We have a problem. The words, “missions,” and, “missionary,” are not in the Bible, but there is a two-thousand-year history of disciples doing this thing that we now call missions, and we call them missionaries.
I believe the best way to answer this is to look at my favorite book, and the one that has most changed my life; the book of Acts. The book is 28 chapters long and the outline for the book is given to us at the beginning, on the eighth verse. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus told his apostles, “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 1:8)
Could this have been meant just for his apostles? Maybe, but I think not.
Most evangelical disciples believe that this prophecy/command wasn’t given just to those that heard the statement, but to all of us, after all, twelve apostles couldn’t reach “the ends of the earth,” since the western hemisphere hadn’t been discovered.
Here are the four points of the outline:
- The Holy Spirit comes.
- Witnesses to Jerusalem
- Witnesses to Judea and Samaria
- Witnesses to the ends of the earth
Then, Luke, the brilliant author of Acts, unfolds the story.
By the way, Luke was a doctor!
Points 1 and 2—H.S. and Jerusalem: In the second chapter, the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles, they preached to a crowd in Jerusalem, and 3000 people were saved. Then, still in Jerusalem, they continued to spread the gospel and the number of disciples grew to 5000.
Point 3—Judea and Samaria: Because of persecution, disciples, “were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1, 4) We are told stories of Phillip in Samaria, and then Phillip in Judea. We are also told stories of Peter healing and preaching in Judea and Samaria.
Point 4—the ends of the earth: Next, apostles named Paul and Barnabas are sent off by the Holy Spirit into Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). They were so successful that Luke wrote, “and the gospel spread through the entire region.” (Acts 13:49)
On subsequent missionary journeys Paul visited the new churches in Asia Minor, but continued to advance the gospel further and further into un-evangelized territory. He summed up his strategy in this way: “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. . . But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain.” (Romans 15:19-24)
Main points—The words, missions, and missionary, are not explicitly defined in the New Testament but are made clear by:
- Seeing the prophecy/command of Jesus progress through the four-point outline of the book of Acts.
- Seeing examples of newly established churches multiplying, without the presence of missionaries, so that the gospel spreads throughout entire regions.
- Paul’s testimony that, once churches have proven themselves to be healthy through the power of the HS, there is no more work to be done there and it is time to move on to another group who have never heard the good news (Spain).
So what?—If you don’t know where the basket is, you will never score a goal. It is the same way if we, the church, don’t accurately know what the mission is.