Churches and the Missionary Task–Exit (and Partner)

The work of the gospel does not end until Jesus comes again.  As churches partner with missionaries across the globe to advance the Kingdom of God, the goal is to complete the missionary task among each people group and place. 

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Why Exit?

Missionaries sent out by local churches enter unreached and underserved places for gospel impact.  These missionaries evangelize unbelievers and then disciple those who come to faith in Jesus.  From these new believers, healthy church formation occurs along with leadership development.  Lastly, in the missionary task, the missionary exists that people group and place as partners with the new healthy church to repeat this process elsewhere.   

In fact, “an IMB missionary team’s goal is to carry out the missionary task among each people group or place and then hand off the job of leading the churches to those national leaders they have trained. . . . Following the example of the apostles, we continue to watch and advise after we have physically moved on to another work.  Yet, from the very beginning of our work, our aim is to work ourselves out of a job.  We begin the missionary task with exit in mind” (D. Ray Davis, “The Missionary Task: Working Yourself out of a Job”).

When to Exit

The decision to exit is no small matter.  The criteria for exiting the work among a people group and place corresponds with the missionary task (IMB Foundations):

  1. Evangelism—Are indigenous believers and churches carrying out faithfully and effectively the work of sharing the gospel within this people group or place?
  2. Discipleship—Are the churches within this place or people group faithfully and effectively discipling the believers whom God has entrusted to them?
  3. Church Planting—Are the churches within this people group or place displaying the twelve characteristics of a healthy church? Are these churches faithfully planting other healthy churches?  Are they able to sustain church planting on their own?
  4. Leadership training—Do these churches have trained leaders, and do they have systems in place to continue to train leaders in an effective and biblically faithful way?
  5. Missionary involvement—Is the church effectively training and sending cross-cultural missionaries to other people groups and places?

For further consideration on exiting, missionaries must ask the dependency question: “Would our continued presence foster dependency on the part of local churches who are capable of fulfilling all of the tasks of a healthy church movement but who are reluctant to do so out of habit or out of deference to us” (IMB Foundations)? 

Leaving one location in order to repeat the missionary task in another location boils down to healthy local churches being self-led and self-financed in order to evangelize the lost, disciple new believers, plant new churches, develop their own leaders and send out missionaries cross-culturally. 

Until He Comes Again

Just as the Apostle Paul exited certain peoples and places to carry the gospel to new peoples and places, missionaries do the same today.  Like Paul, they do so not to abandon those prior peoples and places but to continue a new phase of partnership with them in order for the Great Commission to be completed.  After all, the work is not done until Jesus comes again. 

Churches and the Missionary Task–Leadership Development

Importance of Leadership

Influential speaker John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. Whether one agrees with Maxwell or not, no leader would deny the importance of leadership.  The Bible speaks about the importance of leadership through many examples.  However, what is most striking about biblical leadership is not competence, but character.  Much of what is discussed concerning leadership these days seems to revolve around one’s competence or ability.  While ability is not unimportant, it is certainly not most important.  The character of a leader, especially one leading the Lord’s church, is of first importance. 

As I have discussed the missionary task over the last four months, I come to the fifth task of a missionary—leadership development.  As missionaries enter a new location in need of the gospel, they evangelize unbelievers.  When unbelievers become believers, the missionary is tasked with discipling those believers and then forming new believers into healthy churches.  From those healthy churches, leadership development becomes necessary for that local church to thrive. 

“Biblical leadership is essential to the well-being of every local church, and God calls different people to lead in different ways” (IMB Foundations).  As missiologist D. Ray Davis explains, “In the experience of IMB missionaries, leadership development has proven to be a pivotal element in the survival of new churches.  Churches simply need faithful, well-trained pastors in order to thrive and advance Great Commission work” (Davis, “The Missionary Task: Training Faithful Leaders”).

The qualifications of biblical leadership for pastors/elders/overseers (as these words are used interchangeably in the New Testament) are most clearly seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  Of these verses only one qualification speaks of ability—able to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and able to exhort and refute with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).  The rest of these qualities highlight the character of the pastor.  Thus, character matters. 

IMB Foundations helpfully breaks down pastoral qualifications into three categories: what the leader must be, what the leader must know, and what the leader must do.

Be

Aptly summarized from both passages, Paul says that the pastor must be “above reproach” as God’s leader in the church (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).  Education makes not a pastor.  Position in the community makes not a pastor.  Popularity makes not a pastor.  First and foremost, the requirement for pastoral leadership is character.  Pastors must be men of God who walk daily with Jesus.  His life must exemplify an unwavering commitment to God and His Word.  Before he can serve as a pastor, he must be a pastor in his character. 

Know

Paul tells Titus that a pastor must hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  In order for pastors to fulfill Paul’s words here, knowing the Word is essential.  Pastors are to have a “high level of biblical and theological knowledge.  Theological training of church leaders should be geared to the educational levels of those being trained” (IMB Foundations).  Whether formal or informal, theological training of church leaders helps ensure right doctrine is being taught and wrong doctrine is being refuted. 

Do

The task of the pastor can be summarized as feed, lead, and protect.  The term “pastor” simply means shepherd.  Interestingly, Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).  Shepherds have many tasks, not least of which is to feed the flock.  Pastors do this through the solid exposition of God’s Word week in and week out. 

Pastors are also to lead.  As Paul explains to young pastor Timothy, just as a pastor must manage his own house well, he must also manage (lead) the church entrusted to his care (1 Tim 3:4-5).  Leadership in the home and in the church is one of example through humility.  As the ultimate example of humble leadership, Jesus demonstrated this by serving his disciples (washing their dirty feet) rather than by domineering over them (John 13:1-20).  Pastors were never meant to be superstars, but super servants.

Pastors, lastly, protect.  Paul’s words to the elders of the church of Ephesus provide clarity on the role of pastors protecting the church (Acts 20:28-31).  In a similar way that a father is tasked with protecting his family from danger, pastors protect the flock entrusted to their care.  They protect the teaching of the church, the morale of the church, and the unity of the church. 

The Missionary Task Continues

As missionaries reach new peoples and places with the gospel and churches are planted, biblical leaders are necessary for those churches to thrive.  For the missionary task to progress, developing leaders is critical for the multiplying of churches and reaching of unreached peoples. 

Churches and the Missionary Task–Healthy Church Formation

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I remember when my first child was born over 21 years ago.  It seems like only yesterday.  She stole my heart in that sterile delivery room with her red hair and chubby cheeks.  As I write this blog, my baby is in labor to give birth to our first grandbaby.  The birth of a child is unlike any other experience.  Giving birth to a child is only the beginning.  There is so much we want of our children. So much that we want them to be.  Ultimately, the goal is to nurture and raise our kids to live for Jesus. 

Church planting in the New Testament is like giving birth.  As we look at the book of Acts, the gospel spreads as churches are birthed—that is, planted in new locations. Paul, the main church planter in Acts, enters a location without the gospel, evangelizes unbelievers, disciples those who come to faith in Jesus, gathers those believers into congregations, raises up leaders, and then exits that place to repeat the process all over again.        

The strategy for gospel advancement in the book of Acts is church planting.  In other words, God uses the formation and multiplication of the local church to spread the gospel of Jesus locally and globally.  While the aim of the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations, how this is accomplished is through the formation of healthy churches.  Where churches do not exist, missionaries must enter those locations, share Jesus, and begin making disciples in order to form healthy churches.  The task of the missionary is summarized as entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development, and exit. 

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“A church is a group of baptized believers in Jesus Christ who are committed to each other to be the body of Christ to one another and who meet together regularly to carry out the functions of a biblical church” (IMB Foundations). What is it that we want of our churches? What do we want them to be?  Though not exhaustive, IMB Foundations offers 12 characteristics that describe what a sustainable church should be.  Whether the church is new or established, these characteristics are guides for what every church should strive to be.

  1. Biblical evangelism—people come into the church because they have heard and responded to the full gospel message.
  2. Biblical discipleship—members of the church intentionally invest in one another’s lives to grow to maturity in Jesus.
  3. Biblical membership—members are only those who give credible evidence of repentance and faith in Jesus, and who have been baptized as believers.
  4. Biblical leadership—God gives two offices of the church: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.
  5. Biblical preaching and teaching—weekly teaching of the Word is essential for the church and consists of the exposition and application of Scripture.
  6. Biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—believers are baptized by immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Lord’s Supper is observed regularly by the church to remember and celebrate Jesus’s death, resurrection and promised return.
  7. Biblical worship—a healthy church offers to God worship as prescribed in His word so that the church sings, prays, reads, and hears the word.
  8. Biblical fellowship—members of the church love each other, encourage one another, and build each other up.
  9. Biblical prayer—the church prays both privately and corporately.
  10. Biblical accountability and discipline—members hold one another accountable to the word and leaders of the church watch over the flock entrusted to their care.
  11. Biblical giving—members give freely of their resources for the support of the church in the making of disciples.
  12. Biblical mission—the church is organized to make disciples locally, but also to do so among the nations.

The birth of a child is unlike any other experience.  New parents look forward to the beginning of their child’s life, but the goal is not to stay in the hospital after birth or even for one’s child to remain an infant.  The goal of any parent is to nurture and raise their child to maturity.  The New Testament church has the same goal.  These 12 characteristics are like a guidebook for new parents on what a church is called to be.  May the Lord send out and use your church to multiply many more churches with these characteristics. 

Churches and the Missionary Task: Discipleship

The aim

Missiologists often say, “God’s church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, God’s mission has a church.”  The aim of the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16-20).  This Great Commission aim is the reason every church exists.  Discipleship is third in the missionary task (entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development, and exit).  While entry and evangelism are essential components of the missionary mandate, the goal is not simply to be present or even to share Jesus only.  The objective is to help believers mature in the faith. 

“A disciple is more than a person who has mastered a set of information, or practices a set of spiritual disciplines and shares the gospel.  Discipleship involves the intentional transformation of heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose. . . .  The essential tools for discipleship are the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God” (IMB Foundations). 

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The plan

Churches who make long-term commitments to partner with missionaries in the missionary task can play a vital role in the process of disciple-making through these essential tools.   But like anything in life, a goal without a plan to achieve it results in an unrealized goal.  IMB mobilizer D. Ray Davis shares the importance of a healthy plan for these essential tools of discipleship (“The Missionary Task: Making Disciples Who Make Disciples”). 

When it comes to the Word of God, IMB has found that new believers need to grasp three aspects of the Bible—the big picture of the Bible (creation, fall, redemption, consummation); effective Bible study (method); and major themes (e.g., nature of God, sin, holiness, judgment, salvation, etc.). 

As for the Spirit of God, new believers need to know that God’s Spirit alone brings transformation in the believer’s life through the Word of God. Walking in the Spirit is a life-long endeavor for all believers.  “Discipleship must be done in conscious dependence on the power and work of the Holy Spirit” (IMB Foundations). 

Lastly, God uses the people of God collectively through the church to help mature believers.  “Scripture makes it clear that discipleship ordinarily happens in the context of the local church” (IMB Foundations). 

As Davis explains,

“All missionary teams—and church partners—should have a robust, healthy discipleship plan for new believers that includes elements such as baptism, local church membership, and basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, and sharing the gospel. Furthermore, new believers need ongoing training in areas like biblical marriage, parenting, family life, a biblical understanding of work, the church, suffering and persecution, integrity, and a new identity in Christ that supersedes any earthly identity” (Davis, “Making Disciples”).

The end

Every church and every church member is to be engaged in this global disciple-making plan.  While not every member will carry out this plan in the same way, every member has a part to play through means such as praying, going, encouraging, giving, and sending.  Churches working intentionally with long-term missionaries by following their strategy for disciple-making provide great encouragement and movement in fulfilling the Great Commission.  In doing so, the church will be marked not simply by mission activity, but mission identity—disciples who make disciples.

How is your church making disciples both locally and globally so that missions is not an activity of your church but its identity?  I am more than happy to help you in this cause. You can reach me at [email protected]