“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”– Matthew 28:19
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”– II Timothy 2:2
“Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”– I Timothy 5:22
The Great Commission has been given to the church, is the work of the church, and finds its fulfillment in the expansion of the church. Thus, biblical missions may be described as one church or collective of churches sending forth a biblically qualified missionary to plant and nurture another church of like faith and practice. It is for this reason the Great Commission or missions cannot be properly understood apart from the doctrine of the church. In fact, missiology could, and probably should, be studied as a subheading of ecclesiology rather than as an independent discipline. In the next few articles, we will briefly consider four primary roles of the local church in the Great Commission.
The Incubator and Training Ground of Missionaries
God can and has used the best and the worst of missionary biographies, mission conferences, and youth rallies to call men and women to the mission field. However, the true incubator of missionaries is the local church.
A biblical church is a powerful instrument in the hands of God. A leadership that has devoted itself to biblical theology, expository preaching, prayer, genuine conversion, discipleship, pastoral care, church discipline, and the training of elder-qualified men, will bear much fruit. In time, this fruit will pour beyond the boundaries of the church in the form of biblically mature men and women, who are called by God to go into all the world and make disciples.
One the most misunderstood and misquoted texts in the entire Bible is found in II Timothy 2:2. The text reads:
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Most often, this text is used to validate the ministry of “one-on-one” discipleship or the “multiplication of disciples” in the local church, campus ministries, and other parachurch organizations.1 However, although the multiplication of disciples is certainly a biblical and worthy ministry, this is not the meaning of II Timothy 2:2. Instead, the Apostle Paul is admonishing Timothy to train “elder qualified” men who can either pastor the church in Ephesus or be sent out to assist in churches and church planting efforts in other regions. It is similar to Paul’s explanation to Titus in the letter that bears his name, “For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.”2
The training of missionaries in the context of a biblical church and by biblically qualified elders is absolutely essential to the health of all our missionary endeavors. Why? Because the Great Commission is not merely about “making disciples,” but about gathering and organizing these disciples in biblical churches.3 Since the goal of our missionary endeavors is to plant biblical churches, the best training ground for the missionary is a biblical church.
The above conviction is firm. However, it does not prohibit the elders and local churches from working in close coordination with Bible institutes, Bible colleges, and seminaries. Although we live in an age of secularism and liberalism, God has reserved for Himself many institutions that have not bowed their knee to the Baals of this world, but still believe that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God. These institutions are filled with men who have spent a lifetime studying the Scriptures, languages, church history, archeology, missions, etc. It would be careless at best and sinful at worst for the local church and its elders to shun such a resource. However, in working in coordination with these institutions, the church and its elders must not simply “hand over” one of their flock to even the best of colleges and seminaries any more than a parent should “give away” his or her child to a tutor. Colleges and seminaries can be great aids to the church, but they are not the church, are not a substitute for the church, and cannot do the work of the church. Although there are godly and devout teachers who will have a great impact upon their students, they are not the pastors of those students.
Furthermore, the discipleship of believers is more than learning. It also involves the building and nurturing of Christ-like character in the community of faith (i.e. local church). Likewise, the training of missionaries is more than the acquisition of biblical knowledge. It is also the application of that knowledge in the planting and edification of the local church. How do you plant a church anywhere in the world? The same way you pastor a church. You do the work of an evangelist and you shepherd the people who are converted. This is best learned in the context of a biblical local church and its elders.
At times, seminaries and even mission agencies have been blamed for overstepping their boundaries and usurping the role of the church. However, at least part of the blame may belong to the local churches and their elders who have been negligent to fulfill their God-given roles.
- Parachurch – The Greek prefix pará means “to come alongside.” It thus denotes a ministry that comes alongside the church in order to help. For example, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “helper,” from the Greek word parákletos [pará = alongside + kaléo = to call], which literally denotes one who is “called alongside to help.”
- Titus 1:5
- From Paul’s missionary journeys and the multiple references to churches in the Epistles, it is undeniable that the Great Commission involves planting and nurturing biblical churches in the manner that Christ prescribed in the New Testament.
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer