Matthew 28:16-20, cannot be fulfilled apart from a mutually committed group of believers meeting together for worship, teaching, and edification, under biblically recognized church leadership, and observing the ordinances given by Christ. i.e. – The natural product of completely fulfilling the Great Commission is local churches.
- The vast majority of New Testament epistles were addressed to local churches or leaders of local churches. This presumes the local church to be the nexus of the practice of Christian life and maturity.
- Jesus’ promise to build His church (Matthew 16:18) and biblical teaching regarding church discipline (see Matthew 18:15-20, and all of 1 Corinthians) is set in the context of the local church.
- Jesus’ messages to “the seven churches of Asia” (Rev. 2-3) speak to the significance and centrality of local churches in the perspective of Christ, some 60 years after the giving of the Great Commission.
- The 40+ “one another” commands of the New Testament all refer to the dynamic relationships of Christians within a local church context.
- The local church in Antioch is the scriptural setting through which the Holy Spirit worked to set apart the first New Testament missionaries. Clearly, in the outlook of Paul and Barnabas, the local church is intended as the initiator, the means, and the ends of Gospel missions ministry.
- Paul appeals to the local church of Rome to partner with him in his pioneering aspirations for the last unreached area of the Mediterranean basin, the Iberian Peninsula, “Spain” (Romans 15:18-29). The reason behind Paul’s letter to the Philippians is to thank them for their ongoing financial support and encouragement. His relationship to that local church as a partner in his missionary ministry was a source of great joy and enablement. The relationship and accountability to his first “sending” church at Antioch is a model for all missionaries.
- With Apostolic authority from Christ, Paul charges his colleagues, Timothy and Titus, to organize local churches and appoint spiritually qualified leaders in them. His goal, apparently, was to see indigenous local churches as the fruit of his and their work.
- John appeals to a church leader, Gaius, to continue his church’s good work of lavishly loving and providing for the needs of Gospel workers. Indeed, this responsibility is described as the privilege and duty of the local church body, as partners in the truth with missionaries. (3 John 5-8)
The local church validates and approves workers set apart for ministry. (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-28; 16:1-3; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:22; Titus 1:5-9)