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A Local Church Missions Philosophy

January 8, 2008

About six years ago, and as a new pastor, I sat down and thought through what a Biblical philosophy of missions should look like.  To be honest, within the first few weeks as pastor our phone rang off its hook with future missionaries seeking support.  I knew that we could not possibly support them all, even at one dollar per month.  So, I set out to establish what our philosophy of missions would be.  Above all else, we wanted our philosophy to reflect the New Testament approach to Christian Missions.Â

Since writing this philosophy, we have sent it to each missionary we currently support, and we send it to every missionary who approaches us for support.  Our desire in this is to communicate our goals and standards, and to give a Scriptural basis for taking on new missionaries for support.  I share it with you now in order to lay some ground work for what we feel is a Biblical starting point for missions.  I have not added to or taken away from anything in this published philosophy over the past few years, nor did I change anything for this post.  Perhaps it is time it were edited.  Perhaps not.  Feel free to make any comments as you wish.

The Missions Philosophy of Berean Baptist Church

as established by Pastor Dave Mallinak.

Christian historians have noticed that in the beginning days of our country, Christian ministries grew very gradually, and the quality of society and its civil government mirrored that growth. Since those early years in our nation’s history, however, this pattern has changed. We are now experiencing a literal explosion in “Christian ministry,” yet the quality of our society and civil government not only does not reflect this growth, but has actually moved in the opposite direction. What has happened?

Even to the casual observer, the Christian ministries of today are woefully inadequate at addressing even the simplest problems of our society. Why? Is sin so much greater than God? Is God unable to empower His people for His work any more? Or has the salt lost its savor? Are we really forced to follow along behind the world, kicking, screaming, condemning, and then imitating all their methods? The reason so many ministries are powerless against the world is because they are not truly against the world. “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), and no ministry is with Christ if their methods contradict God’s Word. For too long, Christians have made decisions based on tradition and convenience rather than a thorough examination of the Word of God. Unfortunately, missions, and mission boards in particular, have been guilty. Many a good missionary has yoked himself to a para-church mission board, only to find that oxen do not plough very well with a donkey strapped to their side. They may get the job done, but the team is sure hard to handle.

In response to the doctrinal confusion of the Samaritan woman, Jesus instructed her that God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Israelites learned very early that golden calves are not a spiritual, true, or acceptable way to worship God. Since we believe that service is a sacrificial offering of worship to our God, we certainly cannot believe that our service can be offered according to the whim and fancy of modern Christianity or modern fundamentalism. We must be governed by the Word of God in our ministry, because God does not have as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord.

With these thoughts in mind, we have set out to define our philosophy in the area of local church missions. Of course, as we do so, we will make a few assumptions that should simply be evident to both missionary and church member. We would not attempt to define a philosophy of missions if we did not believe that the Great Commission mandates that churches be active in world evangelism. We also realize that by defining our philosophy, we open ourselves up to criticism from some for defining the philosophy too broadly or too narrowly (I tried my best to be narrow-minded). I also realize that I am not now, nor have ever been, a missionary. I am writing purely as a local church pastor with a view to help our church understand missions, and make clear choices about our future in missionary support. By no means do we claim to be absolutely correct, but we do feel that we have a responsibility to open our Bibles when determining our direction for missions support.

The first issue that I would like to consider is the issue of the missionary’s authority for ministry. The Bible does not refer to a missionary at any time and, in fact, the word “missionary” is never used in the Bible. However, the modern day missionary fits the office of the evangelist perfectly. In fact, Philip the Evangelist was essentially a missionary. Noah Webster described the evangelist as a preacher or publisher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, licensed to preach, but not having charge of a particular church. He defines a missionary as one sent to propagate religion. Certainly the missionary will work towards starting a particular church, and may eventually have charge of that church, but his current purpose is to preach the Word. Missionary work is best described in 2 Timothy 4:1-5,

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

The work of an evangelist, while delegated to the local church, is fully carried out by the missionary. Ephesians 4, which names the evangelist as one of God’s gifts to the local church, makes the church the central organization for the work of the ministry. The church was the center for the ministry of the Apostle Paul, the best known “church-planter” of all the New Testament missionary-evangelists. Philip the Evangelist was one of the original seven deacons, recognized by his church for his wisdom and Spirit-filled Christian life. Philip was commissioned by his church and worked under their authority, and Paul certainly did as well. In fact, the Bible tells us in Acts 15:40, that when Paul and Barnabas parted company, Paul was recommended by the church. What happened to Barnabas? Maybe he found a good mission board, since his church would no longer recommend him! What we see in all of this is that God’s blessing was on those who worked through their church. Those that were bound to the body of Christ were bound for God’s blessing. Missionaries must work under the authority of their local church.

Jesus’ commission to the local church is to make disciples of all nations. This commission was given to the local church, and therefore to the particular members of that church. As God moves and works within a church, He will give varying gifts and callings to the members. Local churches need faithful laymen of all types and abilities. To some within that church, God will give a very special calling to spread the evangelistic influence of that church “to the regions beyond.” Acts 13:1-3 tells the exciting story of how God did this initially with Paul and Barnabas.

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

God moves in many different ways to separate these people for the work of the ministry, but in every example, one common denominator can be gleaned…the church is an active part of that process. The church commissions and the church sends the missionary; therefore, the church stands in the place that God has given it, authorizing the ministry of, and giving authority to, the missionary.

The Bible also gives evidence that other like-minded churches participated in Paul’s ministry. One notable example of this was the church at Philippi, of whom Paul said, “…Ye sent once and again unto my necessity.” Certainly, when God calls one out of a strong, local, New Testament Baptist Church, others of like-faith should be excited to support the endeavor. When these churches join together with the sending church to help the missionary, they are supporting the sending church, and the missionary as an extension of that church. And so, as this missionary heads over land and sea to the place that God, through His church, has sent him, what has given this missionary authority to do the work of the ministry in this place? Have all of his supporting churches given him the authority to do the work? Of course not! They play a “supporting” role, not an authorizing role. They have declared their approval of his ministry through their support for his ministry. The impossibility of forty to fifty churches holding authority over one ministry should be obvious enough. So, who gives the missionary authority? When Jesus was asked by what authority He did His works,

Matthew 21:23, “And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?”

He did not answer the unbelievers who asked. The answer is plain enough to the believer, for his authority came from God who sent him. “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the LORD,” Matthew 23:28-40. Paul testified that his conversion involved a change of authority. He persecuted the church in his former days by the authority of the chief priests who sent him, and now he preaches the gospel to the Gentiles by the authority of God who sent him (Acts 26:10-16). But wait: how did God send him? Through his church. Acts 13:3 says, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” The local church missionary is sent by, and thus authorized by, his church. His church is his authority. Unfortunately, some believers will not agree to such an authoritative view of the church, believing that such strong church authority would somehow interfere with their desire to follow God’s direct leading; but we must remember that God is the head of the church, not the individual. God-ordained authority does not contradict God-created individuality. The flow of power still moves from God, through His Word to the individual, and then from the individual to the various God-ordained institutions. When a missionary chooses to be sent out by a church, he has given that church authority in his life and ministry. The missionary has also been authorized by that church to work on the church’s behalf. If a missionary freelances, he is acting outside of that God-ordained authority structure.

While the pastor of the church could not possibly know and understand everything about the missionary’s ministry, God still holds the pastor accountable for every missionary his church authorizes. The missionary must respect this fact and be accountable to his pastor. The missionary should regularly seek the pastor’s counsel, and should always be assured of the pastor’s approval before forging ahead in the work. In other words, that missionary should always act as a true extension of his church.

Some missionaries mistakenly view themselves as pastors and, thus, as independently-led men of God. Certainly, a missionary will be “pastor” to those he works with on the mission field, perhaps the only shepherd they will ever know. In this respect, he is an assistant to the pastor of his local church in the same sense that a youth pastor may be a pastor to those teens he works with. Just as that youth pastor must be careful never to usurp the authority of the pastor, so the missionary must never usurp authority, even on the mission field. If, however, a missionary feels that God wants him to be independent of his pastor and his church, then he should do what his pastor does. Even a pastor of a local church gets his authority for his ministry from his local church. The Bible is clear that God established His church, and gave the pastor as a gift to that church. The church is the support for the pastor’s authority and ministry. When the church stops supporting the pastor’s authority, he either starves or finds a new job. If a church gives the pastor moral support and plenty of “Amens!,” but no physical support, the pastor has a lack of actual support. He can feast on the “Amens!”, but his family will not enjoy the meal. The Apostle Paul was very emphatic that “the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14) Most of 1 Corinthians 9 is written to show the church at Corinth that, humanly speaking, they gave authority to the pastor by providing for his needs; and in this particular, a missionary who desires independence should do what his pastor does. He should drop all of his support, he should get his authority solely from his church, and he should answer to God for them.

A missionary may find himself in a quandary over this statement. After all, the people may be poor, the cost of living may be high, and the missionary may say, ” I did not come here to work like the natives. How could I maintain my standard of living?” Ministry always involves faith. Missionaries have said that they would not want to be solely supported by one church. What if that church “went under?” Meanwhile, pastors of local churches exercise their faith by receiving all their support from one church. In that church they take a stand, and trust God to add to that church and supply the need. Missionaries exercise their faith by travelling around the country, standing on their convictions, and trusting God to add meetings and supply the need. Their faith also includes trusting the Pastoral leadership God has given them, knowing that God’s way is perfect. God is honored by the faith of all his people. If a missionary believes that God has called him to pastor this new church, independent of the pastor, then that missionary must also believe that the God who called him will supply all his need according to His riches (which are still greater than the people’s poverty or the nation’s cost of living).

At some point in this discussion, the authority of the mission board must be challenged and now is a good time. When a mission board has authority, the missionary has two masters. While those two masters may agree most of the time, we know that some of the time, the missionary will be required to make a choice, and he cannot serve both. Certainly, many missionaries live by their principles and will always follow their local church, but some will not.

The issue at stake here is whether a mission board should ever be put in a position where it can legitimately oppose the authority of the local church; and if it can be put in this position, when can it oppose the sending church, and when should the missionary disregard those who are spiritually responsible for his ministry in order to obey those who are physically and financially responsible? In other words, when is the missionary allowed to serve mammon instead of God? “Never” would be an appropriate answer. A local church missionary cannot afford to put a mission board in a position where it could oppose the pastor that God gave him.

Very briefly now, I would like to identify what we believe to be the Biblical purpose for missions. Once again, this purpose begins and ends with the local church. Through his death, Christ is the mediator of the New Testament and gives to us eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:15, “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” The New Testament takes away the carnal ordinances of the old, and gives us something better: the local church, “which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). In the Old Testament, God worked in the hearts of His people through those carnal ordinances of the law, but in the New Testament God works through his local church. God created man for His own glory and pleasure, but man sinned and was no longer able to bring glory to the Creator. In the New Testament, man can once again glorify God through his body, the visible, local church.

Many well-trained missionaries set out on their own to help others, independent of their church, intending to propagate the gospel as we are called to do, but miss the central purpose of building local churches. There are all sorts of good causes available, and our God is gracious. Men have been truly saved through the influence of some of the basest of God’s servants. This shows us that God wants to save the lost, not that the plans and schemes of men have prevailed; and this is an essential point: God is only pleased with our service when the sacrifice is acceptable, and the servant is obedient. As God’s servants, we must serve God in humble obedience, and especially in obedience to God’s plan of propagating the gospel through the local church for the purpose of reproducing a local church, or local churches.

With this goal in mind, the local church missionary will seek direction from his pastor, and will follow that direction in his approach to starting local churches. Some local churches will focus on planting as many New Testament churches as possible. Others will work to establish one strong church to act as a base for the training of the nationals that God separates from among the congregation, and then sending them out to plant churches. The approach taken is not up for discussion here, as the pastor and missionary should determine their direction without influence from supporting churches. The supporting churches only need to decide whether or not they support the sending church and the missionary.

The point of all this is that establishing churches is the primary work of the local church missionary. Training nationals then is a secondary work, a necessary and important part of the primary work of establishing other New Testament churches. Bible institutes, even Bible colleges on the field, must be extensions of the local church like everything else, and must never become the primary focus of a missionary.

Finally, I need to conclude with some basic expectations for the missionaries we support. I have gone to some length to define a philosophy concerning local church missions so that our expectations would have some basis. All the expectations named below are based on the ideas discussed above. From the start, I do not believe that I should in any way usurp authority over the sending pastor. We view ourselves as a supporting church and, therefore, of no authority. When we support you, we have simply decided to support the evangelistic effort of your local church through your ministry.

That being said, our expectations are as follows:

1) If a missionary uses a mission board or “clearing house,” that agency must be a ministry of a local church. Para-church mission boards and clearinghouses, by nature, take a position that could potentially oppose the missionary’s sending church, and we will not support their efforts.

2) If a missionary that we currently support is with a mission board, that missionary must disclose the dollar amount of our support that is taken by the mission board each month.  This report can be given once per year.

3) A missionary candidate will be considered first through his sending church. We will not invite missionaries to present their ministry unless the sending church is of like faith and practice with ours, and thus known by us.

4) Although we are not responsible for your ministry, we are accountable for our Faith Promise finances. Therefore, we must be regularly informed about the progress and direction of your ministry. We require a missionary to report to us a minimum of once every six months, and we prefer an update every quarter of the year. If a missionary fails to inform us minimally, his support will be held until the church decides whether to continue to support him or not. The missionary also must inform us immediately if he decides to change his sending church, or if he decides to move to a new field.

5) A missionary must be in submission to his pastor. Changes in his ministry must be with the agreement and support of his sending pastor. Obviously, if the sending pastor informs us that that he no longer supports your ministry, our church will agree with your pastor.

6) A missionary must remain loyal and faithful to his sending church, and to the field God has called him to. Any missionary who decides to change his field of service will be dropped, unless his pastor is in complete agreement with his decision. Any missionary who decides to change his sending church will be reconsidered. The missionary must have a Biblical reason for leaving his church, and his new church must meet the criteria given in the third point above, or the missionary will no longer be supported by our church.

Thank you for taking the time to read this information. If you have questions, or would like to contact me regarding this or another issue, please email me at pmallinak@berean-baptist-utah.com or call me at 801-399-3855. May God bless you as you serve Him.

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  1. January 8, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Wow! Good stuff! It’s refreshing to hear these things that are believed and practiced at my sending church and in our ministry on the field. I would like to add an angle that has helped me see this doctrine as true. God’s purpose for the church that Jesus built is to glorify Him. If the church then “subcontracts” their work out to an organization that God did not authorize or establish, that organization and the church in question are robbing glory from God. They are saying, in essence, God didn’t really mean what he said when he said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go, ye, therefore…” They are saying that God was not being truthful when he said, “And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23) Jesus fills the church (local) with all the power and resources that they need to get the job done. When they get the job done God’s way, God is gloried. His power, His glory, His love, His wisdom is reflected to the lost world. When a church loses it’s faith and vision, and turns to a para-church organization to do the work for it, it is saying it can’t do what God has asked of it. This is a terrible sign of sickness and weakness in that church. They ought rather to believe God big enough to use them to fulfill the Great Commission anywhere in the world, if it is His will, without any external help. That glorifies God. “Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”(Eph 3:21)

  2. January 8, 2008 at 9:47 am

    By way of personal testimony, I can say that board representatives really do think the church is not capable of fulfilling the Great Commission by herself in this day and age. While I was in Bible College at MBBC, I made a trip to Africa as a summer missionary under Grace Independent Baptist Mission. The pastor that I had arranged this trip under resigned during the planning, and Pastor Doug Hammett came on as our pastor at that time. I knew he was not in favor of mission boards like the former pastor. So, I asked him if I should still go. He gave me the okay just for that trip and that situation, so I could fulfill my commitment. When I returned though, he gave me the ultimatum. He said, if I planned to be a missionary I had two options. First, I could go out as missionary sent directly through our church without a board, or, secondly, I could go out through a mission board and find another sending church! I like it when a man speaks his mind in black and white, don’t you? So, when I returned to my last year of bible college at the Youth and Church Workers Conference (I think that’s what they called it) I cornered the board president, who was Jack McLanahan (who is now at Baptist World Mission), and also Warren Dafoe (VP at BWM, now deceased), and I asked them, “What can the board do for me that my church can’t?”… Well, they both tried to answer the question. That was not a good idea considering the fact that God says the church is able on her own. The reasons given were multiple and standard fair. (1) There are several foreign countries that an independent missionary cannot get into. (2) We are better equipped with all our experience to help you on and off the field and keep you accountable. (3) You will take at least four years on deputation if you don’t go through a board. (4) We have expertise in organizing a missionary’s finances and making international money transactions. They may have mentioned a couple of more, but the fact that they tried to answer at all reveals that they think a church cannot really do mission work today, the church is not sufficient, we need to add a few man-made helps to God’s plan, He didn’t see this coming! Well, I have been a missionary sent by the Lehigh Valley Baptist Church since 1993, and I can tell you, the church is able! And God gets the glory! He is able!

    1. There are independent Baptist missionaries in China, North Korea, Iraq. Do you know any board missionaries to Saudi Arabia?

    2. My pastor has visited my mission field seven or eight times. And, we have had a steady stream of friends, family, church members, supporting church members, since we got here. We are hooked up on the internet and have a Vonage phone which my pastor uses to call us almost every other week. Our home church services are in video on the internet. We send prayer letters and weekly email updates. Do you need more?

    3. We have five missionary families out of our church, not one of them took more than two years to get their funds together. One of our guys raised $6000 a month in a year!

    4. International money transactions are not complicated. In most cases you take your US bank account checks and make deposits into your local bank on the field. It may take a little while to clear, but it works. If not, you can use Western Union (pricy). My home church’s budget is in the hundreds of thousands a year. I think they can handle managing my paltry missionary support. If they can handle depositing checks and balancing their checkbook, they can receive and missionary’s checks at the church office and deposit them for him. If they pay their pastor and file a W2 for him, they can do it for a missionary too.

    The church can fulfill the Great Commission without the help of boards. All to the glory of God.

  3. January 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Don,

    Maybe you could help us with some thoughts on how a local church can be prepared for emergency medical situations. I know of an Independent Baptist ministry right now that offers air service (medivac type) to air lift you out of the country in case of emergency. But that is not always possible, and the price of medical emergencies on the field can be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

    That is one argument that I have heard raised for mission boards. We don’t have any foreign missionaries sent out of our church, so I’ve not needed to look into it. But a friend of mine was in a car accident in Germany, and one of his party needed emergency surgery (which the hospital required to be pre-paid). What should a local church do to be prepared for such situations?

    Blessings, friend.

  4. January 8, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Well thought-out and important read.

  5. January 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Thankfully, we have never had to deal with a major medical emergency on the field. However, in the event, our church has set up a fund of $20,000 per foreign missionary family, which now stands at $80,000, for emergency situations. That may not cover all the emergency costs, but it will definitely convince just about any hospital that we will be able to get the rest together. The rest can be gotten through emergency offerings or even credit. Obviously, the credit would have to be a last resort, after absolutely all other avenues, such as foundations and government help has been considered.

    In our case, in Chile, whenever one of us is hospitalized, the hospital requires a signed blank check. So, if you didn’t already have a heart attack when you went in, you will have one then! 🙂 After that, we have to contact our medical expense sharing group (Christian Care Medishare, who covers missionaries on the field), and they work with the hospital to get the bills paid. On many an occasion we have found that medical expenses on the field are cheaper, however, sometimes the care is not as good. On the other hand, I have heard from a couple of missionaries in Asia that say that particularly in Thailand the medical attention and technology is as good or better than in the States, and is a lot cheaper. Each country has its ins and outs, and proper planning always prevents extra medical costs. Each missionary family needs to get to know the system in their respective country and plan ahead. Plan for the “what-if”‘s. In fact, it would be wise for pastors to demand from their missionaries a plan for care.

    Our church will not send and missionary who does not have life insurance. They will not send a missionary that does not have some kind of medical coverage. And, they also provide the emergency fund.

    On a personal note, my youngest was born with a heart defect. He had two surgeries, and the second was an emergency. We were in the States, and he had to be airlifted from Toledo to Ann Arbor. He survived and is doing fine now. But, the bills were $150,000. But, the medivac was free (I am pretty sure it was because Danny was an infant in distress). It was then that we found out that the major medical insurer that cover $50,000 and up demanded that the member first appeal to Medicaid for assistance. Because most missionaries live under the poverty level. Medicaid paid our bills for us. We paid our premiums or payments for years, and the medical sharing program got off free! Well, they have paid for births, anyway. But, the bills were paid. Then when we asked the surgeon if he “by chance” had any contacts in Chile, he told us of the name of the university in Santiago where he himself travels every year to train the staff of surgeons. It helped us make the hard decision as to whether to return to the field.

  6. January 9, 2008 at 3:32 am

    Good Article!

  7. January 9, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Just a corollary thought… Most independent missionaries have about 50 supporting churches. Supposing that an emergency generates $100,000 worth of expense, and all his churches desired to pay an even part of his medical expenses. Each would only have to give $2,000. If the average church runs has about 75 members. That’s $26 each to make the offering. As we have already mentioned, these events are pretty rare. But, in that event, it seems that the support system that we have created for independent Baptist missionaries can handle it without really breathing hard.

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