The most efficient place to make self-replicating disciples for Christ, baptize them and teach them God’s commands is within the walls of the local church. Missions is the implementation of God’s plan for his glory among all people. Therefore, missions should center on the planting, training and equipping of culturally relevant churches around the world. Charles Spurgeon said, “It is the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world.”
If Christians can grasp the concept that the purpose of man is to glorify God (Ex 9:16, Ps 106:7-8, Eze 20:9, 14), and God wants his disciples worshiping in a church (Heb 10:24-25, Acts 2:42) and we as his disciples are called to spread his gospel (Mat 28: 18-20, Luk 9:1-6, Act 1:8), it is no stretch to conclude God’s will for missionaries is to plant local churches for his glory around the world.
While the term “Bride of Christ” never appears in the New Testament, imagery of the Church and Christ connecting as the bride and groom appears throughout (2 Cor 11:2, Rom 7:1-6, Eph 5:21-33). Jesus venerates the local church and calls his disciples to love and respect her. Missionaries should esteem the local church the same way and teach nationals to honor her as well. What could be more honoring to the bride than duplicating her beauty?
Scripture is very clear how Christians are to view and interact with the local church. The local church is where we are to gather with others to experience Christ (Mat 18:20). The local church is where we are to partake in the Lord’s Super (1 Cor 11:23-26), worship in song (Eph 5:18-21) and serve each other (1 Cor 14:26). The local church is to be led by qualified leaders (Tit 1:5-9) who administer church discipline (Mat 18:17). Christ’s bride is well defined by God’s Word.
There can be countless ministries that can bring glory to God. Mercy, construction, education, micro-enterprise, and other missions activities are ways we point to Christ. However, if they are not done under the authority of a local church or done in order to drive people to the local church, their purpose should be reexamined. God can receive great glory if secondary ministries are done outside the local church. Nevertheless, educating, training and equipping nationals to do these ministries within the local church is more in line with God’s Great Commission and our purpose as his disciples.
Keep It Local
In culturally relevant, Bible centered, national run churches the leaders and pastors are better equipped to address the theological and physical needs of their congregants. A missionary who has served in China for 40 years is still not Chinese. He may become fluent in the language and understand the culture, but a Chinese Christian is more prepared to comprehend culturally appropriate Christ-centered solutions.
A missionary can teach and equip a national to provide counter-cultural Christian responses to uniquely cultural situations. The missionary does not change the gospel to fit the culture, instead helps local Christians to act as radical cultural insurgents for Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.” The church is a place to educate, instruct, and prepare its members to impact the world and share God’s love, mercy, and truth. The missionary is someone who keenly situated to equip these disciples to glorify God in local churches across the globe.
The Western church is rich in resources, finances and quality theological education. Conversely, many of the Christians in the developing world lack those exact assets. Much of Africa is exploding with new believers, but suffers from the spread of poor theology. Much of Latin America is pocked with churches who don’t have the resources needed to influence their own culture. And, much of the 10/40 window lacks the Christian leaders needed to disciple and mentor new believers in ways of the Lord. The Western church is in a position to equip local churches around the world and empower their pastors and leaders to spread the gospel throughout their own communities.
Western missionaries and local worldwide Christians can collaborate in such a way that the local, national run church becomes a beautiful biblically accurate, God honoring bride of Christ. Culturally appropriate and theologically sound churches that spread the liberty found only in Christ provide a powerful contrast to the world. Planting churches like this in other cultures shows that grace and mercy are not found in Western missionaries, but only in the blood of Christ.
Evangelical missions has a relevant and powerful place in today’s sinful world. In fact, now more than ever a biblically healthy missions movement is needed to combat the global spread of works based theology, man centered pride and the health and wealth gospel. The role of the missionary is to help plant local churches and to train church leaders to enable them to participate in the fulfillment of the Great Commission in their own culture and across the globe.