(May 11, 2018) George Forbes, missionary spokesperson, raises an issue…

This could be the first time I’ve raised the fact that the role of missionaries is rapidly changing.

I believe the change is the result of the good work done by the thousands of missionaries who served with great fruitfulness over past centuries.

And I think especially of the 19th and 20th centuries when missionaries were sent virtually worldwide to make disciples. Their work was very fruitful with great numbers of churches planted.

Initially the missionaries by necessity were the pastors and Bible teachers of the churches they planted. Then, gradually and eventually in a great surge, national pastors were trained and went out to plant many more churches.

Recognition of emerging indigenous leadership
Experienced missionaries rejoiced to see what God was doing, yet they felt the change that progressively happened as they stepped back in recognition of the emerging indigenous leadership.

There were struggles, much prayer, and a transfer of leadership. Some missionaries returned home, while others remained, especially where there was need for Bible training.

The investment by missionaries has paid a great spiritual dividend; however the inevitable transition has had its cost. Have there been difficulties? Yes!

I believe they were ‘birth pains’ as national churches were released to lead. What the missionaries planted in many cases has multiplied exponentially. One hundred churches became two hundred, then five hundred.  Next, one thousand and still expanding almost daily with new churches planted.

More and more national churches have become missionary sending churches!

Rethinking time
Missionaries from western economies are either returning home because their task is now in capable indigenous hands. Or they have applied themselves including retraining to work with national churches in support of their vision and strategy.

This has been a challenging task for them, so they need our constant prayer support.

The positive reality of this era is the western missionary is being replaced very often by a national, an indigenous, church planter or Bible teacher. There is reason to both –

  • Give thanks to God, and
  • Rethink what role western missionaries can now play in global evangelisation.

At the same time many of the returning missionaries have become effective pastors back home.  Their ministry experience in another culture had added value to their ability to pastor a local church in multi-cultural western nations.

In my understanding, enlistment of new missionaries in the west must be specialised. Linguists, translators, experienced and mature Bible teachers may still be needed.  There may be a place for new, well trained missionaries, who see the importance of investing in national churches, in their leadership and in their church planting ministry.

Novice western missionary applicants are in my understanding better to gain much more ministry experience in their own culture and country, before offering themselves for overseas placement as a missionary.

National churches still ask for experienced and gifted pastors to help them with pastors’ conferences and special training.  I know senior pastors who are very effective in this level of ministry.

I conclude this article with the question…

Is the word missionary obsolete?
I do not believe so.
Their role is biblical as well as vital. However I see the role of the great number of national workers, church planters and Bible teachers as replacing the need for western missionaries in many situations and nations.

There are two particular reasons –

  • One is the ability to blend into the culture and lifestyle
  • The other is the related reason is the high cost.

If the laws of a country, or its anti-Christian position, require low profile entry with a valid alternative identity, then so be it. Especially where that person obtains employment to make them self-sufficient.

Dr George Forbes is internationally recognised as a missionary spokesperson with a heart for the lost of the nations. With a wealth of missionary knowledge and a unique ability to communicate the global picture, he is widely known as the ‘story-teller.’ Link:

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