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Should Missions ONLY Be Done Through the Local Church?

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

So, we get this email (immediately below) asking a question revealing a commonly misconstrued position of Propempo. The subject is one we field with some regularity. So we thought it might be good to post the exchange as a blog post. What do you think? Register for a User account on so you can post your comments. 🙂

[a few details have been edited for security]


On 8/11/15 6:53 PM, Mr. DR wrote:

Hi David,

First – thanks for your leadership in missions. I can see you have a great heart and passion for it.

I wanted to ask if you could give me (in a paragraph or two) the Biblical or theological case for why missions should only be done through a local church?  This (to me) is a very narrow view of missions and honestly the only time I have been exposed to in my church background(s). It rules out (of God’s plan) a pretty large percent of the missionaries that are on the field today, and many organizations doing many works.

I know you mentioned this … one night, but we never really finished the conversation. It’s hard for me to be excited about a  church that seems to split hairs (in my opinion) over what seems like preferences – when it seems there are so many great avenues for missionaries to be supported. We support a number of people through other organizations ourselves.

I am just being honest, and figured that maybe I’d take a new approach and just ask!




Dear DR,

I’m glad you followed up and asked about this. I’m wondering if it might be better to have a lunch over it. Nevertheless, let me try to answer your concerns succinctly here, if not thoroughly or as completely as might be.

First, it absolutely OK for individuals to support missions outside and beyond the local church. We do; you all do; I expect most all long-time Christians to have friends and connections in missions outside of their local church’s support relationships.

I wouldn’t say that “missions should only be done through a local church.”  Ralph Winter makes a good case in an article included in the Perspectives book that argues that entrepreneurial missions pioneers are always going to arise outside of the initiative of the local church. That does not disqualify them from doing and guiding important and significant ministry in line with the Great Commission mandate. I agree with the point that non-local-church-based missions ministries will and should arise to fill gaps in local churches’ vision, expertise, or capacity. The flip side of Winter’s argument, however, is that the local church is still the basic corporate unit recipient and owner of the Great Commission.

I don’t view the local church as the total or sole source and means of missions. Still, it’s obvious (to me, anyway) that the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled without planting churches as the end result.  You can’t have the “teaching” and “obeying all that I’ve commanded” without a mutually committed body of believers in a particular locale worshiping and fulfilling the one-another commands of Scripture. The local church is the natural engine for producing, screening, preparing, and shepherding missionaries. And that doesn’t mean releasing responsibility for them to a mission agency when they leave for the field. Evangelism and discipleship without a connection to the local church is definitely not the New Testament norm.

So, risking thin ice here, we are both familiar with our beloved friends at Op*n Mob*n. I praise God that, as O*M* has matured both in age and experience, it has become more and more apparent to the leadership that local church planting in their fields of ministry should be at least a part of their overall goals. it doesn’t make good common sense to do guerrilla evangelism forays and leave new believers to the wolves as the ship sails out of port, hypothetically ;-). The witness and ministry which carries on spiritual development is the presence of a good local church.

If the end is a local church, as I believe is supported and modeled by all of Acts and the epistles, then the danger is viewing the means as the end in itself. Putting it into the context of this example:  bookstores, marketplace book tables, book-selling, drama, skits, music, literature, tract distribution, support of national evangelists, sports camps, youth camps, etc. are all legitimate means. But the means are not the ends.

Here is a segment of some training for church and mission agency leaders given last September. The first 1min12sec of the video is explaining biblical insight from Ephesians 3:10-11, 20-21 showing that it was always God’s plan to make the local church the center of His plan for world evangelism/missions.

In an ideal world, local churches all over the place would step up to their God-given biblical mandate and take their rightful role in involvement in missions. NOTE!: I still don’t think that local churches should replace good sending agencies! Agencies play an important and, often, irreplaceable role. Yet, most churches don’t step up and do that; most of them don’t even know that they should. So, we find a lot of good mission agencies filling in. I have never met or seen a US-based missionary sending agency that didn’t have a statement in their founding documents stating that they were organized to “help,” “come alongside,” “serve,” “assist,” the local church in …….. whatever is their designed specialty or focus of ministry.

Is it a mistake that agencies would have such a statement in their Bylaws or Articles of Incorporation? I don’t think so. I think it is biblically consistent. Is that little founding phrase sometimes lost in the myriad details of history, administration, “vision-casting,” etc. Yes. Part proof of the verity of what I’ve just stated here is that you are asking these questions. No one, missions agency or local church, has taken the time to help you see this biblically and practically.

And that is one of the reasons Propempo exists. We help BOTH churches and agencies figure out the proper role of the local church and of the agency. I am super-thankful that God has allowed me to help found a number of missions agencies (non-profit, 501(c)(3) orgs.).  I am super-thankful that God has allowed me to have some influence in some great missionary sending organizations to help them give better respect and role of local churches in their processes, both pre- and on the field; e.g. – Pio*, A* W* M*, Fro*, W* T*, O*M*F*. I’m not against mission agencies! I’m for them!

Hey, my “one paragraph” turned into a dissertation.  I’d love to have lunch with you and bat this around some more. Hope you get to see the video clip and the articles from “HERE to THERE” below.

David, Propempo

	from the HERE to THERE book (click on this link to buy the whole book)

============================= from Chapter 3