10 Reasons Missionaries Should Join a Local Church

This blog was originally written by Vincent Kajuma and posted on TGC Africa.

I acknowledge that every missionary context is different. Sometimes missionaries aren’t able to be part of a church—there might be no church at all (in a completely unreached village, for example); or all the available churches are preaching a false gospel; and in other situations, missionaries go with a team that functions as a local church. This article assumes a missionary situation where there is a healthy local church, faithfully preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. And by ‘joining a church’ I mean taking all the steps a church offers, both formal or informal, to be duly absorbed and recognised, as a regular and active member in the church body.

So here are 10 reasons that missionaries must join a local church:

1. You Share a Purpose

Your goal in missions is to glorify God through proclamation towards the salvation of people. Your participation in the church’s gospel ministry serves this same end, perhaps even more immediately than your niche unreached group or people. There is no opportunity cost or conflict of vision, spiritually speaking, if you’re engaged in the church’s kingdom ministry, while active in your mission field.

2. There’s No Conflict of Authority

Joining a church in the mission field doesn’t require you necessarily to forfeit your relationship with any sending or supporting churches and structures, back home. The two commitments sit alongside each other, as we saw above. They can therefore exist simultaneously. Furthermore, a relationship might be established between the two.

3. Your Own Soul Needs It

A church is essential to your (and your family’s) faith. The Christian life can’t be fully lived apart from a local church. This is as true in the mission field as it is back home. We need to be stirred up, through embodied Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25). You need to regularly feed on the Bible preached and applied (2 Timothy 4:2; 3:16; Titus 1:9); and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26).

You also need biblically designated shepherds to “keep watch over your soul” (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28). As you will see under my final point, this cannot be achieved by informal fellowship with colleagues, friends, or family. Online contact with Christians back home cannot serve as an adequate substitute for belonging to a local church community.

4. Churches Offer Better Discipleship Than You Can Individually

The variety of spiritual gifts in the larger membership of a local church can supply the healthy discipleship that you, as a single person, however gifted, cannot. God has designed your disciples or converts to grow as they see varied levels of maturity, hear different emphases, receive various forms of service, and see how God is working differently in his people’s lives. The local church supplies this for your disciple’s good (1 Corinthians 12:7-8; Ephesians 4:16). What better way to serve them than for you to be in there with them, receiving and giving within the same body?

5. The Longevity of Ministries

A wise approach to ministry considers the long-term life and health of both disciples and ministries, after we’ve left the mission field (or earth). It is a promise to the church, that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” As a general rule, the local churches you find on the mission field will outlive you.

This not only means that the best shot at long-term ministry is to plant other healthy churches, but it also means that non-church ministries seeking longevity and real spiritual vitality should tie themselves to churches. It is these churches that will disciple your disciples (along with theirs), long after you’re gone. It is also the members of these churches that will supply spiritual workers or volunteers for your ministry in the present as well as after you’ve left.

6. It Sets a Good Example in the Faith

A missionary who acts as though he or she is ‘above’ the local churches will inevitably produce disciples who have the same attitude. None of us, however mature, have outgrown the need to humble ourselves and be taught, by both the example and words of other Christians.

7. An Opportunity to Serve Strategically

Considering the spiritual impact a church has on many people and for many years, your contribution to an existing church is a contribution to many others. As an incoming missionary, you very likely have knowledge, training, experience, and potential spiritual maturity that could benefit the congregation.

At the very minimum, your ‘normal’ church involvement (without any formal leadership position) in hospitality, encouragement, and faithful attendance of church meetings could provide a powerful model and influence on other Christians, helping the church indirectly. This ‘passive discipling’ can look unspectacular. But many pastors appreciate the salting effect of mature Christians joining their congregation.

8. It Establishes Trust

Contrary to the fear that joining one church will isolate you from other churches, or Christian groups who you might want to pursue fellowship with, joining a church shows other potential local partners that you’re comfortable to yoke yourself with others like them. It connects you to something local and extant, showing that there are local people who trust you. Thus you can be trusted.

9. It Commends Your Work

Joining a local church also indicates to local believers that the gospel message you bring is not a different one to the message they already believe (Galatians 2:2, 9). There may be some valid emphases and nuances you bring. However, these don’t mean that you bring a completely different message from what those churches already preach.

10. The Church Is God’s Authorised Structure

I have left this point for last, though it is the most important, because it is one that many readers might be unfamiliar with. Biblically speaking, the task of missions has been given to local churches, as Christ’s representative institutions on earth. It isn’t given to individuals, theological institutions, or parachurch ministries. This doesn’t mean that they can’t do missions. But it does mean they should do it as servants of local churches, at home and on the field. For it is churches that have “the keys to the kingdom” (Matthew 18:18).

This is why churches are assigned to baptise those who profess the true gospel and add them into their membership (1 Corinthians 12:13). They also have the task of excommunicating those who’re unfaithful and unrepentant in their profession (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Thus it comes as no surprise that in Acts it is churches that identify and send out those who are called to preach the gospel outside, such as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3); and within, such as elders and pastors (1 Timothy 3:1, 8).

The New Testament expects the Christian life to be lived under the authority and discipleship of a church. Church membership is therefore a matter of submission to Jesus’ authority. This is true, even for missionaries. Consider Paul as a traveling missionary. A church sent him (Acts 13:1-3). They supported him (Philippians 4:15). Churches held him accountable (Acts 14:27; 15:3). And he worked within church communities (Acts 20:17-18). Paul also desired to plant and strengthen local churches (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:4).

Churches are the God-authorised ‘mission stations’ on the ground. Other ministries should come from, work under, and feed into them.

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