by Kevin T. Bauder
The work of missions is the work of planting churches. This assertion is supported by the uniform pattern of the New Testament. When the churches of the New Testament commissioned and sent out a member, it was invariably either to plant churches or to assist someone who was planting churches.
Properly speaking, a missionary is a church planter. The missionary’s responsibility is to preach the gospel, baptize those who profess the gospel, train believers in the faith, and organize them into New Testament churches. The missionary’s responsibility is not complete until the churches are fully ordered and self-perpetuating.
In the Bible, the task of the missionary is to plant churches. This responsibility leads to a question: should churches ever send missionaries whose main ministry is something other than church planting? Specifically, should churches ever send missionaries who could not qualify for the office of bishop (for example, female missionaries)?
Some churches have answered this question quite firmly in the negative. They will not support Bible translators, teachers, physicians, or other individuals as part of their missions program. They will not send single women to the mission field. Their vision of missions is focused solely upon church planting, and they refuse to recognize anyone as a missionary who is not hands-on involved in the planting of churches.
Of course, other churches take the opposite approach. In their missions programs, those churches focus upon works of mercy. They support hospitals, agricultural works, instructional institutions, and food distribution, even when those works have no discernible connection to the planting of churches. This approach is obviously flawed in that it completely misunderstands the nature of biblical missions. But what about people who support the efforts of church planters, though they are not directly planting churches themselves?
The idea of missions is biblical, but the word missionary is not actually a scriptural term. Therefore, we cannot expect to find an exact biblical definition of “missionary.” Some people use the term to designate only church planters such as those who are seen in the New Testament. Others use the term in a slightly broader sense to include not only church planters but also other members of the team whose ministries support the work of church planting.
For example, no church can be firmly established where people do not have access to the Word of God. Giving the Scriptures to a people, however, may be an involved process. In some cases, the language must be reduced to writing, lexica compiled, and grammars prepared before the Scriptures can be translated. Then someone has to do the actual work of translation. The Bible must be printed and distributed. Even so, the best translation is worthless to illiterate people, so someone must take the responsibility to teach them to read and write.
Properly speaking, these activities are not church planting. The mission of the church is not to translate or publish or educate. But where people do not have or cannot read the Word of God, no church can be set on a sure foundation. Therefore, all of these activities may become indispensable to church planting under some circumstances. The linguist, the translator, the publisher, and the teacher must partner with the church planter if the work is going to be done.
The linguist, the translator, the publisher, and the teacher may not actually be planting churches, but they are providing vital assistance to the work. They may not possess the qualifications of a bishop (for example, they may be female), but the work they are doing is still directly connected to the work of missions. The connection is so direct that, without their involvement, the missionary enterprise would surely fail. Since the word missionary is not a technical, biblical term, no real reason exists not to call these people missionaries.
In other words, while the work of missions is the work of planting churches, that work may depend upon a number of auxiliary ministries. Since these ministries are indispensable to the work of missions, they may rightly be classified as an aspect of that work, and the people who pursue those ministries may rightly be called missionaries. Churches should feel free to support these “missionary helpers” or “auxiliary missionaries” as part of their missions program, for if no one supports them, then the work of missions will fail.
At the same time, missionary helpers are not exempt from the actual work of church planting. They may not be preachers, but they are still witnesses, and they can perform a variety of ministries within fledgling congregations. Their function really needs to be twofold. On the one hand, they will have a specific task to perform that provides basic support for the church-planting project. On the other hand, they will actually function as members of the church-planting team, taking over responsibilities that do not have to be performed by the primary church planter.
The need for missionary helpers varies from field to field. The more primitive fields may need Bible translators. The more developed fields may require specialists in establishing training institutions for national pastors. Publishers, physicians, educators, aviators, and facilitators all may have a role on the missionary team. The point is that the whole team needs to be directed toward the goal of establishing rightly ordered, indigenous, self-perpetuating local churches.
The 23 Psalme
George Herbert (1593-1633)
The God of love my shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed:
While he is mine, and I am his,
What can I want or need?
He leads me to the tender grasse,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently passe;
In both I have the best.
Or if I stray, he doth convert
And bring my minde in frame:
And all this not for my desert,
But for his holy name.
Yea, in deaths shadie black abode
Well may I walk, not fear:
For thou art with me; and thy rod
To guide, thy staffe to bear.
Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine,
Ev’n in my enemies sight:
My head with oyl, my cup with wine
Runnes over day and night.
Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my dayes;
And as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.
|This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.|