Defining our Terms
The lingo you'll hear on the podcast
Mission is an intentionally broad term that we use, which is shorthand for “The Mission of the Church." In other words, "Mission" is what God has sent His Church into the world to accomplish. In the New Testament, we can see that the priorities of this mission involve:
(1) proclaiming the gospel, (2) making disciples, and (3) multiplying local churches. In this broadest sense, "Mission" is not defined by a particular context or setting in the world. Instead, it refers to the all-encompassing work of evangelism, discipleship and church multiplication, wherever Christians may do it.
Of course, practically-speaking, mission oftens involves more than just these three priorities, but according to our framework, mission should never involve less than these three priorities. If any of these three spiritual priorities are absent, for example -- it may still be a fruitful, God-honoring ministry -- but we are talking about something less than the Mission of the Church.
Missions (with an “S”):
Missions is a much more narrow category within the mission of the church. Missions is all about taking the mission of the Church into new, unreached parts of the world -- where there are no Christians and churches (or at least, very few of them) to do this work on their own.
Due to the many cultural and linguistic barriers, this kind of missions work often begins with Bible translation and cultural observation. From there, it progresses into evangelism and discipleship, and then culminates in leadership development and church planting.
Depending on the cultural climate, social dynamics ─ and of course, God’s timing ─ this process can take many years (or even decades) just to begin. The goal of missions is always to see native Christians trained as faithful pastors who can lead native churches to be a gospel witness in that community for many generations to come. Once there is a sustainable number of qualified native pastors leading healthy local churches, then our outside missionary support should be either paired back, or carried on from a distance. From there, the Mission of the Church is handed over -- almost entirely -- to those native local churches. Ideally, they will join us in sending missionaries to take the gospel to unreached nations.
A missionary is a mature disciple-maker who is called by God and sent out by their local church for the work of missions (with an "S") ─ ideally, among an unreached or unengaged people group. Missionaries can serve in various roles, but their work should be directly connected to (or in support of) the three mission priorities listed above ─ proclaiming the gospel, making disciples, and multiplying local churches within their cross-cultural setting.
The Apostle Paul is the classic example of a traditional missionary. He devoted his life to preaching the gospel among Gentle nations, and gathering new disciples into local churches. That said, a classic example of a missionary support role would be a pilot who flies other missionaries into tribal communities that cannot be reached by road, or a medical professional who provides healthcare to missionary teams and/or the communities they're reaching. They may not serve on the front lines of the mission, for example, but they can still play a vital (often essential) role in taking the gospel to the nations.
Missions agencies are parachurch, non-profit organizations that serve local churches and their missionaries by assessing, supporting and caring for missionaries, as well as overseeing the logistics of their work on the field. These agencies play a vital role in helping missionaries navigate complex challenges like language learning, visa requirements, travel, and more. With that said, a missions agency should never try to replace a missionary's local church. The ideal sending arrangement is a three-way partnership between a local church, its missionary, and a like-minded agency. Some denominations have their own missions sending agencies (IMB, ReachGlobal), and churches within that denomination may opt to use them exclusively. Other churches opt to collaborate with a variety of like-minded agencies (SAM, World Team, Frontiers, Pioneers.)