We are the training centre of Ethnos Canada, and most of our students are aiming to serve with Ethnos Canada or one of our global partners around the world. But why join Ethnos Canada—or any other mission agency, for that matter? What role do missions agencies have in the Great Commission? Are they even biblical? Why not just go overseas on my own, or with a group from my church?
What a Mission Agency is Not
Let’s start by getting our terms straight. What is a mission agency?
First of all, a mission agency is not a church. The local church is a group of believers of all ages, genders and professions who gather in one location to learn together, worship together, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and spur one another on to “love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). A church is headed by pastor-elders and deacons, and it is bound, more or less, to one geographical location (although there can certainly be networks of churches who collaborate in different ways). A mission agency is not a church in the biblical sense of the word.
The Church’s Responsibility
Also, a mission agency is not ultimately responsible for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. That job belongs to the Church.
In the first chapter of Acts, just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Apostles gathered around him and asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” But Jesus said:
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
-Acts 1:7-8 (NIV)
That’s the commission of the Church—to be witnesses, to go and make disciples of all nations. We know it’s the commission of the Church (not just the original apostles!) because over the course of the book of Acts we see the Church fulfilling it–not just the apostles:
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
-Acts 8:1-4 (NIV)
Who preached the word in Judea and Samaria? Those who had been scattered, which interestingly was everyone except the apostles.
Who carried on the mission to “the ends of the earth”? Keep reading the story in Acts, and you’ll find out.
In Acts 11, we learn of the church in Antioch, the first church to include both Jews and Gentiles, the mother church that would later send out Paul and his team on their missionary journeys, and the church to whom Paul and his team would return to report back in. Acts tells us that the Antioch church was founded by men from Cyprus and Cyrene. They weren’t apostles. They were just ordinary believers who had left their homes to go and “make disciples of all nations.”
The task isn’t over. There are still around 2500 people groups (possibly more, depending on how you count them) who are unreached. They have no church, no Bible in their language, and no access to the gospel. That’s millions and millions of people… and God loves each and every one of them!
There is work to be done to fulfill the Great Commission, and it’s clear from the Acts narrative that the responsibility falls to the Church.
So if a mission agency isn’t a church, what is the purpose of a mission agency?