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Discouraging DIY Missions

A growing awareness of gospel needs around the world has produced a sense of urgency in the Church for reaching those far from Christ and resulted in many feeling a call to overseas ministry. The need for gospel laborers who are willing to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) is great, and it brings with it a sense of urgency that has prompted countless believers to uproot their lives and move to another part of the world to share the gospel with those who are far from God.


In an effort to get overseas and begin ministering as quickly as possible, some believers choose to go without the support of a sending church or organization. Some may do so because they believe they are able to obey God’s call without the help of a supporting body; others may have been unable to find a church or organization that was willing to send them. The temptation can be great to forgo the time and effort that’s involved in establishing a partnership with a sending body, so many simply choose to do missions on their own.


While the motivation behind wanting to get overseas “no matter what” may be pure, there are dangers to doing missions on your own, and the fallout from moving to an unfamiliar place to start a new work without a partnering body to hold the ropes can be detrimental for the workers, their family, and the people they are trying to reach.


There are more reasons to avoid DIY missions than we can cover in this post, but here are a few that may be helpful to think through if you (or someone you know) is considering moving overseas without a sending church or organization.


It Does Not Follow the Pattern of the New Testament

The primary reason for discouraging DIY missions is that it runs contrary to the New Testament pattern for missionary work. None of the New Testament accounts of missionary efforts encourage (or even model) going out on your own without the affirmation and support of other believers. The most well-known missionary venture in the New Testament is that of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas. As we know from Acts 13, they were called to this work while they were worshiping and fellowshipping with the church at Antioch and were sent by the church after the leaders there affirmed and commissioned them (13:2–3). One can argue that the sequence of events here wasn’t intended to be prescriptive, but if Paul believed the backing of his church was a determining factor in his decision to go, we would do well to consider if that same type of support is something we want to go without.

If Paul believed the backing of his church was a determining factor in his decision to go, we would do well to consider if that same type of support is something we want to go without.

By eschewing the pattern of the New Testament, wherein those who are called by God to cross cultures for the gospel submit themselves to the leadership of their church for affirmation, consecration, and mobilization, missionaries miss the opportunity to bring the rest of the body into the work God has called them to. The neglect that results from this independent approach is the second reason believers should avoid DIY missions.


It Fails to Involve the Rest of the Body in the Work

The Christian life isn’t meant to be lived alone, and since part of every Christian’s life is a call to some form of ministry (Eph 4:12), none of us should be ministering alone, either. Just as Paul and Barnabas were sent with the support of their local church, every missionary should seek to include other parts of the body of Christ in their efforts as well. Doing so is mutually beneficial: it gives the missionary a source of guidance, accountability, and encouragement, and it gives the sending church or organization the opportunity to be involved in ministering to people who are beyond their reach.


When my family and I served overseas, we relied on our partnering churches for prayer, financial support, direction, encouragement, counseling, and even arbitration when team conflict arose. We were blessed with a great community of local believers during our years on the field, but for many of the issues we faced, we needed to hear from brothers and sisters who knew us well but were outside the contexts we were serving in. I can’t imagine what our time overseas would have been like without our sending church and partner churches regularly speaking into our lives and ministry.


At the same time, by partnering with those churches, we gave them the opportunity to be involved in ministering to people in countries to which most of them had never been. Some of the members of our partnering churches were able to come over on short-term trips, but most of them prayed for us, supported us, and kept up with us without ever working alongside us. Because we made the decision to link arms with those churches before we left and continue the relationship while we were overseas, they were able to minister through us to the people we were trying to reach as they lived out John's encouragement to support their "fellow workers for the truth" (3 John 8).


Believers who decide to minister overseas apart from the leadership and partnership of a sending church or organization deprive themselves of an invaluable resource for their work and deprive the Church back home of the benefits that come with a meaningful connection to missionary workers.


It Sets a Bad Precedent for Future Laborers

Assuming you are on the field long enough to plant a church and make disciples who are called to cross cultures for the gospel, how will you encourage them to be sent by and in partnership with their church if you haven’t modeled that pattern for them in your own going? Can you challenge them to be assessed, developed, and commissioned by the leadership of their church if you never submitted in this way to the leaders of your own church?

A “Do as I say, not as I do” approach is not an option when we are seeking to encourage believers toward obedience to Christ and his Word.

It’s a sad irony that, in their zeal to get overseas and begin planting local churches, believers might undermine the centrality of the local church in mission by forgoing a meaningful partnership with their own church. A “Do as I say, not as I do” approach is not an option when we are seeking to encourage believers toward obedience to Christ and his Word. If the disciples we make see us ministering in submission to a sending church and in relationship with other churches and believers in other parts of the world, then they are more likely to create and maintain those kinds of relationships in their own ministry.


Conclusion

God can work through less-than-ideal means and methods, and there’s no biblical command forbidding doing missions on your own, but just because it’s possible to move overseas without a sending church or organization doesn’t mean anyone should. By being sent before they go, sent ones follow the New Testament pattern of missions, and they bless themselves, the senders, and the people they are being sent to reach.

Just because it’s possible to move overseas without a sending church or organization doesn’t mean anyone should.

One of our goals at Upstream is to encourage lasting and mutually beneficial relationships between sending churches and the ones they send. If you or your church leaders would like to learn more about the resources and services we offer, you can check out our Resources page, sign up for a membership, or join one of our cohorts.

 

David McWhite lives in Greenville, SC, with his wife and four children and serves as Pastor of Missions, Outreach, and Young Couples at Edwards Road Baptist Church. Prior to joining the staff at ERBC, he and his family lived and ministered in Czechia and Ireland. David also works as Content Editor here at Upstream.

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