As we prepare our hearts for our Missions Conference, some of you may be wondering, “What in the world is a ‘missionary’ anyways?” Let’s look to the scriptures to find an answer to that question.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon…, Lucius…, Manaen…, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1–3, ESV)
Who became missionaries? “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers…” The Spirit works in the hearts and lives of individuals who are already serving in their local church to serve God as missionaries. The first place you serve as a missionary is in your local church. You serve the Lord where He has placed you until He moves you somewhere else. If you do not serve the Lord locally, then don’t think you’ll start after you move to some distant land.
How does the Spirit call missionaries? Notice to whom the Spirit spoke. “While they were worshiping… the Holy Spirit said” to the church leadership mentioned in verse 1. Notice that they are told to set apart Barnabas and Saul. While an individual may feel ‘called to the ministry’, it is the church that recognizes God’s call upon that person. No individual should ever go out to minister without the local church first recognizing that they have the gifts to minister. It is the church that recognizes God’s call upon a person to be a missionary.
But the church does more than just recognize missionaries, the church also “laid their hands on them and sent them off.” The laying on of hands is an act that acknowledges the Spirit’s call and sets the person apart for service. This setting apart by laying on of hands recognizes the person’s authority to act as a minister of that church (ordination). So the church also authorizes missionaries to go out with their blessing.
So what is a missionary? A missionary is a person already serving God’s mission in a local church who is then called by God to serve in a non-local setting. This call of God must be recognized and authorized by the local church who then sends out the missionary to fulfill their call.
Serve God’s mission in your local church and someday you too may be a non-local missionary!
Further reading: Acts 13-14
David Harris is the Senior Pastor at Faith Baptist Church. A former programmer, in his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife Kim and trying his hand at the illusive craft of smoking meat.