What is Missions?

Updated: May 11, 2020

The words “mission”, “missions”, and “missionary” in English come from the Latin form of “to send” (missio), and also where we get English words such as “missile” and “missive” from.   The Greek form of this word is apostelo = αποστελω (to send) and “apostle” – a sent one.  We agree that the New Testament office of Apostle (with an upper case “A” as a title) has ceased with the 12 Apostles and the Apostle Paul. But, in an application sense, the gifting of an apostolic missionary (with a lower case “a” as a function) can be seen in those qualified men who are approved by a local church and sent out to do evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in another culture.”

“Missions”, in Christian understanding, is evangelism and church planting that involves going (Matthew 28:19; John 15:16) and crossing into another culture and learning that culture and language of a people group that is different from the one going, in order to preach the gospel to them, make disciples and teach them the Bible, all the while trusting God to work in people’s hearts and bring conversions and raise up a group of baptized believers that would make a church for that people group. This is distinguished from evangelism, which is preaching the gospel to anyone,  people who are in our own culture and already speak our language.  Since we know from the Bible (see Rev. 5 and Rev 7) that at the end of redemptive history there will be people who are redeemed by the blood of the lamb “out from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), this points to the importance of seeing the gospel take root in all cultures.  The Greek word “nation” is ethne – εθνη – where we get out modern English word for “ethnic” and “ethnicity”; it denotes a culture and language and people group.  It does not mean “political boundary” or “country”.

Therefore, another aspect of “going” in missions is going to be language and culture learning and being with people.   One cannot communicate to another culture that does not speak our language unless we humble ourselves and go to them and learn their language and culture and “hang out” with them in order to model Christ’s character and love and pray for opportunities to witness as we learn their culture and language.

Missions involves not only “going” – Matthew 28:19, John 15:16, but sending.   A local church must send out every missionary, and evangelist, and church planter.  Even Paul and Barnabas first served in the local church in Antioch (Acts 11:26) and were confirmed and appointed and sent out by a local church.  (see Acts 13:1-4)   There is no place for “God is leading me to be a missionary” without local church confirmation and testing.

Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  John 20:21

The church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas for the work of evangelism and missions.  The Holy Spirit sent them out also.  When the church sends, the Holy Spirit sends.  See Acts 13:1-4

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  Romans 10:13-15

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