William Carey, the 18th-century Baptist missionary, once said to his band of fellow Baptist pastors concerning his burden for India’s missionary work and evangelization: “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” To which they gave an oath saying: “While we live… We should never let go of the rope”[i]
Missions is in the local Church. The work of Global Missions can only go as far as the strength and active involvement of the local Church. This is a profound truth established in the Bible and the sooner the global Church comes to the realization of this truth the better for the church and the world of the unreached people of our world.
In this article, we shall examine from the Bible, seven (7) critical roles the local church plays and can play in raising disciples of Jesus Christ among the multitudes of unreached people groups in the world. How can a church be locally relevant and yet wield a global influence?[i]
1. The local Church is the bedrock of global Missions – In Matthew 16:18 Jesus Christ made a very important statement about the church and her purpose; He said he would build His Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. He presented the Church as His instrument to overcome and conquer the influences and onslaught of the kingdom of darkness on earth.
The Church is important to God because Christ loved her and gave his life for her[i] through the Church the eternal wisdom of God is proclaimed in the heavenly places.[ii] The Church is God’s household[iii] where the children of God can enjoy fellowship and be nurtured and flourish spiritually to be their best in advancing against the gates of Hades[iv].
In the light of this, it has pleased Jesus to make the Church the bedrock through which He executes His purpose and counsel against the Kingdom of darkness. The summation of the investment and nurturing of the Church is towards one end, to advance against the Kingdom of darkness. The primary place of expression of Jesus’ agenda is at the local Church level. Where else is the priority place of engagement of the gates of Hades but in the frontline among the unreached people of the world where darkness reign supreme. Every local Church must know that while it is established to engage darkness in her immediate environment, it is also part of a global movement to confront, engage and advance against the gates of Hades globally.
2. The local Church is the nursery where Missionaries are raised for global Missions: Every Missionary is the product of a local church. If the work of global Missions will be accomplished, well prepared and nurtured missionaries are needed to brave the frontiers and pioneer missions work in the regions where the Gospel has not been preached. Such Missionaries can only be prepared and nurtured in the local Church. The local church is where most discipling naturally takes place in the context of fellowship and worship[v]
Every Missionary is the product of a local church
In Acts 16, Apostle Paul in his Missionary journey came to Lystra where he met a disciple named Timothy. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. He had already been nurtured and prepared by his local church; thus, it was not a problem to be enlisted in the apostolic team for global Missions. No wonder he became a close associate of Paul, co-authoring a number of the epistles with him and growing on to become the Bishop of Ephesus. He could not have had this phenomenal impact if not for the influence of the local church where he worshipped.
Other members of Paul’s apostolic team from different local churches include Aristarchus, a Greek Macedonian from the Thessalonica Church[vi], Jason from the Thessalonica Church[vii], Silas from the Jerusalem Church[viii], Sosthenes was the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth and was a co-author of the book of 1 Corinthian[ix] with Paul and Tychicus who was an Asiatic Christian from the Roman province[x]. All these could play a major role in advancing the frontiers of the Gospel because they were nurtured, equipped and trained in their respective local churches for Global Missions.
The local church Pastors and elders have a central role to play in the production line of Missionaries in our days. It is painful that there is a decreasing enrolment of Missionary candidates in Schools of Missions today and the few that show up still struggle in training probably because of the level of preparation from their respective local Churches. We need to revisit the spiritual diet being given to church members to see if they are adequate to equip them for their roles in global Missions.
We need to revisit the spiritual diet being given to church members
3. The local Church is the tree that produces the fruit for the sustenance of the Missions enterprise – cares for missionaries after they are sent
The role of resourcing global Missions enterprise by the local Church is very critical in the success of global Missions advance. The Missions enterprise is not a parallel movement to the Church movement rather Missionaries are the advance party of the Church to break new grounds where the gospel has not been preached. For Missions to succeed it must be funded. Contrary to the thinking of many who translate the Spartan life adopted by Missionaries to mean that Missions does not need much funding, Missions work is capital intensive!
A good example of the Church playing her role to sustain and partner with Missionaries and Mission work is seen in the relationship of Paul with the Philippian Church. (Phil. 4:15–19); In verse 15,16, he acknowledged the consistent partnership support of the Philippian Churches of his Missionary work right from the beginning and up to the gifts that was recently sent through Epaphroditus. In his testimony, the gifts and support of the Philippian Church was a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Apostle Paul made the Philippian Churches to see their partnership gift to his Missionary effort in the light of the impact of their gift and what it translated to. No wonder in verse 17, he said, ‘’ Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.’’ Global Missions support by any local church is an opportunity to have abounding fruits in their eternal accounts in heaven. When God will be rewarding the labourers that gave themselves to the evangelization of unreached people, he will reward the Missionaries as much as He rewards the local assemblies that sacrificially give to sustain the Missionaries on the frontline.
By design, the local church is positioned to sustain global Missions advance.
In 3 John 1–8, Apostle John commended the elder Gaius for sending the Gospel bearers on their way, in other words supporting the Missionaries in a manner worthy of God thereby not allowing them to turn to the Gentiles for support. By design, the local church is positioned to sustain global Missions advance. While the role of the local church is critical, the roles played by individuals and families are also critical in Missions advance. In 2 Timothy 1: 16-18, Apostle Paul introduced a man and his family by the name Onesiphorus, not much is known of him but he is surely someone known to Timothy and a disciple. Apostle Paul did testify that he ‘’ …often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains’’ he went on to testify how Onesiphorus sought him out in Rome and called Timothy to witness of Onesiphorus’
support of Paul’s Missionary work in Ephesus. Onesiphorus is a disciple that has understood the critical role of the disciples and his family in partnering and supporting the Missionaries in the frontline for Global Missions.
4. The local Church is the shade that refreshes Missionaries from the scorching sun of Missions challenges – Venturing into the world of the unreached can be very challenging. The reason some of the unreached places of the world have not been reached may not be unconnected to the difficult terrain or the thick challenging spiritual climate of the region. Thus, it takes courage, faith and a large dose of love for God and the unreached people for a Missionary to leave all and go to reach them.
However, after a season of service on the frontline, the missionaries need to be refreshed and sent afresh for a time of service. The local Church is the place of comfort and succour for the Missionary. The ministry of welcoming and refreshment for missionaries is a key role of the Church in global Missions advance.
The practice of an unattached Missionary without a home church base is dangerous
It is often comforting for Missionaries to receive messages from churches and families back home. Families in the local churches should open their homes for furloughing missionaries. The role of welcoming Missionaries should be encouraged among local Churches. The local church should serve as the mustard tree under which Missionaries can come and receive shade of comfort and renewal.[xi]
5. The local Church is the propagator of the seed of the Gospel in unreached regions of the world – Healthy, reproducing local churches are normally the aim and end result of our missionary efforts[xii]. Such churches are the result of the initiative of the local church sending out Missionaries as found in Acts 13:1-4. The local church has an active role to play in the deployment of Missionaries. While some Church congregations or denominations have the structures to deploy and support Missionaries others do not have but in all cases, the local church should be the launching pad for Missionary deployment.
It is not enough for Missionaries to be nurtured and groomed for Missions in a local church; the church should also be actively involved in the deployment of the Missionary to his field of calling even if he has to do it through a Missions agency. The practice of an unattached Missionary without a home church base is dangerous. Every Missionary should emerge and be sent forth by his local church. No Missionary should be an orphan. Every Missionary should at least have a home church from where he proceeds to the world and where prayers are raised for him and there is a support structure for him and his family.
In Acts 13, the local church was the instrument the Holy Spirit used to launch and propagate a massive Missions movement that brought the Gospel to nations of the world and before kings and rulers. That pattern is still valid today.
6. The local Church is the root that supports global Missions with prayers. A tree is as strong as the depth and firmness of its root. Prayer plays a vital role in the advance and sustenance of the Missions movement. Apostle Paul knew the vital place of prayers in his Missionary work, thus, he was deliberate and intentional to ask for prayers from the Churches. To the Thessalonian church he requested ‘’ Brethren, pray for us’’[xiii], he later requested in 2 Thessalonian 3:1 for prayers that the word of God may spread in their midst. To the Ephesian Church he requested ‘’ Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel’’[xiv]. Even in prison, he wrote to the Colossian church, ‘’ and pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains’’[xv]. To the Church in Rome, he said, ‘’ I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.’’[xvi]
The local church is the base where massive, consistent, continuous and passionate prayers should be mobilized for Global Missions. The prayers of the local church are to global Missions what oxygen is to living. Winning the Nations for our King is an intense spiritual battle, it takes the whole church to confront and subdue the hordes of darkness among the nations.
The prayers of the local church are to global Missions what oxygen is to living
The local church should give prayers for global Missions a prominent place in public worship, prayers for global Missions should be part of Christian family prayer altar. Adoption of unreached people groups and unreached countries for prayers should be aggressively promoted in the local church and among all the groups in the church. We can never pray too much about the fiery spiritual battle raging on the frontlines of global missions.
7. The local Church should radiate the flowery beauty and allure of Missions to her members:
‘’The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them’’- Acts 15:12.
“When [Paul and Barnabas] arrived and gathered the church [of Antioch] together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” – Acts 14:27
The meeting of the local Church should be a celebration of God’s actions among the nations. The local church should and ought to envision the members of her role in global Missions. This should be done in regular prayers for Missions during her meeting days, deliberate scheduling of teaching on the challenge of Missions and inviting Missionaries from the frontlines to share with the Church on developments on the Missions field.
Some congregations have adopted specific periods of the year to focus on the work of global Missions while others have adopted an annual or periodic conference to celebrate the work of God among the Nations and bring the challenge of global Missions to her members. In whatever approach, the local Church should make the work of Missions attractive to her members and should make the flame of global Missions be alive among the local congregation.
I will conclude with the submission of two local church Pastors. The first is the Rev. Oswald J. Smith of the People’s Church, Toronto. In his book, The Challenge of Missions, he said: ‘’ the supreme task of the Church is world Evangelism. I believe that with all my heart. The most important work of the church of Jesus Christ is world Evangelism.’’ [xvii]
The second is Dr John Piper, the Pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA, he said,’’ The local churches are therefore comprised of believing members who are busy about their Master’s business. They are either sending that set-apart or they are being sent to declare the glories of the Gospel by making disciples. The point is clear: either we’re called of God to go down to the well, or we’re called to hold the rope for those who go down. There is no third option for local churches. May our response to those that are called of God to go in our local churches be the same as that of Carey’s friends: “while we live… We should never let go of the rope”[xviii]
[i] John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016),
[i] Ephesians 5:25
[ii] Ephesian 3:10
[iii] 1 Tim. 3:15
[iv] Ephesians 4:11-15
[v] Heb. 10:24–25
[vi] Acts 27:2, Acts 19:29
[vii] Acts 17:5-9, Romans 16:21
[viii] Acts 15:22
[ix] Acts 18:12-17, 1 Corinthians 1:1-2
[x] Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12
[xi] Matthew 13:31-32
[xii] Acts 15:41; Titus 1:5
[xiii] 1 Thessalonian 5:25
[xiv] Ephesian 6:19
[xv] Colossians 4:3
[xvi] Rom. 15:30-33,
[xvii] Oswald J. Smith, The Challenge of Missions, (16)
[xviii] John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 21.