In our last blog post, we asked what role mission agencies play in fulfilling the Great Commission. If the Great Commission is the mandate of the Church (which it is!), are mission agencies even necessary? Are they even biblical?
To answer this question, we need to define our terms. What is a church? What is a mission agency?
A 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 to one geographical location (although there can certainly be networks of churches who collaborate in different ways).
A mission agency, on the other hand, is a PARA-church organization. It exists outside of and beyond the reaches of the local church. It is a group of believers from multiple churches who team up for a specific strategic purpose and often travel far beyond the proximity of any one of their local churches. A local church is indeed responsible for sending out missionaries, but when those missionaries organize and coordinate their efforts, that’s a mission agency: a team of missionaries.
The Biblical Precedent
The modern mission agency finds its biblical precedent in Paul’s missionary band. As it turns out, the lone missionary is rarely found in the New Testament. Instead, what we find is a network of believers from various churches playing a variety of roles. We see them collaborating to plant gospel-centered churches where none previously existed—and then nurturing those churches toward maturity.
Paul set out from Antioch on his first missionary journey with just a small team (Acts 13:1-2), but on subsequent journeys that team expanded exponentially.
Do you remember these teammates of Paul?
- Barnabas and Mark (part of the original Antioch team)
- Silas, who replaced Barnabas after the first missionary journey
- Timothy (from Lystra)
- Priscilla and Aquila (from Corinth), who later moved to Rome and hosted a house church there
- Luke the doctor, who traveled with Paul during all the “we” portions of Acts
- Titus the Greek, who Paul sent to encourage some of the new churches in Crete and appoint elders
- Epaphroditus, who the Philippian church sent to “take care of Paul’s needs” (Philippians 2:25)
- Phoebe (from Centraea), who Paul asked to deliver the book of Romans. He asked the church in Rome to “receive her well and give her any help she may need” (Romans 16:1-2)
- Euodia and Syntyche, those dear ladies who Paul admonished for quarrelling but who he nonetheless regarded as coworkers who contended at his side in the cause of the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3)
- Gaius (from Derbe)
- Sópater (from Berea)
- Aristarchus and Secundus (from Thessalonica)
- Tychicus and Trophimus (from the province of Asia)
Paul’s ministry was indeed a team effort!
Ordinary Believers working together
We could try digging into the stories of some of these companions of Paul, but we frankly don’t know much about many of them. Apparently they were just ordinary believers. But they left their homes and church families to be part of this special effort of making disciples where the gospel had not yet gone.
How did all these people work together? How were they funded? What were their roles exactly? Did some work to keep others supplied? We don’t know everything about the inner workings of that large team, but we do know that they all invested their lives in the goal of “making disciples of all nations” and that Paul considered them to be “coworkers” and “fellow servants”.
We’re used to thinking of missionaries as rugged, independent individuals living by themselves in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not the New Testament model at all. Instead, the New Testament reveals a large team from various churches working together as fellow servants to plant churches and make disciples among the nations.
Check back in next time to hear more about some practical benefits of working with a mission agency.