Why Put the Church at the Center of Missions?

Church Engagement Part Four

November 13, 2023 David M

Why do we think of the local church as the key to healthy biblical missions? Isn’t that kind of scary, edgy, and unnecessary? If mission agencies whom we trust are doing the job, why isn’t it acceptable for us to just delegate all the missions stuff to them? Here are ten simplified reasons to answer these honest questions:

  1. The local church is the instrumental means chosen by God to fulfill His purposes on earth. 
“... so that through the church [read this as “local churches”] the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:10-11, emphasis added) 
  1. The local church is both the means and the goal of the Great Commission.
No one can fully obey the Great Commission apart from the dynamic of the local church sending missionaries and a local church resulting from that missionary ministry. Witness the whole flow of the book of Acts, the recipients of the New Testament letters, and the obedience to “all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).
  1. The local church disciples, trains, and raises up Christian pastors and missionaries.
It’s healthy for a local church to train and mentor leaders for the church and its mission. That’s where men and women first get a vision and calling to vocational ministry (See Acts 13 and 16, 1 Tim. 3, and Titus 1).
  1. The local church should define its own mission focus and have a sense of ownership of its own missionaries.
Missionaries sent from the local church are an extension of that church’s organic life and ministry. The missionary’s doctrine, methodology, and goals should be guided by his or her sending church.
  1. The local church delegates services, but not ownership, of key expertise and experience to training schools, mission agencies, and other partners.
Every local church doesn’t have all the resources within itself to send, supervise, train, form a field team, etc. The church relies on outside resources to help with those things without giving up ownership. The analogy is the schooling and training of our children. Resources outside of the family are delegated choices, but we don’t give up ownership and shepherding of them to those service providers.
  1. The local church is foundational to the shepherding of the missionaries they send.
While a mission agency has some legal responsibility for the care of its members, the local church knows its people best, cares for them more deeply, and has ultimate responsibility for shepherding them before, during, and after their inevitable personal crises.
  1. The local church is more focused on genuine, long-term spiritual fruit than the missions agency.
The mission agency is, both by organizational pressure and cultural inclination, more interested in reportable statistics meeting some pre-defined measurable goal/s. The local church is more focused on shepherding the long-term faithfulness of their worker and trusting God for the church planting results. There is greater freedom to strive for excellence in language and culture acquisition to effect better communication of the Gospel and stronger indigenous disciples and church leaders.
  1. The local church has more freedom and depth of personal ministry resources to nurture the marriage and family health of their workers.
Mission agencies are well known for intervention or crisis management after the field crisis hits. The result is alarming rates of preventable attrition from the field. Local churches, on the other hand, are more regularly involved throughout the life, relationships, and work of their missionary. The church is better able and more committed to come alongside and bring creative solutions and field visits to nurture the couple and the family through their times of exhaustion, emotional crisis, relational need, etc. The church prevents attrition before the pressure ever grows to regrettable, irreversible consequences.
  1. A trustworthy sending church is a huge asset to the mission agency.
Not only does the agency benefit from the shepherding member care of their missionary staff, but the local church can function positively as guard rails for the agency's field team, ministry goals, and doctrinal integrity of the ministry.
  1. The local church gets the fruit and reward of their teamwork and ownership of missions ministry.
Note that Paul’s letters are addressed to local churches and local church leaders. In the introductory remarks, he commends them for the results of their faithful ministry, including the sending of missionary workers into fields beyond them. Check out the context and trajectory of the way he and the Apostle John use the word “to send forward” (propempo) to instruct the churches to send and shepherd missionaries:  Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:11, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6.
Read other articles in this series: Church Engagement
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David M
David C. Meade has been the founder, C-level officer, and consultant for a number of non-profit organizations. He has nearly fifty years of experience with church planting, pioneering field ministry among UPGs, and leadership in international and domestic NGOs. He has a strong biblical local-church-centric ministry philosophy and commitments, serving as an international outreach leader, pastor, and elder in local churches throughout his adult life. He loves teaching and mentoring church leaders and global workers preparing for service to meet the greatest need of the neediest places on earth.

David is an international business consultant, NGO executive, and international leadership trainer. He has a weekly podcast and has authored hundreds of insightful and practical blogs, articles, and several books. David is a well-received speaker and teacher. His experience in non-profit leadership and international NGOs informs his counsel for leaders and workers in challenging areas of service, analyzing corporate strategies, conflict resolution, crisis management, and event leadership. David is passionate about core values based on timeless principles, valuing people, and leadership training. He is an avid family man, reader, fisherman, and world traveler.