David Merck: Pastor - Reformed Baptist Church
Grand Rapids, MI
(The combined text of three sermons originally preached in Baltimore, Maryland on March 2-3, 1996 with some additions)
Introduction. As Reformed Baptists, many of us who came from different church backgrounds have had to work through many areas of faith and practice with our Bibles open to determine if what we always believed and did is biblical. One such area which demands careful consideration and re-thinking where necessary is that of missions. Three major subjects in an obvious way flow from the key passages of Scripture having to do with missions. All three topics are vitally important for a biblical understanding of this subject. They are:
The Mandate for Missions,
The Method of Missions, and:
The Men Involved in Missions.
So these three subjects -- the mandate, the method and the men -- will be the focus of this study.
First of all, we must consider:
Introduction. Why should we be concerned about the subject of missions in the first place? This
is no little question, since the word, "missions" is not in itself a biblical word. The singular
form, "mission" comes from the Latin language, and means most basically, "the act or an
instance of sending" (Webster's 7th New Collegiate Dict.). When it is used with reference to the
Christian faith, it refers to "The sending forth of men with authority to preach or spread the
gospel" (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dict., International Edition). This then is the meaning
which men have assigned to the word "missions".
But the more important question is whether or not the concept of sending forth individuals to
preach the good news of Jesus Christ is a biblical one (even though the word is not used in the
Bible). What is the biblical mandate or warrant for the work of missions?
Most believers will probably most quickly think of what is often called the Lord's Great Commission in response to that question, and well should they. For that Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 is probably the key passage for establishing the mandate or duty of the church to carry the Gospel to lost men:
18Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
It is my purpose to open up this text as the first major focus of our study. Before I do so, I would
remind you that, on the one hand, there were many indications of God's desire and purpose for
the world-wide extension of Gospel labors long before the Lord spoke His Great Commission. It
did not come out of the blue -- disjointed from all of God's revelation before. But on the other
hand, it was also true that before our Lord uttered the Great Commission, the possession of the
revealed Word of God, and the true worship of God were primarily limited to physical Jews and
a few Gentile proselytes. Even during His ministry as the God-man on earth, Jesus' labors and
those of His disciples were mainly limited to Jews.
So when, as the recently crucified and risen Lord, Jesus stood before His followers and uttered
the Great Commission, He was calling them to a task which for them and the rest of God's
people was basically new in more than one way. This was a significant moment in the history of
redemption. It is a moment which demands our attention.
We will be considering five aspects of Christ's mandate for missions as presented in our text:
I. Its authority.
II. Its applicability.
III. Its activities.
IV. Its perspective.
V. Its encouragements.
Let's consider one at a time. First:
I. Its authority. Two things regarding our Lord's commission here underscore its authority.
A. Its nature. The Lord Jesus did not express His commission as a desire or a wish or a
premonition of what might happen in the future. He spoke it as a command. He ordered, "Go . .
. make disciples . . . baptizing . . . teaching". These words were not an option to be considered
among other options by those to whom He spoke. He here was presenting His marching orders
for His disciples which were to be obeyed, no matter what the result might be. And failure to
obey these orders would rightly bring into question whether one truly was a follower of this
But not only was the nature of this commission that of command. Notice also:
B. Its author. My two-year old son has recently gotten the notion that he has the right to give
orders to his mother. Now how seriously do you think my wife takes it when my son gives a
command to her? Not seriously at all! After verbally correcting him, she makes him restate his
desire as a respectful request. And of course, if his behavior does not soon change, other
correction will be applied.
However, Jesus of Nazareth was not wrongfully assuming authority which He did not possess
when He uttered the commands of the Great Commission. He was one who as God Himself, and
as triumphant Savior over the cross and grave, could legitimately declare, "All authority has
been given to Me in heaven and on earth". Go to the highest and farthest reaches of the heavens
-- the Lord Jesus is in charge there. And no matter where you go on earth -- no matter what
continent, or on what sea, no matter whether on the highest mountain or in the lowest valley, no
matter what tribe or tongue or nation -- the Lord Jesus is Master. Furthermore, He has not been
given just a little authority over a few subjects or over a small sphere of human or earthly life.
All authority over all men and all the created order has been given to Jesus by the only one able
to do so -- God the Father. The Lord Jesus here was declaring Himself to be unrestricted
sovereign over the entire created universe. And it was as such a sovereign God and Lord
directing everything that takes place in it that He commanded His disciples to go and make
However, it was not merely the authority of one person of the Godhead, God the Son, which
stood behind this commission. When our Lord commanded His disciples to baptize the new
disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, He was declaring that
His Great Commission was the will of all three persons of the Trinity, and therefore based upon
the authority of God the Father and of God the Holy Spirit as well as of Himself.
Great indeed -- supreme -- was the authority which lay behind this mandate.
However, someone might point out that this Commission was commanded of a specific group of people here in the context. Notice verses 16-18a:
16Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying . . ."
It was the remaining eleven Apostles of the original Twelve to whom Jesus here spoke. So these
words clearly applied to them. But perhaps that's where its application stopped. On what basis
do we turn to such a command and view it as having application to ourselves? This brings us to
a second aspect of the Lord's Commission. Having noted its authority, notice secondly:
II. Its applicability. Observe two things in our text which indicate that this command still
applies to Christians today:
A. First, the fact that these eleven disciples were told to teach new disciples of Christ to observe
all things that He had commanded them certainly appeared to demand that the new disciples
obey the same commands given to the original eleven unless clearly indicated otherwise. And of
course one of those things commanded the eleven was this very Commission.
But furthermore, there is in this Commission itself a clear indication that it was to remain
binding upon the church of Christ throughout its history on earth:
B. The Lord ended the Great Commission with the promise, ". . . and lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age." This promise is striking in its implications, for the eleven Apostles
have for many centuries been in their graves. Yet the Lord promised His presence with those
carrying out this commission on earth until the present order came to an end with His return.
Clearly He intended that His church on earth with her leaders continue to carry out these
marching orders until the present age had ended. The Great Commission was not limited to just
the Apostles, but was initially given to them as the highest leaders of the church of Christ which
was to be established, and as the instruments through which divine revelation would come to the
Therefore, based upon these two lines of evidence in the text itself, to which we could add other
evidence in the New Testament, the Great Commission continues to be just as applicable to
those of us who are disciples of Christ today and members of His church, as it was to the original
eleven Apostles. So we had better pay attention to it. It is the will of the Lord Jesus Christ and
of the Triune God for us to carry out, which raises a further question:
Having noted the authority and applicability of the Great Commission to ourselves, what are:
III. Its activities. What is it that the Lord Jesus was telling His followers to do throughout this
present age? Here I would have you notice two things. First:
A. The central duty. Although it is not obvious in our English translation, there is one main
verb of command in verses 19-20a with three other verbal forms closely-related to and
subordinate to the main verb. The main verb of command is translated in the New King James
Version, "make disciples". The ideas of going, baptizing and teaching are all closely-related to
and subordinate to this central command. What then did our Lord mean by making disciples?
The basic idea of being a disciple is being a learner or student or pupil of someone else. Thus
the Lord Jesus was commanding us to labor to make men around us learners or students or
pupils of another person.
Does this mean we are to ultimately make them disciples of ourselves? No, for later in this
commission He commanded that we teach these disciples to observe all things that the Lord
Jesus has commanded us. We are to seek to make men ultimately students or learners who sit at
the feet of the Lord Jesus and receive gladly and obediently His instruction as recorded in His
Word. How then do we go about doing that? Notice two vital things here:
1. First, we must recognize that no man by nature is a disciple or student of Jesus Christ, and that
the living God must act if he would ever become a disciple. The Word of God clearly indicates
that from birth we are spiritually dead in our sins, so that, in the language of 1 Corinthians 2:14:
. . . the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to
him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
What hope is there therefore that such a spiritually dead sinner would ever become a disciple of
Christ? Paul gives the answer in Ephesians 2:4-5:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we
were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
Ultimately no man or woman will ever become a disciple of Jesus Christ until God sovereignly
works a spiritual resurrection in His soul -- until He regenerates and converts the person. We
must never lose sight of this great reality, and of our total dependence upon the living God in all
of our Great Commission labors.
2. However, the focus in our text is not upon God's activity in the making of disciples. It is upon
our activity. It was disciples of Jesus who were here commanded by their Lord to make
disciples. How then are we to do that? If we are to make men to become learners of Christ, then
we must speak to them what Christ has taught, and urge them to respond aright to it in faith and
repentance. We must do what Jesus did when He began His earthly labors in Galilee:
. . . Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, `The time is
fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.' (Mark 1:14b-15)
We must tell hopelessly lost men of God's perfectly holy character and law. We must speak to
them of their sin and the hell which it deserves. We must proclaim the loving and gracious
provision of God for sinners in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the substitute
bearing the wrath of God for sinners. And we must urge upon them their duty to turn radically
away from their course of rebellion and to believe the Gospel.
We must speak the Gospel sincerely and effectively, in dependence upon the Lord and in the
power of the Holy Spirit, not satisfied to merely deliver the message, but earnestly seeking to see
men truly become glad and willing and obedient learners and students of Christ -- in other
words, true Christians. This is the central task to which the Lord called His disciples. This is
the central task to which He calls us.
B. However, we are also given two essential accompaniments to this central duty of making
disciples -- two things which must be present if the central duty is to be considered as adequately
accomplished. As we make disciples, we are, first of all, to in a continuing way be engaged in:
1. ". . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Where
individuals are being made disciples of Christ, they should also take upon themselves the open
mark of that newly begun discipleship in the waters of baptism.
But there is a second essential accompaniment here as well which also must be carried out in a
2. ". . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you". It stands to reason that
if lost individuals have been made into students or disciples of Christ, they will continue in an
ongoing way to be instructed regarding that which their Divine teacher has revealed for their
instruction. This is central to the very idea of being a disciple. Briefly notice five things
regarding this instruction. First:
a. Its directive focus. Fulfillment of the Great Commission does not involve merely imparting
speculative, abstract knowledge about God. It entails speaking to men the commands of Christ
-- that which men are to do if they would legitimately make any claim of being a student or
disciple of Christ. For true disciples of Christ are those who not only listen to what Christ says,
but also obey it as the pattern of their lives. This is the clear indication of our text.
But notice a second thing regarding this instruction:
b. Its broad scope. Not just some of what Christ has commanded is the adequate content of the
instruction to be provided these pupils of Jesus. Rather all that He has commanded must be
brought to bear to the consciences of the disciples. Since there is a fathomless breadth and depth
to the revelation of our Lord, we learn that this instruction cannot be done in a day, but must take
place in an ongoing way over a long period of time -- in fact during our entire earthly pilgrimage
upon the earth.
Consider a third thing regarding this instruction:
c. Its inspired witnesses. Notice that the Apostles were to teach the new disciples all that Jesus
had commanded them. At this point there is an element which was unique to this special band
of Apostles. For it was through these Apostles and those closely-associated with them that the
body of divinely-inspired, inerrant Scripture which comprises the New Testament was given to
us. The Great Commission does not tell us to call men to follow whatever their own minds have
conjured up about God and Jesus, or whatever our own minds have conjured up about the same.
Nor does it tell us to instruct men to follow the mystical content of some supposed direct
revelatory zap from heaven. We are to confront men with the totality of the authoritative Word
of God given to the Apostles by divine revelation and recorded in the New Testament. That is to
be our textbook along with Old Testament Scriptures.
But a question remains. Where does this long-term instruction in the Scriptures primarily take
place, which brings us fourthly to:
d. Its specific context. If we want to know exactly what Jesus had in mind in His Great Commission at this point, we need look no further than at what these same Apostles did in fulfilling it, starting with the Day of Pentecost soon after Christ's ascension to glory. Notice the record in Acts 2:36-42:
36"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
40And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." 41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Here we see the Great Commission beginning to be worked out in detail. There was the making
of disciples through the preaching of the Gospel. Then these disciples were baptized. But
notice, this baptism was not merely an act unto itself by which the disciples were publicly
marked out as such individually. It also marked them as being disciples corporately with other
disciples of Christ, for their baptism was the door of entrance into what was later called the
church which was at Jerusalem. Baptism here was tied closely with addition to a local church as
a member of it. And then, in the context of the corporate gatherings of the church, the
instruction in the Apostle's doctrine went forward. In other words, the local church was here
identified as the primary context in which this ongoing instruction in the commands of Christ
was to be given.
But one final question yet remains. The Apostles have died and gone to heaven. Yet the Great
Commission clearly indicates that there are to still be human teachers to instruct the new
disciples. Although all Christians should to some degree be involved in this instruction
according to their level of maturity and ability (Rom. 15:14), the later example of the Apostles
also points us to special authoritative teachers who were especially given the task of this
instruction in the local church. So notice in the fifth place:
e. Its appointed teachers. Consider with me a key passage in Acts 14:21-23:
21And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." 23So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
This text is especially significant for a consideration of the Great Commission, for verse 21 is
the only place in the New Testament other than the Commission where the same form of the
verb, "make disciples" is to be found (active instead of passive). Paul and Barnabas in their
missionary labors had been involved in making disciples. And the result had been the planting
of local churches into which the new disciples were gathered at each geographical location. But
there was still a deficiency in their missionary work of fulfilling the Great Commission which
yet needed to be completed (compare Titus 1:5). Therefore they returned at great personal risk
to places where they had endured severe persecution in order to complete their task -- the
appointing of pluralities of elders in each church. There was the need for authoritative teachers
to carry on the commanded work of instruction after the Apostle Paul had moved on to another
place of labor. And those teachers were especially to be elders in the church who possessed the
crucial qualification for elders of being able to teach.
By way of summary then, what are the activities commanded in the Great Commission? What is
it which Christ commanded us to do? We are most basically to seek to make disciples of Christ
from among the lost men and women and children around us by preaching the Gospel. But
closely-connected, we are to seek to gather them together into local churches through the entry
sacrament of baptism. And then in those local churches we are to seek to see established
biblical elderships (with a plurality of elders in each church) to take the leading role in
instructing these disciples in all that Christ has commanded in the Scriptures.
But now, having outlined the activities of the Great Commission, notice more briefly with me:
IV. Its perspective. The Great Commission as recorded in Matt. 28:18-20 confronts us with two
elements of the perspective or focus we should have in fulfilling it. First of all, our perspective
(and resulting activity) should be:
A. Outward, not inward. It is very easy for us as Christians to become very comfortable in our
Christian homes and weekly church gatherings with primarily other Christians. But the words of
Matt. 28:19 do not allow such an inward, self-centered and self-preoccupied focus to
predominate in our lives if we would obey our Lord as His disciples. Literally, verse 19 begins,
"Therefore, having gone, make disciples . . ." We are called to look out beyond our comfortable
circles and to see the mass of lost humanity which surrounds us. And then we are called to go to
those fields white unto harvest with the Gospel, and seek to see them made into disciples of the
Lord and baptized and joined to a well-ordered, faithful local church. This is the great "Go" of
the Great Commission.
Where then should we fix this outward focus? To where should we go? We are given the general pattern in Acts 1:8:
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
There is that which was unique to this period of redemptive history in our Lord's commands here
to His Apostles. There was a divine power given to the Apostles to speak the very words of God
given by direct revelation and to work signs and wonders which is not possessed by men on earth
today. Also, uniquely during this period the Gospel was to go first to the Jew and then to the
Gentile. This verse in a real sense provides an outline for the book of Acts and the earliest
history of the church of Christ. For the Gospel did spread from Jerusalem to all Judea and
Samaria and then to the end of the earth.
However, in this unique instruction, we are given a general biblical pattern for our own
obedience to the Great Commission. Our outward focus and activity should first of all be
directed to those nearest to us, and then to those in successively wider circles out from where we
are to the very ends of the earth (like the ripples which move out when a rock is dropped in a
still pond). This outward element of the perspective commanded by our Lord leads naturally to
a second element. Our perspective and activity must be:
B. Universal, not narrow and provincial. For the Lord commanded us to make disciples of all the nations. Although it would never be possible for any individual or local church to actually carry the Gospel to every nation and place on earth, we ought still to have a universal focus in our labors which cannot rest satisfied until men are being made disciples of Christ from every nation, people, tribe and tongue. We should especially seek to see the Gospel brought to those places where there is less of Gospel light shining forth than where we are, and where the darkest corners of our globe are to be found. We should be like the lepers in the Northern Kingdom who, when they discovered the abandoned camp of the Syrians and began plundering it, were drawn up short by the memory of the people starving in the nearby city of Samaria. What was their response to one another?
"We are not doing what is right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell . . ." (2 Kings 7:9)
At this point, a sensitive soul might tend to be overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the
course which has been commanded us by our Lord -- especially when we recall how weak we
are, how blind the souls of men are, and how fierce our spiritual enemies are in this great
conflict. The Lord knew that He was calling us to no small task in His Commission, and thus he
also left us with:
V. Its encouragements. There are two encouragements to be found in our text itself, and then I
want to briefly point you to two from outside our text as well. First, there is:
A. The power of Christ. Remember, it is the One to whom all authority has been given in
heaven and on earth who speaks to us here. He has authority and power over all things including
our enemies. He is sovereignly directing all that happens in His universe in strict accordance
with His will. And therefore, we should take up the marching orders of the King of Kings and
Lord of Lords with great confidence and hope. Our Master is not the general of an inferior army
trying to whip up his troops to attack a far superior force in a vain, suicidal effort. He rules over
all, and will win the great spiritual conflict in the end. So go, make disciples.
But further, there is:
B. The presence of Christ. Remember how the Lord closed His Commission with that rich
promise, ". . . and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." If we obey our Lord and
go about extending His Kingdom on earth in accordance with His instructions, we can be
confident that He will be with us, and will never leave us or forsake us. In fact, it is only as we
go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them, that we have any basis to expect His
presence and smile with us. Brothers and sisters, if we have Christ, what more do we need?
Nothing more will satisfy our souls than the Lord Jesus Himself, and nothing more is needed. If
He is with us, we have nothing to fear.
But also, there is:
C. The purpose of Christ. Here I would briefly direct you to a passage found earlier in the book of Matthew -- chapter 16, verse 18 -- where the Lord promised those very disciples to whom He later addressed the Great Commission:
"..... on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."
Christ has set Himself to build His church, He has uttered that purpose in an open promise to His
disciples, and He will not fail to accomplish what He has set Himself to do. For He is King of
Kings and Lord of Lords.
Finally, there is:
D. The proven record of Christ. There is the proven track-record of our Lord as recorded in
church history so that we may trace over nearly two millennia now how the Lord has been
continually building His church and winning great triumphs for His Kingdom as disciples have
been made in ever greater numbers and gathered into local churches which have grown more and
more in their understanding of His marching orders over time.
There is also the track-record of our Lord in our own life-experiences as Christians so that we
may recall, if we are thinking soberly, how He has aided us, and never let us down in our
obedient labors for Him, time and time again, even though the outlook seemed very dark at
Brethren, we are not on a fool's errand to obey our Lord and to seek to fulfill His Great
In closing, briefly consider with me four final matters of application:
1. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are involved in fulfilling the Great Commission this
very weekend here in the Baltimore area, and that you are engaged in fulfilling the Great
Commission in your ongoing efforts here to establish an increasingly spiritually alive and
biblical local church. You must not lose sight of the larger picture and lose sight of the
importance of the work going on right here, as disciples of Christ are being baptized, and are
being instructed in whatever Christ has commanded in His Word. (Elaborate.)
2. However, we must also ask ourselves if we are carrying out the great "Go" of the Great
Commission, and how we should go about doing it. We should ask these questions:
a. Corporately as a church.
(1) As a church member.
(2) As one who might one day go even further as a missionary, or the wife or child of one.
(3) As one who might end up being the parent of one who goes -- who purposefully labors to
that end if God be pleased to bless it through your prayers and rearing.
3. We also, in all of our missions efforts, be sure we are ultimately doing all that Christ has
commanded us here. We must not only be making disciples, but also must be working toward
the goal in view of well-ordered churches with pluralities of biblically-qualified elders.
a. We must avoid the errors of many evangelicals in the past and present in emphasizing
evangelism to the neglect of the rest of the task -- fishing for men (Peter's first call), but not
adequately caring for the sheep following conversion (Peter's recommissioning recorded in John
21). The godly missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, clearly erred in this direction in that he
neglected to emphasize enough the latter parts of the Great Commission.
b. But as Reformed Baptists we must not overreact against the imbalances of our evangelical
brethren and emphasize church planting and oversight involving those already made disciples of
Christ while failing to focus properly upon the central task of making disciples. It is not
adequate to simply seek to establish teaching points for already-made disciples.
4. We must make sure that we first of all are disciples of Christ ourselves -- those who eagerly listen to and obey the voice of the Master.
Introduction. We have thus far focused upon the question, "Why should we be concerned with
the subject of missions?" or the mandate for the work of missions as recorded in the Great
Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. All of this leads naturally to a further question upon which
we should focus. How exactly should we go about carrying out the tasks which the Great
Commission sketches out for us? What is the method which should be used in carrying out the
work of missions?
This has been no little question in the history of the church. During the Middle Ages, the task of
missions primarily fell upon celibate monks who traveled about preaching an increasingly
corrupted Gospel. During the Reformation the entire monkish institution with its unbiblical
asceticism was thrown off, and the true church of Christ was left to grapple with identifying a
different approach. Eventually, with the arising of the Modern Missionary movement at the end
of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century, the predominant method became the
mission board or society which was formed in various ways, and which generally oversaw the
work of missions. Sometimes these boards functioned more independently and were composed
of pastors and/or laymen from various churches. Other times they were the arm of a
denominational structure. At times, pioneering, enterprising individuals went out on their own
and basically started their own mission society or board. Much effective labor for the advance
of the Kingdom of God was accomplished through this method.
However, tradition is no ultimate basis for determining the will of God for ourselves as the
people of God in carrying out Christ's Great Commission at the end of the 20th Century. Neither
is the pragmatism which says practically that any method is okay as long as it gets "results". But
unfortunately, both tradition and pragmatism have been far too dominant in evangelical circles.
There has often been a very weak scrutiny of the methods used in evangelism and missions -- a
scrutiny which has often not gone beyond the concerns of whether the methods are "acceptable"
in the church and whether they "work".
Yet when we turn to our Bibles, we find that the living God and His exalted Son whom we serve
are just as concerned with how we achieve the desired goal of extending their Kingdom, as they
are regarding the results achieved. May I remind you of an Old Testament example of Kingdom
work. 1 Kings 13 tells us how a prophet of God carried out his mission in prophesying against
the idolatrous worship instituted by King Jeroboam, and yet was put to death by God on the way
home. Why did God deal so severely with His prophet? He had accomplished the basic goal of
his mission. Didn't that count? In a real sense no. He was judged by God because he failed to
carry out his mission in the way Jehovah had ordained.
Under the New Covenant as well, God has given us specific directions regarding the way we
should do His kingdom work of going out preaching the Gospel and seeing churches established
to the ends of the earth. He has guided us both by direct commandment, and also by Apostolic
example. And thus we should seek to carefully follow His directions when it comes to the
methods of doing missionary work.
In the first portion of our study, we noted that in a real sense we all as Christians should be
active in appropriate ways in furthering the work of missions, first of all where we are located,
and then in ever widening circles out from where we are. All of this may rightly be viewed as
missions in its broadest scope and as the fulfilling of the Great Commission. We must never
lose sight of this broader scope.
However, when we refer to missions in the English language, we usually have in view more specific efforts which involve the sending of "missionaries" to more distant locations than the place where we are presently located, whether still within our own nation ("home missions") or to other nations ("foreign missions"). Such a more limited scope or reference also has biblical taproots. It is my purpose in this portion of our study to focus upon what is perhaps the key passage of the Bible where we find such a sending out of missionaries to more distant locations as we seek to determine the biblical methodology for such labors. That passage is Acts 13:1-4:
1Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. 4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Before we begin to outline in more detail the missions methodology presented in our text, let's first briefly review the Great Commission efforts which had led up to this point. As we noted before, the first local church was established in Jerusalem through the preaching of the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. As our Lord had commanded, the Apostles began witnessing to Christ in Jerusalem. It appears that initially the Gospel did not spread much further than this, although there may have been some newly-converted Jews who returned back to their various homelands soon after this day, and who had a witness to other in those places. But the resurrected Lord fairly soon saw to it that His kingdom expanded through fiery persecution. Notice the account of this in Acts 8:1-4:
1Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephen's) death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
The scattered Christians preached the word of God as they went, and there is nothing here to limit that preaching to just elders or appointed "missionaries". Here was the broader scope again of the great Commission as the Gospel spread to Judea and Samaria. During this period, the Apostle Peter was used by God to bring the Gospel to the first Gentile converts, Cornelius the centurion and those in his house, signalling that the old wall of division between Jew and Gentile had been broken down by Christ (Acts 10). Then we pick up the narrative regarding the Christians scattered from Jerusalem in Acts 11:19-26:
19Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Evidently it was in Antioch, north of Judea and Samaria in Syria, where the Gospel was first preached more widely to full Gentiles as well as to Jews. And thus a healthy, growing church arose which was composed of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles who together were called Christians. The church in Jerusalem heard of God's working and sent Barnabas to Antioch to help out. Barnabas then looked up Saul in his hometown of Tarsus to come and assist in Antioch. There they labored, having an important role in the leadership of the church as indicated by their mission to carry a benevolent gift to the brethren in Jerusalem (11:27-30). It was as these two men returned to Antioch where they labored as leaders along with other prophets and teachers that the events of our key text pick up. Notice Acts 12:25:
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.
With this background before us, we are going to focus upon five things regarding the
methodology of missions which flow from our main text and other passages of God's Word.
First notice with me:
I. The essential atmosphere. Consider again Acts 13:2-3:
2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
When we come to a subject like methodology, we tend to focus upon the vigorous efforts and
activities of the individuals involved in actually carrying out a particular undertaking. And we
tend to not think in terms of the activities which strikingly confront us first in our key text. For
verses 2 and 3 tell us that the first broader missionary trip to Gentile regions was commanded
and initiated in the midst of earnest prayer and fasting.
Verse 2 indicates that the five spiritual leaders in the church in Antioch were engaged in official
acts of ministry to the Lord, and that the practice of fasting was accompanying those labors. In
the Bible, religious fasting was not an isolated activity, but was practiced during a season of
more intense seeking of the Lord in prayer. The focus of these prayers might be the confession
of sin or the seeking deliverance from great danger or a requesting of guidance and help with
another perplexing concern. The fact that prayer is connected with fasting in the next verse,
verse 3, confirms that verse 2 likewise was referring to such a season of combined fasting and
earnest prayer. In fact, the two verses may refer to the same season of prayer and fasting during
which all of the events here described took place.
At least the five church leaders were engaged in this activity of fasting and prayer, for it was those who were ministering to the Lord who were fasting (verse 2) and it was those who laid hands on Paul and Barnabas who fasted and prayed (verse 3). However, if these leaders were ministering to the Lord and laying hands on the missionaries in a corporate worship service of the church at Antioch, then all the members of the church may have been involved in the fasting and prayer as well. The possibility of the involvement of the entire church in this activity is made even more likely by later evidence that it was the entire church which had been involved in the original sending out of Saul and Barnabas, and not just their leaders:
26From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27And when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:26-27)
At the end of this first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to the place where they
had been commended to the grace of God for the work of missions -- evidently referring to the
prayer and fasting which had accompanied the laying on of hands. And to whom did they render
their report of what they had accomplished? It was not just the three leaders left behind, but the
entire church gathered together to whom they considered themselves accountable. Thus the
entire church must have to some degree been involved in the original sending off of these two
missionaries, and therefore would likely have been involved in the prayer and fasting
accompanying it as well.
Having sought to accurately establish what we find in our text, it is vitally important that it be strongly registered in our minds that the atmosphere in which this initial missionary endeavor was launched was one of fasting and prayer both before and after the Holy Spirit had given more clear directions. Listen to Barnes at this point:
"The first formal mission to the Gentiles was an important event in the church, and they engaged in this appointment with deep solemnity and with humbling themselves before God. . . This enterprise was a new one. The gospel had been preached to the Jews, to Cornelius, and to the Gentiles at Antioch. But there had been no solemn, public, and concerted plan of sending it to the Gentiles, or of appointing a mission to the heathen. It was a new event, and was full of danger and hardships. The primitive church felt the need of divine direction and aid in the great work. Two missionaries were to be sent forth among strangers, to be exposed to perils by sea and land; and the commencement of the enterprise demanded prayer. The church humbled itself, and . . . sought, as all others should do, the divine blessing to attend the labours of those employed in this work. The result showed that the prayer was heard." (Acts, p. 198, col. 1 bot.)
We might add that prayers for such missionary efforts did not cease with the sending out of the
missionaries, for Paul later acknowledged that believers were helping him in his labors in their
prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11) and repeatedly exhorted them to pray for him regarding his
preaching of the Gospel.
Before we press on, there is a lesson here for us. As we as leaders and members in Christ's
church seek to carry out the Lord's marching orders in the Great Commission, we should
likewise seek His guidance and blessing in all that is begun and attempted with earnest prayer.
And at crucial seasons, fasting would also appear to be in order as an indication of the
seriousness with which we view the issues at hand. Earnest prayer should be the atmosphere in
which our missions methodology is worked out. For without the guidance and blessing of the
Lord, all our methods and efforts will be in vain.
But now, having considered the necessary atmosphere of our missionary methods, we come next
to take up a second element, that of:
II. The divine sender. Our text makes it abundantly clear who ultimately sends out
missionaries if it is done biblically. In verse 2 it was the Holy Spirit who directed that Barnabas
and Paul be separated to Him to the work to which He had called them. And as they departed
from Antioch, verse 4 underscores who the Sender ultimately was with the words, "So, being
sent out by the Holy Spirit". So it was the living God, and here particularly the third person of
the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who ultimately sent these men out.
However, the Holy Spirit was not the only party involved in the sending off of Paul and
Barnabas, which brings us to a third element of the missionary methods outlined in our text
III. The human agents in the sending. In our text the Holy Spirit gave instructions regarding
the sending of these missionaries to human beings to carry out. At least the five leaders of the
church at Antioch were told to separate to God Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He was
calling them (verse 2). Then those leaders laid hands on these men and sent them away (verse
3). However, as we have already noted, Acts 14:26-28 indicates that it was not just the leaders
of the Antiochian church who were involved in this separating and sending activity. Since the
report upon the return of these missionaries was given to the entire gathered church, their leaders
were evidently acting in behalf of the entire church as these men were sent out.
What exactly was it which the leaders and members of the church did here in response to the
Holy Spirit's directive? Let's briefly consider each of the three key verbs, "separate" (verse 2),
"having . . . laid hands", and "sent" (verse 3).
The word translated "separate" also can have the meaning of setting apart someone. Paul and
Barnabas up to this time had been merely two of five leaders of the church, and two of many
members of the church. But now they were to be viewed and treated in a different manner.
They were to be taken from the midst of God's people and set apart to the specific new task to
which the Lord was calling them -- a task which would require that they be physically separated
from their brethren.
Thus we read that the leaders, functioning in behalf of the church, "laid hands" on these two
men. Why did they do this? From the context and parallel passages, the laying on of hands was
symbolically indicating that these men were indeed being set apart or designated for a specific
purpose -- here for a new missionary venture. It also signified, following the terminology of
Acts 14:26, that they were being commended in prayer to the grace of God for their work. These
brethren were calling upon the living God to guide, assist, bless and protect them in their labors
by His grace.
Finally, we are told that the leaders and members of the church "sent" these two men away. The
word here translated "sent" can have various shades of meaning all the way from the
authoritative sending of one person away from another contrary to the heart desires of the one
sent away (the Geresene demoniac -- Luke 8:38), to the mere dismissing of a gathered assembly
or of individuals (Acts 19:41; 15:33), to the releasing or letting go of one previously held
contrary to his will, like a prisoner held by civil authorities (Acts 4:21). This word is probably
used in our text with a richness of meaning, indicating on the one hand that God's people, led by
their leaders, were positively and authoritatively sending off these men to their God-given work,
with Paul and Barnabas here obviously willing for it to be so. But on the other hand, the church
at Antioch was also releasing or letting these men go from their previous responsibilities and
relationships with them, indicating the difficult and painful separation which was involved in
letting go these two gracious and gifted teachers who had brought such blessing to the church.
There was a real cost involved in what the church here was doing in submission to the will of
However, these two men were not merely sent off or released and that was the end of the matter. Notice Acts 14:26 - 15:2; 15:35-36:
14:26From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27And when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28So they stayed there a long time with the disciples. 15:1And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
35Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing."
The involvement of Paul and Barnabas with the church at Antioch went further than the days
leading up to their initial sending off. Once their initial mission had been completed, they
returned to Antioch and gave a report to the gathered church, indicating, as we have noticed, a
measure of accountability to the sending church, even though Paul was a capital "A" Apostle
with authority over all the churches all the time. They were not just off doing their own thing.
Furthermore, upon their return they resumed assisting in the work in Antioch for some time,
even representing the church in dealing with problems on a visit to Jerusalem. Thus a
relationship with, and ministry to their sending church continued while they were back among
In summary, these missionaries were set apart by the church, commended to God in prayer, and
released and sent off to take up their task. But they also reported back to the church, and labored
among them in a continuing relationship when they returned.
In light of what we have just considered, the divine sender and the human agents in the sending,
there are at least five lines of application which should occupy our attention before we press on
to consider the fourth and fifth elements of a biblical methodology of missions. First, we learn
1. That in initiating planned, purposeful efforts to fulfill the Great Commission through the
labors of Gospel heralds who go to regions beyond their (and our) present homes, we should be
concerned to carefully follow the leading of God regarding those labors. First of all, notice once
again that we are focusing here upon a specific, albeit central part of the task of the Great
Commission. We are not talking about the kingdom efforts of all individual Christians where
they live locally, but about the labors of Gospel heralds who go to other regions. We also are not
talking here about unplanned missionary efforts brought about by the obvious Providence of God
such as the scattering of the church at Jerusalem by persecution with the members preaching the
Gospel wherever they went. Again, we are talking about initiating planned, purposeful efforts to
fulfill the Great Commission through the labors of Gospel heralds who go to regions beyond
their present homes.
In such cases, we are not given merely the general directions of the Great Commission and then
left to work them out in launching missionary enterprises to other realms as we see fit. The
emphasis upon the role of the Holy Spirit in such a key passage as Acts 13 does not allow such
an idea. (When we encounter something significant for the first time in our Bibles, as we do in
Acts 13, we should pay careful heed.) The work that Paul and Barnabas were to do was a work
that God had called them to do, and the church was told by God to send these particular men off
at God's own time to accomplish that work. In like manner, we should be very concerned that
the purposeful launching of missionary enterprises be done according to the direction of the
missionary God. Matters which He ultimately should direct include: who is to go, what they are
to do, and when they are to go. These things are not for us to determine -- they're God's business,
and we are to get in line with and submit to His will in the matter.
But notice a second application at this point:
2. The local church is the proper human agent to be involved in the planned, purposeful setting
apart and sending of missionaries to other regions. You will look in vain in our text or
elsewhere in the New Testament to find a mission board or society designating and sending off
missionaries, or overseeing them. You will also look in vain for individuals sending themselves
off as New Covenant missionaries and setting up their own para-church organizations to gather
funds and promote and oversee the work. There is one, and only one organization or institution
on earth which the Lord has designated to be the proper human agent in launching and sustaining
and monitoring of such missionary endeavors. When He by His Spirit gave orders to launch the
first planned, purposeful missionary effort to reach the poor, lost, Gentile masses, He gave those
orders to a local church and especially to her leaders. Since the goal of missions ultimately is to
establish local churches made up of those made disciples of Christ who are led by sufficient
leaderships, it stands to reason that those who do this work should be self-reproducing, local
churches with their leaders.
We violate the clear will of Christ expressed to the church at Antioch, and carried out by her, to
proceed otherwise, no matter what pragmatic reasons are given for other methods. For we never
have the right to replace God's own ordained way of doing His work with our own methods.
But if we are members and leaders of a local church of Christ, we should be very concerned
about how we may most be used by the Lord in launching and maintaining such missionary
enterprises, which brings us to a further lesson:
3. The local churches which are best prepared and most able to launch such planned, purposeful
missionary endeavors to other regions, and which will generally be most used by the Lord to do
so, will possess a number of characteristics found in the church at Antioch. Notice several of
these important traits:
a. The church at Antioch was a thoroughly evangelistic church. This church clearly had a
burden for reaching lost sinners which started at their own front door. As we have already seen,
in the beginnings of the church, the first believers who came to Antioch not only preached the
good news about the Lord Jesus to Jews, but to Greeks also. Racial barriers were broken down
from desires to see lost men brought to the Savior, and Christ glorified in the earth. Many
continued to be brought to the Lord after the coming of Barnabas from Jerusalem. Although we
are unsure why at least the leaders of the church were engaged in fasting and prayer when the
Holy Spirit told them to set Paul and Barnabas apart, the words of the Holy Spirit very possibly
were the answer to their prayers as they were seeking God's face regarding their desires to see
the Gospel preached to the Gentiles beyond their city. Whatever the case, this was a church with
a burning passion to reach lost sinners wherever they might be.
So also today, we cannot expect that any church (or individual) will be much used in the work of
missions if there is not evidence of serious labors to win lost sinners in their own back yard.
This is a challenge to us if we would be used by God.
b. The church at Antioch was a church which eagerly sought and followed the teachings of
the Lord's Apostles, which was God's Word. They evidently openly received first Barnabas,
and then Paul, when they arrive in Antioch, for we find them right away engaged in teaching.
Furthermore, this church had a rich deposit of at least five godly teachers and prophets given to
them -- evidence of God's blessing upon a teachable spirit (in contrast with the famine of the
hearing of the words of the LORD which a disobedient Israel knew according to Amos 8:5-6 &
11). When a doctrinal controversy arose, they sent to the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem and
submitted gladly to their directions (as seen in Acts 15).
Here was the necessary foundation for any missionary enterprise which would bring lasting fruit
to the glory of Christ, for churches (or other organizations or individuals) reproduce after their
own kind on the mission field. If they are weak and shallow doctrinally, generally their daughter
churches will be too.
There is no place for evangelism at the expense of solid doctrinal teaching of God's people. It
must be both. Doctrinal teaching need not kill evangelistic zeal. Here it was the seed-bed for it.
There is something wrong if the situation is otherwise in a local church.
c. The church at Antioch was a church which possessed the resources necessary to launch such a
missionary enterprise. It was evidently a large church, which tells us that large is not bad, and is
often the only way there are enough resources necessary to do many things in extending God's
kingdom. This church also possessed multiple pastors so that they could afford to send some off
without losing a plurality of elders or wrongly leaving the church to suffer pastoral neglect.
So also, a major reason why each local church should desire to grow and to have a plurality of
gifted men established as elders over her, if God so blesses, is so she may better be in a position
to launch more bold and demanding efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. This is what we
should pray and work for. That our churches could one day sent forth teams of experienced,
qualified pastors. This reality is also why relatively new and small Reformed Baptist churches
have often simply not been ready to launch such labors until they were strengthened on the home
d. Finally, the church at Antioch was generous and unselfish with the resources she possessed. Notice this in Acts 11:27-30:
27And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
This church stood ready to share her material possessions with needy brethren in other places,
manifesting an unselfish, generous spirit regarding the blessings she had been given. The same
spirit was manifested regarding the spiritual blessings which she possessed as well. When the
Spirit of God said, "Separate and release Paul and Barnabas", there is no indication that the
people of God questioned this action or complained, hard as it must have been to let this earnest
Apostle and encouraging preacher go. Rather they responded with all seriousness in fasting and
prayer and sent them out. In other words, they did not seek to grow as a church and to multiply
pastors merely for their own selfish benefit. They sought ultimately the larger good of the
Kingdom of God and the glory of Christ. And in their response they were simply imitating the
way they had been treated. Remember that Barnabas had been graciously sent to them by the
church at Jerusalem, and that Saul had come from elsewhere as well. So they heeded the Words
of their Master, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8b). They evidently were
not the losers for their sacrifices, for after Paul and Barnabas had returned from the first
missionary journey, we are told in Acts 15:35 that they ". . . remained in Antioch, teaching and
preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also".
As was true with Antioch, any church must develop and practice such a generous, self-giving
spirit if she would ever be used in the work of missions. And she also will not be the loser for it.
But now we come to a fourth application from what we have seen thus far:
4. The leaders of a local church -- in other words, the elders or pastors -- should lead the church
in taking up such planned, purposeful missionary endeavors to other regions. It is not accidental
that, although the Great Commission is given to the entire church of Christ, it was first spoken to
the highest earthly officers of the church -- the Apostles. So also, the revelation of the Holy
Spirit in Acts 13 evidently was most directly given to the leaders at Antioch, and they were the
ones who led the church in launching this missionary effort.
Pastors today should do the same. One reason why many serious Christians in the past have
been tempted to depart from God's ordained method of missions through the local church is
because their pastors have not had a proper concern to lead God's people in this duty of the local
church. We who are shepherds must not leave sheep possessing a real heart for the extension of
Christ's Kingdom without the leadership we are called to provide, and for which we must answer
when Christ returns.
5. The local church launching such missionary efforts and those being sent should seek to
determine God's will and guidance in Biblical ways. We have already concluded that it is
important to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the sending out of missionaries. But that
raises a question.
In our text in Acts 13 there were prophets on hand -- individuals who received direct revelation
from God. And apparently through a direct revelation, the Holy Spirit here indicated that
Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart for missionary labors. Furthermore, Paul had been earlier
told by God by direct revelation what the work was to which he was being called.
However, we believe that we no longer live in the era of living, capital "A" Apostles possessing
the supernatural gifts and signs of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12). Therefore we believe that
there no longer are such prophets and direct divine revelations in the church of Christ, and thus
that we should not look for or expect them. For we already possess a sufficient revelation from
God -- the completed Bible.
But the Bible does not list the names of those who are to be sent out as missionaries in the future
centuries of the church, and the tasks which they are to do. So how may a local church know in
her particular situation whom the Holy Spirit is directing to so send out? And how may
missionaries know that they are being sent, and what they are to do?
At this point we may receive some help by considering parallels between these questions and a
somewhat similar question. According to Acts 20:28, it was the Holy Spirit who had made the
Ephesian elders overseers to shepherd the church of God. According to Ephesians 4:11, it is
Christ Himself who has given to the church the gifts of pastor-teachers. The office of elder or
pastor continues in the church to the present day. How then does a local church today without
direct divine revelation know those men who are being given to her as Christ's gifts by the
We don't have time to in a detailed way document our answer from the Scriptures, but may I
briefly seek to give the biblical answer. Most foundationally, one whom Christ is giving to the
church as an elder or pastor is one who possesses the qualifications given in Scripture (1
Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). But he also has been given by God a desire for the office (1
Timothy 3:1), has been recognized as qualified and God's good gift by a particular local church
(Acts 6:3-6), and has been installed in his office by elders who are acting in good conscience
(Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22).
Now when we come to the matter of missionaries, we are facing a somewhat different situation. Barnabas and Saul were not being called to a new permanent office in the church in Acts 13. Paul had already been called to the office of Apostle, and they both evidently were functioning as pastors or elders in the church at Antioch. Instead, these men were here being separated to carry out a specific task as those who were already officers in the church -- a task which they had completed by the end of this missionary journey when they reported back to the church at Antioch. For we are told in Acts 14:26 as we saw earlier:
From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
And then we read that they evidently returned to their previous labors as spiritual leaders in the
church at Antioch for an extended period of time (Acts 14:26-15:2f; 15:35).
However, while keeping before us this important difference between God's calling to a church
office, and to a special missionary task, I believe that there are some legitimate and important
parallels between the recognition of those called by God to be elders, and of those called by God
to do the work of missions.
As we will observe later in this study, there are some special qualifications and characteristics
which one taking up missionary labors should possess. They are qualifications and
characteristics which can and should be recognized by other leaders in the church, and by the
rank and file of the church members.
Furthermore, a man should have a certain measure of desire given to him by God for the work
before he takes up the task. The naming of these two men, Saul and Barnabas, for missionary
labors certainly did not take one of the two by surprise, and probably neither of them. From the
day of his conversion on the road to Damascus, the Lord had indicated to Paul that he would be
sent to the Gentiles. His presence first in Arabia and then in his home area of Tarsus in Asia
Minor following his conversion probably were indicators of the burden he had for these more
outlying regions. Barnabas had already manifested a desire and burden for the larger work of
God's kingdom among the Gentiles. Remember that he had been sent by the church in Jerusalem
to help out the new growing congregation in Antioch which was composed of large numbers of
Gentiles. And he had labored earnestly and effectively in those labors. It may very well be that
a catalyst to the season of prayer and fasting by the Antiochian leaders recorded in Acts 13 was
the expression of these missionary desires by Paul and Barnabas. Certainly the later labors of
both men, and the words of Paul in his writings during the years after they were first sent out
from Antioch indicate that indeed they possessed a God-given desire for the task.
Thus also today a local church and her leaders should consider who among them manifest the
special missionary qualifications and characteristics indicated in the Scriptures to take up the
task. They should also be sensitive to the desires of qualified men. Furthermore, they should act
in sending out such individuals according to other biblical principles, such as not negligently
leaving the sending church without basic pastoral care, and not failing to give due regard to the
proper care of the missionaries' wives and children. Finally, such decisions should be sensitive
to other providential indications from the Lord as long as those providences agree with and do
not contradict what He has already declared in His Word.
We have thus far only been able to consider the first three elements of a biblical methodology of
missions. I mentioned that there were at least five. Let me mention the other two which do not
flow as directly from our text, but rather are drawn more broadly from the rest of the book of
Acts and the New Testament. Notice first:
IV. The further assistance. Although the local church at Antioch was the party which launched
and provided primary oversight of the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul, they were not
the only party involved in supporting His labors during the first and subsequent journeys. The
large and older church at Jerusalem supported these labors indirectly by providing first Barnabas
and then Silas to the Antioch church to first labor there, and then eventually be sent out
elsewhere. Other churches, including those planted by Paul such as Philippi and others in
Macedonia, joined in providing for the material needs and personal care of the missionaries
(Romans 15:23-24; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9; Philippians 2:25-30; 4:15-18, etc.). An assistant
evidently trained on the job by Paul, young Timothy, was provided by his home church in Asia
Minor where he was well-spoken of by the brethren (Acts 16:1-3). And individuals seem to have
played a key supporting role in missionary efforts on the scene including Aquila and Priscilla
(Acts 18:2; 18-19; 24-26; Romans 16:3-5); Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2); Onesiphorus (2 Timothy
1:16-18); etc. (Romans 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:17-18).
From these examples we learn that there are ways in which smaller, more immature churches
may have a vital role in helping support missionary labors initiated by others, or may cooperate
together in forwarding the task of missions, even though they may not yet be able to launch
efforts on their own like Antioch. And individuals who are not sent out as missionaries like Paul
and Barnabas and Silas per se may fill vital supporting roles in that missionary labor.
Finally, the biblical materials help us in developing:
V. A wise strategy to follow in missions. Let me just briefly list several apparent elements of
the strategy adopted by Paul:
A. The missionaries tended to go to nearer regions first, where possible. Paul and Barnabas
went to relatively nearby Cyprus and south-central Asia Minor on Paul's first missionary journey.
On the second missionary journey, Paul and Silas first tried to go to nearby Asia, then Bithynia,
before the Lord made it clear that they were to go much further than originally attempted on
across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece (Acts 16:6-10). Only later did the more distant
Rome and apparently Spain become regions of labor.
It stands to reason that a church and her missionaries normally would be best suited to reach the
regions geographically closest to them since there would usually be similarities culturally and a
more natural burden for their neighbors. Thus Jerusalem was best suited to reach nearby Judea
and Samaria with their Jewish and half-breed Samaritan populations, and Antioch was best
suited with its sizeable Gentile membership to reach nearer (and eventually further) Gentile
What do we learn from this? We ought not too quickly feel defensive if initially we are mostly
engaged in "home" missions, and are doing relatively little in "foreign" missions. The key issue
is not what you are doing now. The issue is, what are your long-range goals if God blesses. Are
you laboring nearby merely because it's easier and you have no heart for labors in more distant
regions and more different cultures and languages? If so, there is a problem. But there is an
alternative reason which may be true. You may simply be following the biblical pattern, starting
by buying up opportunities nearby where such labors are more easily done without so many
resources due to cultural and geographical nearness, perhaps establishing beachheads from
which more far reaching labors may extend, even as Jerusalem did in helping Antioch get
B. The missionaries tended to go to places where there was most opportunity for their
Gospel labors, often temporarily exiting places where there was strong opposition, unless
the Lord made it clear that they should stay (first missionary journey, contrast Corinth
(Acts 18:9-11)). So we should especially seek to buy up the greatest opportunities for the
Gospel which exist, and not be too reluctant to leave a particular location if strong opposition is
limiting the missionary's ability to effectively herald the Gospel, unless the Lord makes it
obvious that it is our duty to stay. However, such departures should generally only be temporary
until the opposition has died down again and opportunities for ministry are renewed (Acts
C. The missionaries generally went to the major metropolitan areas first. This is the general
pattern seen in the Apostle Paul's labors, not that small towns and rural areas were not important
(Acts 16:10-12; 19:1a; 8-10; 20). Evidently these early missionaries adopted this approach so
that churches established in the major cities, following the earlier principle of starting with one's
own backyard, could later reach out into the neighboring areas. For of course a church started in
a larger metropolitan area was much more likely to have the resources needed to reach the
smaller towns and countryside around than vice versa. Such an approach was but a wise use of
at least initially limited resources in efforts to see the Gospel brought to every place.
From what we have seen thus far, we are helped in laying out a biblical strategy for missionary
labors as Reformed Baptists (and in understanding our history heretofore). Although our
confession is an old, well-established one, the establishment of a group of churches known as
Reformed Baptist churches is a rather recent fact, having taken place within the last 30 years.
Much of our focus during these early years has been upon seeing solid churches establish in our
own nation and Canada, especially in major metropolitan areas. Although much has happened
to encourage us, and sister churches have popped up all over our continent, the reality is that
there are still many metropolitan areas where there is no solid Reformed Baptist Church at all as
far as we know (for example, nearer us in Grand Rapids there are: Lansing, Battle Creek,
Saginaw\Midland\Bay City, Pontiac, Chicago, Milwaukee, Fort Wayne, Kansas City, St. Louis,
Denver, Des Moines, etc.) The large proportion of sister churches which do exist are relatively
small and immature. Realistically, up till now, we as a group of churches have had limited
resources to launch much by way of full-scale assaults to far-off places, although there have
been some significant efforts. In the meantime we have been seeking, and are still seeking to do
what we can, along with sister churches, to see churches built up in the places where God has
already put us, and to establish new beachheads in our own country, especially in our respective
regions of the country, and especially in major metropolitan areas. All of this is being done with
the goal that we might eventually see established a solid base of mature churches with numbers
of gifted, mature elders who could not only reach their own areas, but could also more
effectively launch assaults against Satan's strongholds in more distant areas.
We ought to be laboring in our respective spheres with these goals in our prayers and on our lips.
We should be seeking to see our own local church used to extend Christ's kingdom in
neighboring areas, and that, if God be pleased, those churches which result might even out-strip
us in their usefulness in extending Christ's kingdom in the days to come. But also, the
opportunities for Gospel labors in more far-away areas continue to open up and expand before
us, and we need to be ready to buy them up as the churches where we are mature and grow. This
has been our own experience as a local church in Grand Rapids as we have grown in experience,
maturity and size.
But there is more we should learn. We also ought to take advantage, not only of geographical
nearness, but also cultural and ethnic nearness which God providentially brings our way. We
live in a day similar to that of the Roman Empire -- a day in which the world is being
increasingly bound together by means of good transportation and communication and relative
peace and stability overall. The peoples of many nations are moving to and fro -- especially in
our land which is a melting-pot. Rather than look upon the increasing numbers of minorities in
our land whether blacks, Asiatics, Hispanics, etc., with dread and prejudice as watering down
our white, Northern European, Christian culture (which has been going to pot on its own even
without the growth and influx of minority populations), we should instead see such
combinations of peoples as opportunities to cross lines of race, culture, and language in
extending the Gospel.
One unique possibility is buying up witnessing opportunities to the many international students
coming to us from many nations -- perhaps by becoming a host family through a neighboring
college or university. They have come near to us culturally as well as geographically since they
know at least some English, and often will return to be leaders in their own homelands.
Notice with me finally a fourth element of the missionary strategy adopted by the Apostle Paul:
D. The missionaries generally went to and ministered to the people of God who were already in a given location first. Although there were unique redemptive historical events taking place, and unique commands being obeyed, there are still general principles to be derived from the fact that Paul in his missionary labors went to the synagogues first and sought to minister to God's Old Covenant people, numbers of whom were probably true believers and simply needed to be better taught the New Covenant truths which they had not yet heard. In this activity we see the outworking of the command of Galatians 6:10:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Furthermore, it was common sense to begin seeking to reach the Jews in a given location. They
already professed to believe in and worship Jehovah, to embrace His moral law, and to be
looking for the very Messiah the early Christian preachers were coming to proclaim. Here
would be the logical place to seek to gain a foothold for the Gospel. And numbers of Jews
believingly embraced Christ. In comparison to believers just saved out of raw paganism, these
Jewish Christians probably greatly helped provide a mature foundation for the new churches.
How do we apply this as Reformed Baptist? In our day we are not facing pioneer missions in
our own land to regions previously unreached by the Gospel. But we often are approached by
true children of God who have read their Bibles, listened to good tapes, read good books, and are
struggling to find a church which reflects the biblical pattern they find in God's Word, and which
proclaims the biblical Gospel they have come to believe. They often come to us and cry for help
like the Macedonian in Paul's dream. What are we to do? Hold them at arm's length and say,
"Sorry, you'll have to fend for yourselves. We must take the Gospel to the unreached areas"? Is
it somehow contrary to the spirit of Paul's labors to seek to see a biblical church established in
their area and elders ordained to care for them and others who are saved through the church
planting efforts? There is no contradiction or conflict. This is exactly what Paul sought to do as
part of his labors, as we have seen. This is part of the Great Commission.
Conclusion. As we conclude our study of the biblical methodology of missions, don't forget the
first aspect of that methodology which we earlier sought to underscore from Acts 13 -- its
atmosphere of prayer. Do you pray earnestly -- not only the personal petitions found at the end
of the Lord's prayer, but also the broader kingdom petitions found at its beginning? Do you
pray in all their outworkings the petitions: ". . . Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? Are these kingdom petitions first in priority, even
as they are in the Lord's Prayer? They should be. It's as we give ourselves to prayer for God's
kingdom, even at times with fasting, that the Lord works in answer to those prayers to use us and
others to advance the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Let me leave you with a practical suggestion for individual Christians (and perhaps for churches corporately as well). Is there an area of this country or world that is a particular burden for your soul? If not, start with the region right around you. Perhaps get a map of your larger area. Highlight all the major metropolitan areas which as far as you know have no solid church. And begin to pray that such churches would be raised up there. Pray regularly and perseveringly. And be prepared to launch out in a biblical way when and as the Lord answers those prayers.
Introduction. As we have already seen, Matthew 28:18-20 confronts us and every local church
and individual Christian with Christ's mandate to make disciples of every nation, and to gather
them into local churches led by biblical elderships. These are the marching orders of the church.
Closely-related to this mandate is the issue of the methodology which should be used in carrying
out these marching orders. In our study we have begun to trace out the biblical methodology of
missions, focusing especially upon the key passage, Acts 13:1-4.
However, there remains one further crucial issue regarding missions which is closely-related to the methodology of missions, and which demands our closer attention. It is the matter of the men engaged in this activity. As we take up this category of missions, I would remind you that we are here focusing especially upon the sending of Gospel heralds by local churches to areas other than where the senders are located to fulfill the Great Commission, as is outlined for us in the key text of Acts 13:1-4. Thus we are focusing upon a specific, although central part of the task of the Great Commission. Notice again with me the words of Acts 13:1-4 before considering four things regarding the men who were sent and should still be sent as missionaries:
1Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. 4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Notice first of all regarding these missionaries:
I. Their vocation. Notice that Paul and Barnabas were spiritual leaders in the church at
Antioch, functioning evidently as pastors (and in Paul's case as Apostle) in the church. Thus
when we come to this first purposeful sending out of missionaries, we find that those sent were
already pastors as far as their vocation or calling was concerned. And as pastors, they were
simply called to a new specific task (as we outlined before) and not to a new office in the
From this divinely-commanded example, we learn that those whom we likewise send out as
missionaries should also already be pastors or at least qualified to be such. Those given to the
task of preaching the Gospel, forming churches and establishing biblical leaderships in those
churches -- the mandate of Christ in the Great Commission -- naturally should be those qualified
to be leaders in the churches themselves. For who but pastors are fully-qualified for all of the
dimensions of this task?
Now at this point there are at least two qualifying remarks which need to be made:
A. First, this does not mean that there may not be other individuals who are not pastors or
qualified to be such who assist the missionary laborers in their labors (as we briefly noted
before). There is no indication that Aquila was a pastor, and Priscilla as a woman could not
have been. We could say similar things regarding Phoebe, Onesiphorus, and others. Yet these
individuals certainly in practical ways assisted the missionaries, either as diaconal assistants
tending to temporal needs, or as more mature Christians (like Aquila and Priscilla) able to in
private or public settings as appropriate admonish and instruct others (like Apollos) who were
less mature than themselves. However, in the more limited biblical sense of the term, it would
not have been proper to have called these individuals missionaries, or to have sent them out in
the manner Paul and Barnabas (and later Silas) were sent out to preach the Gospel.
So today, there might legitimately be other individuals who would accompany missionaries, or
join them where they labor to help in practical temporal ways. These areas of assistance might
include translating, printing and distributing Bibles and books; carrying out benevolent efforts
like providing medical care or agricultural training as part of doing good to all men (Gal. 6:10)
in an effort to open hearts to the Gospel, teaching the children of missionaries, helping construct
needed facilities, assisting in the work of the newly-planted church as mature church members
or deacons while laboring at a regular vocation during the week, etc. But in a real sense, such
assistants ought not to be called missionaries -- in other words, those sent out by local churches
to preach the Gospel and plant churches.
But there is a second qualification:
B. When I say that the individuals sent should be pastors by vocation, I do not mean that they
never should labor at helping provide for themselves with a job other than Gospel labors while
pursuing their Gospel labors. Otherwise the Apostle Paul with his tentmaking would have been
disqualified. Early missionaries like William Carey (India) and Robert Morrison (China) were
only able to get a foot in the door of these countries by working such "secular" jobs while they
pursued their missionary labors. However, we must not forget that the Apostle Paul was a single
man who was freer to work to provide for himself on the side. Normally a married man with
children will need help with the large proportion of his living expenses if he is to be able to
legitimately devote a significant portion of his available working hours to missionary endeavors
without neglecting his soul or family or health.
This matter of the vocation of the missionary has been no little issue in the history of modern
missions. At the beginning of the Modern Missionary Movement at the end of the 18th Century
and the beginning of the 19th, missionaries who were sent out were usually men with thorough
theological training who had been ordained to the Christian ministry. However, men like
Hudson Taylor brought about a radical change in what was largely a biblical practice in the
mid-19th Century when they began to send out farmers, maids, blacksmiths, etc. with much
more limited biblical instruction in the name of getting out the Gospel more quickly to the
perishing masses of China and elsewhere. After all, any serious Christian could speak the
simple Gospel to others.
The problem with such an approach was that it failed to adequately take into account and
provide for the rest of the requirements of the Great Commission -- those having to do with
establishing biblically-ordered, well-taught local churches with biblical elderships. Once people
were converted, many, if not most of these "lay" missionaries were woefully ill-equipped for
these additional responsibilities, and generally weak churches with weak doctrinal instruction
and a lack of careful biblical order and leadership were the result. The fruits of this deficient
approach still persist in Chinese churches to the present day. We must be careful to avoid
following in this error and thereby failing to thoroughly obey our Lord in the name of carrying
out the first part of His marching orders. Those who are pastors or who are qualified to be such
are those who should be sent out as missionaries.
But having noted the vocation of these missionaries, notice secondly:
II. Their sex. Here we come to a key reason why I labeled the this section "The Men" involved
in missions. If those sent out should be pastors in the local church or at least those qualified to
be so, then it stands to reason that these missionaries should be men -- in other words, members
of the male portion of the human race, and not ladies.
As we have already noted, this does not mean that women may not assist missionaries in many
tasks on the mission field. Neither does it mean that men may not be accompanied by their
wives and daughters. But these women ought not to be called missionaries in its more limited,
biblically-based sense, nor should they try to function as such.
This once again has been no little issue in the modern history of missions. Hudson Taylor and
others like him, again in the name of getting out the Gospel more quickly, broke down or
ignored the biblical limitations regarding the role of women in the church. The result was that
women increasingly assumed leadership roles in public church gatherings including teaching
men, both in the home regions and abroad on the mission field. These public leadership roles in
the church were contrary to the clear teaching of God's Word in 1 Corinthians 14:33-37 and 1
Timothy 2:11-14, and were therefore sinful.
Time and time again I have witnessed dear ladies standing to report to and teach the people of
God in local churches contrary to God's order because they had attached to themselves the label
"missionary". Such problems have been far too prevalent on the mission field as well, although
there have been some ladies labeled as "missionaries" who have more consistently maintained
the biblical practice, and have instructed only children or women in more public settings.
A further and not-surprising result of this unbiblical practice regarding women in mission work
is that to this day, the church in China and elsewhere among the Chinese is characterized in a
widespread fashion by this problem of women exercising unbiblical leadership over men in the
May the Lord help us to not repeat the error and to send out only men as missionaries to take the
lead in heralding the Gospel and planting churches.
But now we must hasten on to a third matter regarding the men:
III. Their number. Once again I purposefully entitled this section "The men (plural) involved
in missions" because it was men plural who were sent out in our key text of Acts 13. We greatly
err if we fail to properly note the significance of the "and" in the phrase "Now separate to Me
Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" as the Holy Spirit Himself gave
instructions for the first purposeful, planned missionary journey. For there is a general biblical
principle of plurality in Gospel labors. May I briefly remind you of other indications of this
From the earliest days of His ministry, even the Lord Jesus did not labor alone. He was
accompanied by disciples and other helpers (John 1:29-43; 2:1-2; 11). When the Lord sent out
His 12 Apostles and then His 70 (or 72) disciples, He sent them out in twos, not alone (Mark 6:7;
Luke 10:1). From the earliest days of the first church in Jerusalem, there was a plurality of first
just Apostles, and then of Apostles and elders leading the church (Acts 1:13; 2:42; 6:2; 8:1; 9:27;
11:1; 15:2; 22-23). There was a plurality of teachers and prophets at Antioch both before and
after Paul and Barnabas were sent out (Acts 13:1). When Paul and Barnabas ordained elders on
the return leg of their first missionary journey, they ordained elders (plural) in every church
(Acts 14:23). When they later parted company in a dispute over John Mark, they did not go out
on their own, but each took a partner (Acts 15:39-40). When Paul wrote to the church at
Philippi, they had a plurality of overseers or elders (Philippians 1:1). In fact, one will look in
vain for a local church with only a single elder in the New Testament. Paul seems to have
always traveled and labored with a team of fellow laborers in the Gospel. And it was loneliness
which weighed so heavily on this veteran missionary during his last imprisonment according to 2
Timothy 1:4; 8; 15; 4:9-16; 19-21.
Why such an emphasis on plurality in Gospel labors? First of all because of the way God created man, so that in general it is not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18). In fact, according to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, a man's labors in general have a much better chance of success where there is the two or three labor who are better than one laboring together. What is true of man and his labors in general must certainly carry over into his labors to extend the kingdom of God where the issues at stake are even weightier, and the opposition more severe. Here I would point you to the example of Hudson Taylor who was an earnest man of God who went out initially as a single man to be a pioneer missionary to China. Listen to a description of his great struggles with loneliness and isolation:
"Deeper than any other trouble in this first year lay Hudson's loneliness, which continually obtrudes into his letters. One week, he wrote he had a violet and two forget-me-nots in his room `I look on them,' he told Amelia (his sister), `with the greatest affection and have even given them names; one I call Amelia, and another Louisa -- what I have called a third is no matter of yours. Did you ever hear of anything so foolish or suspect me of such absurdities? But you know we must have something to love.' Once when there were no letters in a home mail during the hot weather, he nearly swooned. He relapsed into self-pity. `Is it kind so to disappoint me when five minutes writing would tell me you are well? But it always has been so with me. Whatever I set my heart on I lose (referring to a recent romantic disappointment)." (Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria, p. 33)
These struggles of Hudson's were only truly alleviated when he was able to travel with a fellow missionary of like mind, William Burns. Listen to an analysis of this:
"Burns saved Taylor from himself. Rejected by conventional missionaries who identified Christianity with western civilization, he might have grown into an isolated prig, and individualist adventuring in steadily contracting circles, leaving behind nothing but a few converts and an awkward memory." (Pollock, p. 59)
Ultimately, Taylor's loneliness was alleviated by his marriage to a godly Christian girl named
Truly, the data of Scripture and our own experience testify that we dare not ignore the general
principle of plurality in our missionary labors, for it is to ignore the way God has made us.
One important aspect of this principle of plurality is the biblically-based fact that no leader in
the church should be left without accountability to another man. Every Christian is a sheep, and
needs oversight and care for his soul. Thus it was an abnormal and deficient situation when
there was not a plurality of elders in the local churches -- a situation which needed to be
corrected (Titus 1:5). Such a situation is even more deficient when we come to efforts to extend
the Gospel to other regions where the difficulties and warfare are generally even more intense.
Thus we should do all we can to ensure that no missionary is left isolated without pastoral care
and accountability to another pastor.
Does this then mean that men should never be sent out alone in missionary labors? Normally,
yes. However, there are several other factors which might be mitigating, and which at least
should be taken into account:
A. Is the individual being sent out single or married to a Christian wife? Remember that
Paul was single, and had chosen to forego taking along a believing wife -- unlike the other
apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (1 Corinthians 9:5). This was probably necessary
since it would likely have been wrong to take a wife and young children with him on such
mobile and dangerous labors. But if a man was able to be sent out with a believing wife, the
problem of general companionship would be greatly alleviated.
This leads to a second factor:
B. Are the labors being undertaken initial, pioneer labors in an area where the Gospel has
essentially never reached, or are they labors to further establish and build up churches
which already exist and may even already have an elder or elders? Paul's first two
missionary journeys were mainly trail-blazing trips into regions previously unreached by the
Gospel. And on both he had a fellow-worker who appears to have functioned as somewhat of an
equal (Barnabas on the first and Silas on the second). But on his third journey, there is no such
prominent co-worker mentioned (although there were others in his party). Could it be that this
was true because, as far as I can tell, Paul had already preached in all the areas he visited on his
third journey, and thus there were believers present in established churches, and probably having
established elderships in most of cases? Thus this journey was no pioneer mission, and the
problems of companionship and oversight were not the same (since Apostles were elders in the
churches as well (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1).
But there is also a third factor:
C. What means of communications and transportation are available where the missionary
will be laboring? Paul did not have a telephone by which he could call up his fellow elders
back in Antioch when he needed to consult about his labors or seek aid regarding his own soul's
care. Neither were there jet planes so that an elder from his sending church could visit him
periodically for oversight and come within a day or two to help in case of emergencies.
Although the ideal would be to always have a plurality of missionaries present on site at all
times, telephones and jet planes (and now the Internet and Email and Faxes) often do enable us
to at least in part compensate for the problem of pastoral care and accountability when a man is
alone laboring in the Gospel. But it must never be forgotten that such a situation is still sorely
deficient, and the isolated man and those he cares for are more vulnerable.
However, where modern missionaries are laboring in isolated areas without such rapid means of
communication and transportation available, then a plurality of co-workers would appear to be
much more essential before such labors would even be attempted.
In conclusion, as with elders in established churches, and even more so in pioneer missionary
efforts, the sending out of missionaries in a plurality would appear to be the biblical norm and
the only truly sufficient situation. There may at times be justification for possible exceptions, at
least temporarily, until the norm can be realized. But any such exceptions should be rare, and
every effort should be made to compensate in the meantime, and to ultimately bring about the
sufficient situation of a plurality of missionaries.
When there is such a plurality of missionaries in missionary endeavors, a number of benefits
A. There is the addressing of the companionship problem already noted.
B. There is the addressing of the pastoral care and oversight problem already noted. It is
interesting to observe that one justification for the unbiblical structures of missionary societies is
that they are needed to give oversight and coordinate the labors of the various missionaries on
the field. But if teams of missionaries are being sent out by a church, or if individuals are sent
out with the close, continuing oversight of the elders of their sending church, the oversight and
direction on the field is already available.
C. There is the provision of an excellent context for on-the-job training of prospective
future missionaries like young Timothy who was taken along by Paul and Silas (Acts
D. There is the needed manpower to conserve the fruits of Gospel preaching in the
establishment of biblical churches. Paul was freed up to keep on moving to new regions of
labor because he was able to leave behind or send off some of his team members to help the
various newly-planted churches (Luke in Philippi (the disappearance of Luke's "we" in Acts
16:11-17 compare 17:1), Silas and Timothy in Berea (Acts 17:14), Timothy in Ephesus (1
Timothy 1:3), Titus in Crete (Titus 1:4-5), etc.).
E. There is the multiplying of witnesses to the authority and truthfulness of the message
being preached. The fact that Paul had other Gospel preachers with him, especially as he
spoke in Jewish synagogues where serious matters could not be resolved without at least
two or three witnesses, proved that he was no isolated odd-ball.
We now are ready to take up the fourth and final issue regarding the men sent as missionaries. It
is that of:
IV. Their characteristics. If a missionary must either be a pastor or elder, or one qualified to
be one, then most basically he must possess the biblical qualifications for elders listed in
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The required graces and gifts listed there to an exemplary degree must
be present and observable in his life and labors. This is a foundational matter of qualification.
However, our main text in Acts 13 and other biblical data indicate that there are unique
characteristics which are important for missionary labors which go beyond the basic
qualifications for elders. The first category has to do with:
A. Experience and training. The qualifications for elder include the fact that an elder should
not be a novice or a relatively new Christian (1 Timothy 3:6). However, there is evidence that a
missionary normally should not be a novice in further ways as well. Notice some of this
1. When Paul and Barnabas were sent out, they were not novices in the Christian ministry.
Commentators estimate that Saul was first sent out from Antioch anywhere from 10 to 14 years
following his conversion. He had already preached the Word of God in Damascus and
Jerusalem, and probably in Arabia and Tarsus as well. He also had probably been laboring in
Antioch in the role of pastor for 4 to 6 years although we don't know for sure the length of time.
He was a well-trained, seasoned and experienced man of God who had labored in the Gospel in a
number of different kinds of settings, including being pastor of a church composed of both Jews
and Gentiles. He had also already been well-tested through the fires of his initial Gospel labors,
having at least twice been forced to flee for his life.
So also, Barnabas had had such a place of esteem and influence among the Apostles at
Jerusalem that he was able to persuade them to change their minds and to receive the
newly-converted Saul into their midst (Acts 9:27). Then he was sent by the Jerusalem church to
help out in Antioch when the Lord mightily worked there (Acts 11:22). He had labored
alongside Paul in that church, again probably for 4 to 6 years, as a man "full of the Holy Spirit
and of faith" (Acts 11:24).
Here were experienced men who had proven their ability to labor with others in usefully
furthering the work of the Gospel. They were not novices, wondering what to do with their
lives, who then decided to be missionaries. They were already heavily involved in ministering to
the Lord as pastors (Acts 13:2) when the Lord re-directed their steps. (As an aside, we learn here
that the Lord leads us to the next step of new and\or greater responsibility in our lives (which is
usually unclear for awhile) as we are busily engaged in carrying out the present will of the Lord
which is clear.)
But there is further biblical evidence as well of the experience and training of these two men:
2. Both these men were uniquely suited and experienced to go to the regions where they were
first sent -- Cyprus and south-central Asia Minor. Why do I say this? Because they were natives
of these regions -- Barnabas from Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and Saul from Tarsus (Acts 22:3). They
were not venturing out into territory which was personally totally unfamiliar to them, but into
regions which they knew by the Providence of God. In fact, these locations may have become
the focus of their labors in part because of the burden which they had for their old home areas.
3. Also, Paul was not sent by the Lord on to newer, more unfamiliar and distant regions to
undertake Gospel labors until he had gained even more experience as a missionary on his first
journey and on the first part of his second journey. There appears to have been a gradual
expansion of the sphere of his labors and usefulness, probably eventually all the way to Spain, as
he grew in experience through practical, on-the-job training.
From this biblical data, I believe that there is basis to say that a missionary should normally in a
special way be a seasoned, experienced man who has the level of training and experience
necessary for the specific missionary task he is about to undertake. There may be an
inexperienced, young John Mark or Timothy taken along by mature experienced men for
on-the-job training, although the inexperienced man may initially bolt and run home like John
Mark did. But those who are the missionaries taking the lead in the missionary enterprise
normally had better have much practical experience and training. Usually this would mean that
a man has already been a pastor for a number of years, although I could not be absolutely
dogmatic on that point. He certainly needs to have had much experience in being part of the life
of a local church, and in exerting himself in focused gospel labors in some way. Also, if a man
is going to be sent into a cross-cultural situation, it would normally seem to be the path of
wisdom that he have some sort of experience in such settings to test the waters before such
full-fledged missionary labors are initiated. And that there be a gaining of experience nearby
before launching out more distantly into settings with more cultural difference and difficulty.
This then is the matter of the experience and training of missionaries. But there is a further
category of unique characteristics which should also occupy our attention:
B. Grace. When we look at the qualifications for elders, we see that most of them have to do
with the presence of Christian graces in the life. Yet, since these graces are those which every
Christian should possess, it is important that we recognize that pastors must be exemplary in the
possession of these graces if they are to be considered qualified (1 Timothy 3:4a).
When we come to unique characteristics in the area of Christian grace which are important for
missionary labors, we must once again realize that we are considering graces which should be
possessed by every Christian, and which especially must be possessed by elders. However, these
graces are usually of even greater importance if a man is to labor effectively as a missionary
being sent out to a relatively unreached field of Gospel labor.
How do we then identify these graces which are peculiarly required in missionaries. The
example of the Apostle Paul as the missionary par excellence provides us, I believe, with the
answer to that question. Notice first of all:
1. The overarching disposition of the Apostle's heart as he served Christ. Here I would direct your attention to Philippians 1:19-25 (especially verse 21):
19For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith . . .
When Paul looked at his life and labors and what he was living for, it could be summed up in
one word, "Christ". And when he looked ahead to a death which was surely coming, and which
would probably be hastened by the enemies of the Gospel, he summed it up in one word, "Gain".
He was living and laboring because of Christ, and for the glory of Christ and His people, in the
confident expectation that death would be but an ushering into the presence of the beloved Lord
whom he served. This overarching perspective was closely-related to several fruits of the grace
of God in Paul's life:
2. He was motivated by Christ's love to him. Notice the words of 2 Corinthians 5:13-15:
13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
There has been debate regarding whether the love which constrained Paul here was Christ's love
for him or his love for Christ. I believe that most foundationally, it was Christ's love for him
since he mentions the death of Christ for himself in the context. But, in light of Christ's dying
love for him, Paul no longer lived for himself but for Christ. Why? Because his heart, united by
faith with Christ, responded in love toward the Christ who had so loved him. Hearts driven to
love Christ by Christ's dying love for us must be the motivation which causes us to take up the
task of missions. This heart response must ultimately be present to keep the missionary pressing
on when the going gets rough. And nothing else will enable us to deal with others in the manner
necessary to win their hearts to the Savior.
But there was another motivation also at work in the heart of Paul:
3. He was motivated by the terror of the Lord. Listen to the words from his own pen in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11:
9Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Paul trembled before the reality of the coming judgement day, lest he be found unfaithful, and lest those around him who knew not the Lord be found unprepared. Thus the fear of the Lord drove him, along with concern for the souls of others who were lost and perishing. He lived for a Christ who was a returning Judge. But also:
4. He was willing to adapt for the sake of the Gospel. Notice 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:32-11:1:
9:19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
10:32Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 11:1Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
Paul was willing to do all he could, short of sin, to adapt to the lifestyles of others for the sake of
their souls, no matter how that might crimp the lifestyle with which he personally was most
comfortable. He was willing to adapt to different cultures and social customs so that there
would not be any unnecessary barrier or offense for the Gospel, and so men would be given
every possible encouragement to come to Christ. For again, he was not living for himself -- for
his own profit. There were higher goals -- Christ and the never-dying souls of men.
But notice a fifth characteristic as well:
5. He was willing to endure great hardship and suffering for the sake of the Gospel. We could refer to lengthier passages chronicling all that Paul endure for Christ such as 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. However, I would refer you at this point to a briefer text -- 2 Timothy 2:8-10:
8Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, 9for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Next, observe about the Apostle Paul that:
6. He was marked by persevering, aggressive zeal for Christ. He didn't sit around waiting for
doors to open. He banged on the gates of hell wherever he went, intent on finding the ones that
his Lord was purposing to open. He was undeterred by opposition or other closed doors which
appeared to thwart his desires to preach the Gospel. When confronting these, he didn't sink
down in a sea of self-pity and inactivity saying, "If that's what happens when I try to serve the
Lord, it isn't worth it. Why try anymore?" No -- he just went on and sought out another
opportunity to proclaim Christ. And after some time had elapsed, he often went back to the
places where the Lord had seemingly closed the doors of opportunity in the past -- the places
where it had seemed that his usefulness had come to an end, or where he had been unable to
even get a toe hold -- and he tried again. (Remember Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (Acts
13:13-14; 50-51; 14:1-7; 19-23), and Asia (Acts 16:6 compare 18:18-19).)
7. He was characterized by flexible, believing submission to Christ. Paul apparently never
forgot that His God was sovereign, and he never stopped believing that His sovereign God
always did what was right and good for His children -- at least he didn't forget for long.
When he and his companions met opposition, and God was making it apparent that a door was
closed or closing, you don't find them arguing with and butting their heads against the door out
of frustration and bitter disappointment. They had a believing submission to God's will which
was flexible enough to change from a course upon which they had set their hearts, when their
Master made it evident that they should. When they were, at least temporarily, seemingly
stopped dead in the water by God's Providence -- as when they were thrown into a Philippian jail
(Acts 16:22-34) -- what did they do? Bemoan the fact that they couldn't accomplish for God in
Philippi what they'd set their hearts upon doing? No -- they rather sang and prayed to God in the
jail although their backs were a mass of bruises. And through their godly response the very goal
they had been pursuing in Philippi was surprisingly accomplished in the conversion of the jailer
and his household.
All these and more are gracious characteristics which are vital if one would be an effective
From what we have seen, I would direct you to several final lines of application:
1. We must be very careful that those whom we consider as missionaries meet the qualifications
and possess the characteristics laid out for us in the Word of God. They must be pastors, or
those qualified to be such. Thus they must be men. Finally, they must be men with adequate
training and experience, and with the required graces needed to take up such a rigorous and
difficult labor. In other words, the church of Christ should send her best men off to be
missionaries, as was true in the case of Paul and Barnabas -- not those who are inexperienced
and unproven and marginal in the required gifts and graces. This is a very different perspective
than that which is prevalent today in the evangelical world. How we need to labor to re-think
and re-order our perspectives on this point.
2. We must be careful lest our emphasis upon the necessary graces for missionary work cause us
to wrongly elevate the missionary to the position of some sort of super saint far above us mere
mortals. The men whom the Lord sends out as missionaries and mightily uses in the work of His
kingdom are still very weak men with remaining sin in their breasts and many imperfections. It
is these kinds of men who, when it is all boiled down, ultimately are living for Christ and love
Him and obey His commands including His Great Commission. They are nothing special. They
are simply what every Christian should be as far as Christian grace is concerned.
Remember that Moses certainly doubted that he was qualified for the special kingdom task to which Jehovah was calling him, and yet God was calling him nonetheless (Exodus 3:11 - 4:17). Gideon was certainly weak and incapable of doing anything great in his own eyes, and yet the Lord, seeing more than Gideon did, and purposing to exercise His awesome sovereign power through this man, had a vitally important task for his to do anyway (Judges 6:11-16). Jeremiah tried to plead disqualification and it did no good (Jeremiah 1:4-8). Even the Apostle Paul himself, missionary par excellence, had to confess:
3I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4aAnd my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom . . . (1 Corinthians 2:3-4a)
It is vital that we keep a balanced perspective regarding these important characteristics regarding
Christian graces in missionaries for at least two reasons:
a. Christians may not recognize those whom the Spirit of God is raising up to be sent out as
missionaries because an unbiblically unrealistic standard is being used, and thus no one is sent
b. Men qualified to be elders may too quickly push away the possibility that the Lord might be
calling them to labor in missionary endeavors in regions further afield -- either because they are
not right viewing themselves as God sees them, and/or are unwilling to give themselves
wholeheartedly to the self-denying toil of prayerfully cultivating further these graces so that they
may be prepared for missionary labors. (We will consider this last point further below.)
However, even after having sought to view this matter in a balanced way, a further concern
3. If men with such qualifications and characteristics should be sent out in plural numbers, how
in the world will they ever be available? How many are our sister churches in this nation who
still have at best only one pastor, let alone a plurality which could let even one go, or let a
plurality of missionaries go while leaving a plurality of pastors at home. Such realities are
enough to tempt us to despair and to look for an alternative and unbiblical approach since the
biblical one appears impossible. Indeed, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are
possible. How the great lack of qualified men coupled with the might power of God should
constrain us to cry out with even greater urgency to the Lord of the harvest to raise up and send
forth laborers in light of the remaining great needs for such labors (Matthew 9:37-38). For in
this area as in the rest, we usually have not because we ask not.
But there is still more:
4. If such men are those whom we have described should be missionaries, there is here a call for
men, especially for pastors, and also for those who aspire to be pastors, to labor to become
prepared, and to consider carefully if the Lord might eventually have you be sent out as a
missionary. For after the Lord called upon His disciples to pray the Lord of the harvest for
laborers, He ended up sending them out (Matthew 10:1-5a).
Are you willing before God to do what the Lord would have you to do, dear man, even if it
meant packing your bags to be a missionary in a place far from home and loved ones? Paul and
his missionary companions were. The call came to Paul and Barnabas to go in Acts 13 and they
quickly packed their bags. Paul asked Silas to go later and he quickly packed his bags. Paul
asked Timothy to go, and he quickly packed his bags. Are you willing, dear man, to pack your
bags and go wherever the Lord might send you, if He should clearly indicate some day according
to His prescribed directions that you should do so? Perhaps you may not be an elder until later
years. Perhaps such a call would not come until your children would be grown and gone, and
you would be freer and more mobile to God's work in other areas. But is there a willingness to
As we mentioned earlier, this application could be extended to wives and children of those who
might go, and parents of those who might go, and to others who might go to assist in the work
like an Aquila and Priscilla.
I do not ask if you have the grace right now to do this in the future. God doesn't give grace in
advance. But are you willing to do whatever your Lord would call you to do -- trusting Him for
the needed grace when the time came? Doing whatever is needed to be done to prepare in the
meantime? Or are you getting too comfortable where God has put you, and are repulsed by the
very thought of such a change in your life for the sake of the Kingdom of God. If the latter is
true, it is not a good sign spiritually.
May the Lord enable us to answer these questions in the affirmative. May He grant us repentance if we cannot right now. For there is yet a great harvest needing to be gathered in, the laborers are still all too few, and the command of our Lord and love for our Lord still constrain us.