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.
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):
- Evangelism—Are indigenous believers and churches carrying out faithfully and effectively the work of sharing the gospel within this people group or place?
- Discipleship—Are the churches within this place or people group faithfully and effectively discipling the believers whom God has entrusted to them?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.