The Centrality of the Local Church in Missions

I love the speaker and I love this subject! Jake, a missionary to China, gave a heart felt, intelligent defense for the centrality of the local church in missions. As Pioneer Senders we need to have a solid understanding of missions. Breakout sessions, such as this one, given at the Our Generation Summit is a great way to increase our understanding of missions. I plan to post more outlines, like this one, over the next few weeks.

I strongly encourage you to have the missionary that this lesson into your church. You can email at I encourage you to not only have him in to challenge your church but also so you can seat down with him and talk missions. If you are a Pioneer Sender and he comes by your church I strongly encourage you to take him out for a meal to talk missions.

Here are two great blog entries, relevant to this subject, written by the person who wrote these notes.

Ecclesioporosis | Part 1

Ecclesioporosis | Part 2

Premise: strong ECCLESIOLOGY promotes healthy MISSIOLOGY

  • In other words, a commitment to local churches will result in more effective, longer-lasting, and more biblical missions efforts.
  • There is currently a trend toward missions works that are disconnected or even completely divorced from local churches.
  • Rejecting this trend and renewing our commitment to church-planting and pastoral ministry is key for the new generation of missionaries to reach further than the last.
  • Below, we will conduct three examinations:
    • Why is missions letting the church drift from center?
    • Why is it essential that missions return the church to the center?
    • How can we personally re-commit to the centrality of the church?

 1. Factors that are undermining the place of the church in foreign missions:

A. Reimagining definitions

  • There is a movement to rethink what church means, what it looks like, how it’s done, how it’s led, how it’s supported, how it’s propagated, etc.
  • As believers have a nebulous view of what it means to be a church, they are increasingly willing to forego concrete involvement in any local body.

B. Security considerations

  • In countries that restrict access to the Gospel or persecute believers, there are some missions works that carefully limit who may attend church.
  • Thus, foreign missions workers minister outside the church in an attempt to protect national believers; also, some missionary church leaders are very wary about who they invite to church services.

C. Prominence of holistic ministries

  • It seems more attention is being given (even among theological conservatives) to innovative ‘deeds’ ministries that minister to physical needs as well as spiritual.
  • As many churches have a more traditional focus in ministry, many young people have to step outside the church to interact with the needs that concern them most; additionally, the church is often seen as a mainly spiritual authority whose sanction is unneeded in matters of material or physical needs.

D. Training deficiencies

  • Full-time involvement in church-related ministry often requires specialized training that many are either unwilling to get or unaware how to get.
  • Many parachurch missions projects promise significant ministry opportunities that do not require a theological or ministerial education.

E. Increase in independent missionaries

  • As the world shrinks, there are many involved in missions with minimal structures (a denomination, a board, a church, etc.) for support or accountability.
  • Working in churches is often difficult and, if missionaries aren’t held stiffly to that standard, many will find an alternative form of ministry; also, many of these missionaries are self-supporting and find their time or funds insufficient for major church-planting works.

 2. Why we need the church so desperately in missions endeavors:

A. The mission’s stipulations imply the need of the church

  • The commands for New Testament believers necessitate the formation of churches; the Great Commission itself mandates the training of those who believe on Jesus.
  • The missions-hearted believer often abandons the church because he is interested in ministry other than disciple-making; this is tragic because it is nothing less than disregarding the mission and disobeying the Mission-giver.

B. The authority of Christ lies squarely behind the church

  • The difficulties of the mission are not to be underestimated; the church is the lone institution on earth that bears the guarantee of Christ’s love and power.
  • This authorization from Christ also brings the missions-hearted believer a deep sense of meaning: in the church, we are connected to the redemptive work of Christ, the climactic final act in salvation history!

C. The church is uniquely equipped to address the complexity of sin

  • Attempts to minister to people in their brokenness are always much harder than they first appear; sin’s roots are twisted and deep.
  • Other organizations may content themselves to fight against one facet of sin’s effects in a person’s life, but the disciple-making church fights every manifestation of evil.

D. The church possesses the strongest motivation to fight injustice

  • Without deep motivation, people – even missionaries – become passive in the war against sin; forward progress in the mission will always require radical sacrifices.
  • Those fellowships who have been forged by the immense grace of Christ are able to make the most profound sacrifices for others; they are least likely to be mired down by politics, bureaucracy, and waste.

E. God’s presence is most clearly manifested through the assembled church

  • There are also young believers who walk away from the church in hopes of being more directly involved in evangelism and discipleship; to them, the church is unnecessary baggage in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
  • This decision is unfortunate because the assembled church is a testimony to the universal power of the Gospel; detachment from the assembly virtually guarantees that discipleship efforts will become anemic.


3. Figuring the church into your strategy for impact:

A. See the glory of the church as taught in the Bible

  • The church is the product purchased by redemption’s price; filling our hearts with the surpassing value of Christ’s atonement leads us in turn to value what that sacrifice purchased, namely, one body built by grace to glorify God forever.
  • Continually educating ourselves about the church’s glorious position and teaching others the same truths will impel us to cling to the church wherever we go.

B. Train for understanding and ability in church ministry

  • To use our particular gifts to edify the church, it is necessary to receive instruction about the vision, ministries, leadership, and plans of our local churches; when young believers learn how to lead within the church, they will not be so tempted to look without.
  • Submitting ourselves to be trained may mean it takes longer for us to arrive on the mission field, but it also means that we will be equipped to be a church leader when we do.

C. Commit to making proclamation ministry a priority

  • We must recognize that preaching the Gospel is the irreducible, integral component of our mission; therefore, we must emphasize ‘words’ ministry more than ‘deeds’ ministry.
  • When we have committed ourselves to proclamation ministry, the church becomes our natural home, the center for disciple-making in a given place.

D. Limit ministry options to those connected to churches

  • Many times, those who take missions trips or apply with missions organizations do not realize that they will be operating completely outside the parameters of any local church.
  • When making decisions about our missions work (whether short-term or long-term), we ought to opt for those endeavors that benefit, build, or plant local churches directly; making exceptions for short-term trips teaches participants that the local church is an extraneous part of missions.

E. Be willing to personally lead and plant churches

  • Many believers are satisfied with merely attending a church, but if our purpose in going to the mission field is to make disciples (as it should be), we must commit to strengthening whatever church we will be working with and pushing to plant new churches.
  • If we find ourselves moved to a place where there is no church, we must be prepared to do the preliminary work necessary to establish a fellowship of believers in that place.

F. Measure Great Commission need in church-related units

  • As we think about the target of missions (the world’s unheards), we should be very attentive to the number, purity, tradition, leadership, and size of the churches in a given region.
  • Rather than make strategic missions decisions based on societal factors, we ought rather to determine how many churches are needed to provide a resounding witness to the Gospel in an area.

G. Invest constantly in the edification of a local church

  • Regardless of your profession, mission field, or stage in life, we must examine our current labors to discover what, if any, impact they are having on a particular local body of believers.
  • This is about testing: it is all too easy for missionaries (and believers in general) to fill their schedules with good works, but the church is not a direct beneficiary of them.

H. Aim financial gifts and support toward local churches

  • It is wise stewardship of financial resources to direct our giving toward those missions endeavors that will result in more and stronger churches.
  • This means that we will have to ask hard questions of those who would go out from among us to the world: what will be your personal level of involvement with national churches on the field?

I. Count the church as worthy of our greatest risks in missions

  • In countries where there is considerable risk involved in doing the work of missions, believers constantly evaluate what things are ‘worth the risk’ and what are not; the power and value of the church should weigh heavily into these decisions.
  • Once we have made participation in the church a non-negotiable for our lives, we can formulate church-centered strategies and joyfully suffer when called to do so.


A commitment to the centrality of the local church in Christian ministry (strong ecclesiology) helps to push the Great Commission endeavor forward (healthy missiology). In order to maintain this centrality, we must see the church as the beloved bride Christ died to purchase, and each assembly of believers as the localized expression of his glorious power and gracious love. Stubbornly clinging to the church, even when it seems prudent to put distance between us, is necessary if we would be found faithful in our Lord’s commission to make disciples of the nations.


About the author

Trent serves as an Associate Pastor at Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, GA. He writes, speaks, and helps lead events that encourage people to "pioneer" in the work of sending.

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