Missions consists of a curious relationship between a pastor and the local church he serves, a missionary, and, in most cases, a mission agency. Before we can address accountability, it is necessary to delineate each party’s responsibilities and their relationships with each other.
Local Church Responsibilities
The Acts 13 account of the sending out of the first missionaries shows that the local church has at least three different roles in the selecting and sending out of missionaries.
The first sending church was strong in service. The words “prophets and teachers” indicate the presence of proclaimers, or evangelists, and trainers, or pastor/teachers. The activity of reaching and training converts is the ongoing work of the local church. It is foolish to believe that any church will be inherently good at foreign missions if it is not first engaged and effective in proclaiming and training at home. A perusal of the names of the “church staff” at Antioch shows a wide diversity in origin, race, and culture. This diversity demonstrated a healthy church ready to reach out beyond her borders. The Antioch church was effective in reaching and teaching men, but her priority was her service directly to the Lord in worship, prayer, and fasting.
Because the first sending church was active in service it was also sensitive in spirit. While they were busy aiming their service at the Lord, the Holy Spirit personally called them to be active in missions. He directed them to send His choice of servants to the work He would direct them to do. While it is appropriate to quiz a missionary candidate on his academic preparation for the field, the local church’s first responsibility in selecting missionaries is determining the call of God on their lives. Fred Moritz, the Executive Director of Baptist World Mission, states it this way:
The local church must discern the character, or qualifications of the missionaries for the work to which they are called. These biblical qualifications (I Tim. 3:1–7; II Tim. 2:24–26; Titus 1:7–9) will become evident as the prospective servant of the Lord works in his local church.
Note the statement made by the Holy Spirit: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Through the words “separate me” He indicates the intimacy of the relationship involved in this process. The word “separate” demonstrates the costly distance between the sending church and the missionary as the missionary leaves for the field. Calling Barnabas and Saul by name shows the reality of a personal call to missions, and the words “for the work” show a call to a specific work. He establishes Himself as the Sovereign Lord of the Harvest with the words, “I have called them.” Though the statement implicates the prospective missionary, it is directed at the church. A sense of awe and gravity is placed on the local church by this statement.
The last aspect of the role of the sending church is farreaching in its responsibility. The Antioch church was sacrificial in scope. Note that the first step in the sending process is often considered the last hope for many — they “fasted and prayed.” The prayer of the local church at home is critical to the success of the missionary on the field. Paul is often heard pleading with the churches, “Brethren, pray for us.” He urges the Romans to agonize in prayer for him (Rom. 15:30, 31). The missionary needs prayer for protection, effectiveness, and ability to return in God’s timing to encourage the sending church through a report. Then there is the necessary step of commissioning — they “laid their hands on them.” Commissioning a missionary is choosing to approve and determining to meet the logistical needs from the home base. It is imperative not to proceed into this awesome responsibility lightly. It is ultimately each local church’s job to see to the accountability of their missionaries. Last is the loving step of sending — “they sent them away.” Sending a missionary to the field is in part committing to meet the financial obligations.
Acts 13 teaches that the missionary has at least three different responsibilities too. Each missionary who answers the call must first be strong in service in his local church ministry prior to going to the field. “The missionary’s call will reveal itself in his desire for the work, his evident ability for the ministry, his acceptance by the people of God, and his fruitfulness in the work” as he works in his local church.
The missionary must also be sensitive in spirit. He must first discern that the Holy Spirit is calling him, and then he must discern the specifics of what the Holy Spirit is calling him to do. The emphasis is not so much on a place and position as on an identification of goals and objectives. Some will see the Biblical mandate for church planting and will define church planting and the training of future church leaders as their main goals and objectives. Others will sense God calling them to auxiliary roles. It is imperative for each missionary to identify these goals and objectives so that each church can evaluate them before deciding if they want to become involved in their ministry. It is important to note that discovering the will of God is most often a process rather than an event. Paul and his company were en route to the field when God gave them the Macedonian call. Their goals and objectives did not change, but the place certainly did. While missionaries have a responsibility to their supporting churches, we as the supporters must give them the ability to be flexible in following the leading of the Lord.
Finally missionaries must be sacrificial in scope. They face the sacrifice of leaving home and country and the sacrifice of living in and for the ministry to which God has called them. The sacrifice of retaining the accountability to their sending churches through consistent reporting of the activities and results of the ministry is vitally important. Missionaries are sent; therefore, the missionary goes to the field under the authority of his local church. Though missionaries must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit given personally to them, they must never forget the partnership they have entered into with those who send them. They must retain the accountability such a partnership entails and expect God to lead them both in unanimity.
Mission Agency Responsibilities
Recently a young man told me that if he were going to the mission field he wouldn’t use a mission agency. My response to him was that I probably wouldn’t support him. The responsibilities that are put on the sending church are almost more than most small churches can effectively perform. Though the mission agency’s activity is primarily toward the missionary, its primary service is to the local church.
Through the principles and policies of a mission agency there is “an understood contract between the mission agency and the local church on one hand and the missionary on the other. The mission agency is accountable to the churches to maintain its stated positions and philosophies, and to make sure that the missionaries function in the same manner.” The mission agency also “serves the local churches in the handling of funds,” and “in the appointment process, certifies to the churches that the missionaries it appoints are qualified for missionary service.”
From the time I have been aware of missions, I have heard complaining about “the system.” From deputation to ongoing accountability, there are perceived problems that folk would like to fix. Without moving to a denominational approach it is difficult to imagine changing “the system.” Every church has individual responsibilities to God and will have to answer to Him for the way they spent their missionary dollars. Though I may not like the way a particular board or missionary does what it does, it is not appropriate to assume I could or should be able to change them.
All of us know of a missionary who doesn’t seem to be very successful, and we may wonder whether he has the gifts to do the work — or even whether he is working. Frankly, the same can be said of many of us pastors. Dr. Moritz wrote to me in recent correspondence, “Missionaries face a lack of success for several reasons. There may be some who should not be on the field, but others labor in incredibly difficult places. I suppose many would have called Carey and Judson ‘unsuccessful’ in their early years.”
For the last several years I have had the privilege of serving on the board of Baptist World Missions and have learned much from the godly men on the board. While there are other boards doing an equally good job, I have grown to appreciate the help BWM is giving to its local churches in this area of accountability. There are annual reviews by field representatives, and every three to six years each missionary meets with a subcommittee of the board. When a problem arises, the first response of the board is to call the pastor of the sending church and ask for his attention to the problem. I am learning the delicate balance of the practical importance of a mission agency helping with the Biblical responsibility placed on the local church.
There are cases where change is imperative, but like my daddy used to tell me, “The only person you have the ability to change is yourself.” As we review the responsibilities that God has placed on each of us in this area of missions, let’s each renew our commitment to the responsibilities that fall on our shoulders, rather than blaming the system. I find that though I am only a little cog in the big machinery of God’s Kingdom, I am a part. As I focus on my responsibilities and trust Him to use me to meet those responsibilities, I can make a difference. May God use each of us in our little areas of service to do our part, and may He use all of us collectively to accomplish His goal in world evangelism.
Jeff Musgrave formerly served as a pastor in Colorado. He is currently serving as the director of The Exchange, a soul-winning and evangelization ministry. He is also a member of the FBFI Board of Directors.
(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)
- The Local Church Helping Missionaries, an outline by Dr. Fred Moritz, Executive Director of Baptist World Mission (www.baptistworldmission. org). [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Mission Agencies — Scriptural? Necessary?, an outline by Dr. Fred Moritz, Executive Director of Baptist World Mission (www.baptistworldmission. org). [↩]