What is a missionary?

What biblically is “a missionary”?

Resumen: This post explains what is a missionary “biblical speaking”. It examines the Bible to see how the concept is developed in the New Testament, and how it should be understood by us, and how we should obligate “missionaries” to be.
One of the most critical problems in modern missions is the failure to understand and respect what is a missionary from a biblical perspective. Christianity has two reproductive systems that must be carefully and rigidly maintained:
(1) individual Christians being created via biblical evangelism,
(2) churches being planted by biblical missions.

Failure in either of these systems, even slight malfunctioning by perversion will eventually cause Christianity to “fail” to reproduce from one generation to the next in a particular culture, country, etc. When we look at England for example, at one time it was the premire missionary sending country in the world. Now it receives missionaries from other countries and still has a small percentage of churches and biblical Christians within its borders.

It is important therefore to focus and meditate on what is a “biblical missionary” or what is “biblical missions”.

First of all the word “missionary” or “missions” doesn’t occur in our King James Bible. Yet we see the ministry of what we understand to be a modern missionary in the ministries of Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, Titus, etc. So there is biblical warrant for the concept. But at the same time, we must understand that not everything out there today calling itself a biblical ministry, or biblical missionaries, really have the form and method of biblical missions. This is the most destructive error that modern Christians have allowed into Christianity of all history probably. They have moved the purpose and method of the biblical mandate of reaching and discipling the lost from the biblical way to other methods which have been in some cases “just wrong and damaging”, and in other cases these unbiblical ministries have run in competition against biblical missions.

If we restrict ourselves to what the Bible presents as far as the ministry and missions, God only authorized the method and instrument of the church universal, which exists in the New Testament solely in local churches. All the other “ministries” out there have no biblical warrant. Yes, people ministered as God gave them spiritual gifts to do so, but in the N.T. we see everything orientating around and within local instances of the universal church. The concept of ripping the ministry and members from any local church to scatter them out in the highways and byways of life is simply the opposite of what God wants.
Ezek 34:5  And they were scattered, because [there is] no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.

The Lord rebukes the leaders of His people because they scattered the flock of God instead of gathering into sheepfolds. It is God’s purpose that His people be gathered so that they may spiritually grow and produce fruit (Jer 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare [it] in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd [doth] his flock.). The idea is that God wants His people organized into small groups like a sheepfold and a pastor to guard, feed, and take care of them.

Modern Christianity has almost totally destroyed this idea altogether. The way 90% of Christian ministers “do the work of God” is to minimize, scandalize, and depreciate the chosen instrument of God (the local church), and they invent alternatives that “are better” (at least in their own eyes). If these other ways of doing ministry is so better, why do they always run back to local churches to get local churches to fund and field personnel for their ministries? In other words, these modern ministries are not self-supporting, and self reproducing like a local church is when it is run biblically. These modern ministries are leeches, draining the life from the church.

We must also understand that although the concept of all of God’s children in all times can be loosely considered “the church of God”, in the N.T. times, every true Christian was a member of the universal church, and likewise they all sought to reunite with local churches (or formed a new one if one was not available to them) as a practical outworking or logical conclusion of their salvation. It is simply not in the scope of any NT reference or teaching that obedient Christians existed as Christians isolated or refusing to attend, participate, and live their Christianity outside of the local church. The Christian gifts given by God through the Holy Spirit likewise are given to be practiced in the local churches. All with the exception of evangelism were local church activities, done basically within the fellowship and walls of a local church. Today evangelism is constantly tried to be practiced within the local church and not in the streets door to door. Wonder why that is?

Biblical missions has to return to what the NT lays down as the pattern for doing God’s work. Men of God already laboring successfully in a local church are called away by God to start new local churches from the results of aggressive evangelism in the streets and houses of the unsaved. These men are called missionaries.

A missionary is not biblical if he does not (1) evangelize, and (2) he does not plant and work a local church. Biblical missions is the joint doing of both things. If you want to write books, have a Christian summer camp, have a Bible Institute, etc., then the only way these things can any way be biblical is if they directly are carried out as the ministry of a local church. More than one local church may join in and participate and help, and that seems good, not bad, but when the situation moves from pastors and elders of a single local church that are financially and ministerially responsible for everything that goes on in that ministry to a man or group of “ministers” breaking from that anchor of the local church to be a rule unto themselves, then this is not biblical.

God’s instrument for doing His ministry is that of a local church, and the focus has to remain on the structure and elements God has given us. For example, a Bible College is a great thing, but it has totally broken from the form and structure that God has given us to work. Local churches in the Bible are the principle and only God ordained instruments  for teaching the Word of God or spiritual instruction. God’s plan is that men of God who are locally visible and their spiritual lives are known and observed weekly are the principle ones to teach God’s words. At times others from other local churches came and taught, but the principle avenue of spiritual teaching was and still is God’s men examined locally by each church, and then given the authority and place of teaching the people of God. These are spiritual shepherds, or pastors, and the concept of a pastor is one where the man lives in the field (hardships) with the sheep, develops a personal love and devotion from the sheep towards his person, and he selflessly and sacrificially serves them on a local and present level. This allows his spiritual teaching to enter into their lives spiritually, and they appreciate him, and listen spiritually to his teaching. In a Bible college, the entire setup is to separate the teachers from the students to minimize their out-of-class experiences. The students don’t eat, witness weekly, nor do other activities with their teachers. Neither do they see these teachers in their family experiences, with wife, with kids, with frustrating people.

Christ took His disciples with Him so that they could see the principles He taught lived before them in a successful and exemplary way. Modern Christianity has destroyed this concept, teaching that only true spiritual learning happens in one of their unbiblical constructs (a Bible college, or some other equally unbiblical method), and they despise and depreciate people educated under a man of God who is just a pastor, with or without any “Bible College training”. The fact that these same people charge nearly the equivalent of a house (many top $100,000 for 4-5 years of education), and go beyond insisting that no church should call a man to be their pastor unless he has a doctorate from one of their schools is equally galling.

When we return to what is biblical missions, we have to focus on the man of God going out to an area without Christians, or with few Christians, who will evangelize and plant a local church. This is the only biblical pattern for missions, and for a missionary.

An “apostle” is a missionary

We cannot argue our opinions and beliefs about this, but rather we must return to Scriptures to find truth. The Bible doesn’t use the word missionary actually. But does it? Our word missionary comes from the latin missionario, which is a translation from the Greek “apostle”. What did the concept of “apostle” mean in the Bible? An apostle in the Bible was somebody like the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, or the apostles Paul, Luke, and Barnabas. These apostles-missionaries are people who are called to a specific mission to accomplish. The 12 apostles had a requirement in Acts 1-2 of having personally seen the life of Jesus, and their mission was to give personal testimony of the events and teachings of Jesus until the canon was closed, so those apostles don’t exist anymore. The requirements mean that nobody passing that generation could be one of the twelve.

But the biblical ministry of apostle as Paul, Timothy, and Titus did it, does still exist today. These are different from the apostles of Christ, they are the apostles of the churches. An apostle is a person sent out authoritatively on a mission (from the greek concept of apostolos). So missionaries are referred to in the Bible.

A biblical missionary is a person called by God to leave his own country and home (and home church) to go out into the world where the gospel is not named, to evangelize the lost, and organize the resulting converted people into a local church. We need to qualify this definition as much as we can so let me further explain what my understanding of a biblical missionary is.

We cannot argue our opinions and beliefs about this, but rather we must return to Scriptures to find truth. The Bible doesn’t use the word missionary actually. But does it? Our word missionary comes from the latin missionario, which is a translation from the Greek “apostle”. What did the concept of “apostle” mean in the Bible? An apostle in the Bible was somebody like the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, or the apostles Paul, Luke, and Barnabas. The 12 apostles had a requirement in Acts 1-2 of having personally seen the life of Jesus, so those apostles don’t exist anymore.

But the biblical ministry of apostle as Paul did it, does exist today. These are different from the apostles of Christ, they are the apostles of the churches. An apostle is a person sent out authoritatively on a mission (from the greek concept of apostolos). So missionaries are referred to in the Bible.

A biblical missionary is a person called by God to leave his own country and home to go out into the world where the gospel is not named, to evangelize the lost, and organize the resulting converted people into a local church. We need to qualify this definition as much as we can so let me further explain what my understanding of a biblical missionary is.

Missions is about the Reproduction of God’s Church

This is the heart of missions. Without this heart being the central thing, you have a monster that isn’t what it is supposed to be. When we load down missions with other forms of ministry that are not missions, then we confuse what is missions and what is the central thing we are supposed to be doing for our people and many times even pastors aren’t sorting this out in their own mind, ministry, life, and church.

Other ministries are valid, but they should not have the same emphasis (degree and extent), nor should they occur the same budget as missions, nor should they be the spiritual emphasis of a local church. A good music program is a must in any biblical church, but when you put all your eggs into that basket, the reproduction of God’s work suffers. The central thing is the central thing, and that central thing is the salvation of souls, and the education of those souls to incorporate them into the ministry.
by Missionary David Cox
For more discussion on this topic, see my post, “”

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