In our modern and urbane culture, we often forget that the world is vastly unreached with the gospel. In an age of technological advancement and expanding connectivity through Internet, social media platforms, and social devices—there is a massive population around the world that doesn’t know Jesus Christ. As we consider this fact, we must remember that God’s plan to reach the world is by the gospel and through the local church.

Authority

God has designed the local church with a very specific authority structure. In fact, it’s vitally important that we understand this structure and seek to align ourselves under authority. One of the greatest examples of hypocrisy in our world is a professing Christian who refuses to submit to authority in a local church. The writer to the Hebrews writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).

When it comes to missions, this is no different. It’s not that missionaries are somehow above authority and need to submit only to a missions organization while not giving proper attention to the local church. Nowhere in the Bible do we see any example of a missions organization calling the shots for specific individuals going off to the mission field. The authority rests in the local church. Before a missions candidate leaves for the mission field, they should be under authority in their local church and must have presented their desire and perceived calling to their elders for examination. Each local church may operate a bit differently at this point, but the burden of examination should first be given to the elders even before the congregation is made aware of this situation in an official announcement.

In our culture, it’s popular to look down upon authority. We’ve turned the word “authority” into a pejorative. Teenagers often reach a specific status where they believe adults are ignorant and they know everything, therefore they resist authority. In the church, we want pastors to tell us what we want to hear. We want to be told “yes” at every juncture, but in all reality, the role of a pastor is not be a “yes-man.” His role is to tell the truth, and preach the Word. Often this involves shepherding people by rebuking them or simply telling a person that they are not qualified to serve on the mission field.

Confirmation of Gifts

After going through the proper examination from the leaders of the church, a missions candidate should be confirmed by the local church. Does a person possess the gifts and do they have the qualifications according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to serve on the mission field and within the context of a local church?

John G. Paton turned the New Hebrides upside down with the gospel of King Jesus, however, he wasn’t a rogue missionary roaming about in the South Sea islands. He was under authority and the tension he experienced as he was preparing to leave for the islands was difficult for him, but necessary. He writes:

The opposition was so strong from nearly all, and many of them warm Christian friends, that I was sorely tempted to question whether I was carrying out the Divine will, or only some headstrong wish of my own. This also caused me much anxiety, and drove me close to God in prayer. [1]

Such tension may seem like it holds people back or it slows people down, and that’s certainly true to a degree. However, the tension is necessary and healthy. We must have a church that will be honest with us when we are living in sin (church discipline) and when we are about to walk down a path that we are not gifted or prepared to navigate for the glory of God. Eventually Paton would work through the tension and through proper confirmation he would go to the New Hebrides. Better to go through tension and accomplish the work of God than to go without tension and do great harm to you and your family.

Accountability

When a missionary goes to the mission field and engages in the work of cross-cultural evangelism and church planting, the first burden of accountability is not to a missions organization or sending agency. The first burden of accountability is to that individual’s sending church. In far too many cases, when a missionary leaves for the field, they spend more time in communication with their seminary or sending agency than they do their home church. This is tragic. It simply bypasses the necessity of the local church in the process and ignores the pattern we see in the New Testament.

Consider the accountability of Paul as he would finish with a mission tour, he would go back to the church at Antioch. Why this specific church? It was the one that sent him out and he remained accountable to the church throughout the process of his work.

“…and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. [27] And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. [28] And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:26–28).

You don’t see Paul sending the pastors of the church a casual e-mail letting them know what he had prayed about and decided to do on his own. He demonstrates submission and shows accountability throughout the process. This is the pattern of the New Testament and should remain so throughout our present day as well.

When we disconnect the local church from the work of missions because we believe it slows down the process or creates too much checks and balances—we do ourselves a disservice. Could it be that in 2019 some of the people planning to go out to the mission field should pause and submit themselves to their local church for confirmation before going out from their seminary through a sending agency? Some may argue that it would result in lower numbers going to the mission field and we simply can’t afford that with 42% of the world unreached with the gospel. Actually, it would be far better for less qualified candidates to go to the field under authority and held accountable by a local church than for multitudes of unqualified and non-called candidates who could do great harm to themselves and the nations in the process.


  1. John G. Paton,  The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebredes, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 56.