The Bible Church of Little Rock defines a missionary as a servant of Christ called to proclaim the gospel, often across geographical and cultural boundaries, in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-47). Frontier missionaries, like the Apostle Paul, aim to take the gospel to people who have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and do not have access to gospel-preaching churches in their own culture (Romans 15:19-23). Cross-cultural missionaries, like Timothy, travel far to serve where the church, though perhaps fairly established, benefits from a missionary’s service (Acts 16:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:3). Missions ministry, then, is the task of taking the gospel beyond the immediate influence of the sending church in order to evangelize and to instruct in the Word of God those who have little or no opportunity to hear the gospel, for the purpose of establishing and strengthening local congregations.
The church is entrusted with fulfilling the Great Commission. The Spirit-led advancement of the gospel until all God’s elect are gathered from throughout the world is Christ’s great purpose (Matthew 28:18-20; John 10:16; Acts 1:8). Through missions ministry, the church participates in God’s plan on a world-wide scale. Thus, global missions ministry should be a priority of every local church. It is a way in which congregations and individuals fulfill the will of God.
The proper motivation for world missions is a passionate love for God’s glory united with a Christ-like compassion for all peoples. We yearn to see God truly honored as God throughout the world (Matthew 6:9). Therefore, we pray with the psalmist, “God bless us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” (Psalm 67:7). We desire, like the Apostle Paul, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” (Romans 1:5). Moreover, as Jesus Christ was a compassionate and merciful servant to the lost so that God might be glorified for His mercy (Matthew 9:35-36; Romans 15:8-9; Jonah 4), we pursue missions with hearts of compassion and a readiness to sacrifice all for those without Christ (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1; 2 Timothy 2:8-10). We, too, affirm: “a heart for the glory of God and a heart of mercy for the nations make a Christ-like missionary.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, p. 30).
Missionaries are set apart by the Holy Spirit for service (Acts 13:2). A person’s call to missionary service will be evident by his or her qualifications. A godly character, faithful service in a local church, and an accurate and thorough knowledge of Scripture are key qualifications of a missionary. In addition, those who are sent out as pastors to establish and to lead churches are to meet the biblical qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Through prayer, counsel and observation the Spirit will lead a church to discern and confirm the qualifications and calling of persons to missions ministry.
The church has a responsibility to pray for, identify, train and send only those who are qualified to be missionaries. A missionary is ultimately accountable to the sending church, and serves under the authority of the church (Acts 13:3; 14:26-27). We strongly discourage a missionary candidate from pursuing service with a missions agency before seeking the counsel and blessing of his or her church. Missions agencies have a legitimate and useful role in the sending of missionaries by identifying strategic opportunities for service, and by providing administrative support, specialized training, and on-the-field supervision. However, the missions agency is not a substitute for the church but a partner with the church. For such a partnership to be workable, both church and missions agency should share substantial agreement in doctrine and philosophy of ministry.
The church is responsible to send missionaries “in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6). Since they go forth as God’s representatives, the church is to send them in a way that will honor God in every respect. This means the church provides substantial support by money, prayers, and other practical means of assistance. In so doing, God is glorified, and the church has the privilege of being a partner with the missionary in spreading the truth (3 John 8).
The pattern of New Testament missions ministry is the proclamation of the gospel with the view of establishing and strengthening self-propagating local churches. Therefore, we believe that evangelism, church planting, and ministry that serves to strengthen churches is the primary work of missions ministry. As of first priority, we are committed to sending pastors to evangelize, to establish churches, and to strengthen churches through preaching, teaching and prayer. We affirm with Dr. Thomas Hale, former medical missionary to , “The essential core ministry in missions is the winning of people to Christ and forming them into congregations—that is, evangelism and church planting . . . . It is useless to win people to Christ and then leave them on their own as a bunch of individuals; they will quickly fall away. Not only must there be churches for new believers to join, but also it is the church that is going to be responsible for ongoing evangelism. Hence, in the same breath with church planting, we need to include discipling new believers and imparting to them the vision for further evangelism.” (Thomas Hale, On Being A Missionary, Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1995, p. 252).
We recognize that the gospel has access to some countries only, or most strategically, through community development initiatives such as healthcare services, agricultural projects, and education. In these cases, we will support qualified persons who are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ as they serve through their respective professions or trades, and who have as their ultimate aim the formation and strengthening of local churches. While biblical missions ministry is more than humanitarian assistance, nonetheless, it can include such service as an expression of Christ’s love, and as a means for securing a hearing for the gospel.
We recognize, too, that support missionaries are sent out to provide vital services. Many such as pilots, mechanics, administrators, engineers, and school teachers, are qualified church leaders and mature believers who embrace biblical ministry priorities. In addition to providing administrative or technical assistance, they proclaim the gospel whenever possible, model godly life-styles, and teach the Word of God. As a secondary priority, then, we will send qualified support missionaries who are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ in their spheres of influence.
We believe that it is desirable for missionaries to commit themselves to a life-time of service, while recognizing that God might providentially direct their steps otherwise. Short-term service is usually inadequate for understanding culture and language, building relationships, making disciples and establishing churches. Thus, the most strategic use of a church’s resources is to support career missionaries. Short-term missions service can be useful for ministry training, for educating a church about missions, for tactical support of existing missions ministry, and for the personal encouragement of career missionaries. For these reasons, we will encourage and support short-term missions, especially service with and to our own career missionaries. Nevertheless, short-term missions should be secondary to the training and sending of career missionaries.
Lastly, we believe that the very existence and success of missions ministry depends ultimately upon God. We are committed, then, to petition the Lord of the harvest unceasingly to send out workers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38). Further, we devote ourselves to help those who are sent out by our earnest prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11), so that they may have opportunity and boldness to proclaim the Word (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:19), and to witness the rapid spread and acceptance of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:1). We pray, too, that they will continue to conduct themselves honorably (Hebrews 13:18), and be kept safe from all evil (2 Thessalonians 3:2; Romans 15:30-31), until that Day when the missionary task is finished.