How Do Missionaries Work?

bible-questionsHow do missionaries work?

The word “missionary” means “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work” ( The word stems from a Latin word meaning “one who is sent.” In the New Testament, we can identify several missionaries. Philip seems to be the first of these. We read his story in Acts 8. He went to the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5). He also was sent by an angel of the Lord to meet the Ethiopian nobleman on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). In both instances, Philip preached salvation in Christ and those who heard and believed were baptized. So the basic work of the missionary is to go to some location with the message of the gospel intending to make disciples. Usually, this is done with the support of a more established congregation.

This brings us to the work of the apostle Paul. He was a missionary to the gentiles as sent by Jesus Christ himself. In Acts 26:16-18 Jesus told him:

But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

Paul first received some training from Jesus according to Galatians 1:11-12. Then, he went to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29). After some threats on Paul’s life, the church sent him to Tarsus, his home city. At a later time, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to work with that congregation (Acts 11:22). Barnabas then got Paul to work with him there too (Acts 11:25), and it was at Antioch that the Holy Spirit specifically requested Barnabas and Paul to go on their first missionary journey. In Acts 13:2-3 says, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” They made their way through the island of Cypress and then went to the southern part of Asia Minor to the towns of Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They went back through these towns and returned to Antioch of Syria and made their report. Acts 14:27 says, “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

So, from the Bible, we learn the basic pattern of a missionary. He is sent by a sponsoring congregation. He goes to places where the people need to hear the preaching of the gospel. He makes disciples. He confirms those disciples. He then returns to his sponsoring congregation and makes his report. He may then be sent out again to repeat his work in the same or different places. The missionary may also take advantage of other opportunities that arise while he is traveling. He may engage in secular employment to aid his efforts as Paul made tents (Acts 18:3). He may teach in local schools (Acts 19:9). He may be involved in the ministry of healing others (Luke 9:6). There is no shortage of good works that he may do (Galatians 6:10). The ultimate goal is always the same as Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).