“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews, and they also had John as their helper.”
I was recently invited to speak to Christian teens about how they can become missionaries someday. That became a bit of a challenge for me to wrestle through for this reason: Most young people should not be aiming at missions.
Scripturally speaking, one should not be a missionary who is not himself qualified to be a pastor or, in the case of a woman, married to someone with such qualifications. I know that this will sound countercultural in evangelicalism, but the overwhelming command to Christians, especially young ones, in the New Testament is to learn how to be obedient, holy, productive members of their local churches and societies.
Nevertheless, I presented my roadmap to missions by answering three questions. What is a missionary? How can I become one? What can I be doing now?
What Is A Missionary?
A missionary is someone a church sends to bring the gospel to another country. The elements of this definition are taken straight from the book of Acts: Barnabas and Paul did not send themselves based solely on an internal call they felt. As Paul would later do with countless of his own young disciples, such as Timothy and Titus, Barnabas and Paul were chosen by their church to be “set apart” for the work of missions (Acts 13:2).
Of course this process was led by the Spirit, and of course they were willing and desirous to serve in this way. But their call came from the leadership of their church. Their call to do what, mind you? Luke records that they went out to Salamis and “proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues” (Acts 13:5). Missions is gospel proclamation with an aim at planting local churches when possible.
One note on that: Barnabas and Paul were unable to plant churches in the cities they visited at this point in the book of Acts. The gospel and its messengers are rejected this way at times. But the aim is to plant churches, then to return to the sending church to give a report.
My challenge to anyone considering missions is to determine not to go unless the church who knows them sends them.
But what about missions agencies? Aren’t they the ones responsible for sending out and organizing missions endeavors? Indeed, missions agencies—particularly the reputable ones—are an incredible and often essential resource for many missionaries today. However, it’s unfortunate that many of these organizations, which once played a role in helping local churches send out trained and qualified missionaries, no longer fulfill this role. In some cases, they have taken over the responsibility that rightly belongs to local churches. According to Acts 13 and the pastoral epistles, the responsibility of local churches is to train, affirm, know, and hold accountable individuals like Saul and Barnabas who are sent out. This Biblical model should guide our approach to missions.
How Can I Become One?
How can anyone, from a young child to a middle-aged couple, set their sights on cross-cultural missions work? According to the simple definition above, as well as the necessity for such missionaries to be biblically qualified as elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7), a good place to start would be in one’s own home church.
My challenge for interested or aspiring missionaries is to do here and now what you want to do then and there. Missionaries are essentially full-time church members who are given to evangelism, discipleship, and serving the body. There are nearly sixty “one another” commands in the Bible that missionaries spend their time and energy joyfully obeying for the sake of their international flocks.
If this is the case then and there, should it not also be the same here and now? Let the young aspiring missionaries in our churches be examples now in giving themselves to the life of the body and the winning of the lost.
What Can I Be Doing Now?
I want to leave five practical suggestions that are missionally and future-focused.
First, start praying and start researching. There is a big world out there with many needy areas from which to choose. Joshua Project is a great place to start.
Second, take missions trips, and if you are a young person, take as many missions trips as you can. Go to see another people in another place and healthy missionaries in action.
Third, start reading books. Here I mean two different kinds. You will want to read the growing body of literature being written on doing missions in our modern world, but I will give you a heads up: the older the book, the better. The other kind of reading you need to start is the examination of missionary biographies. If you prefer audiobooks, look up professionally narrated books on YouTube or digitally available from your local library.
Fourth, start talking to missionaries. There is great wisdom in asking questions of missionaries who are twenty-five steps ahead of you. Find good ones, ask around, get in touch, and begin that mentoring relationship.
Fifth, and this one is more of a tip that can help with all of the above, if you do not know where to start with any of this, reach out to missions agencies. They are connected to a wide network of resources, information, and missionaries.
Do Not Lose Sight Of The Big Picture!
When Jesus came to earth, He came as a kingdom bringer. He was the son promised to Adam and Eve, He was the promised seed of Israel, and He was the sought-after king from the lineage of David. Remember then how shocked the disciples must have been after Jesus resurrected from the dead, now the victorious king over death, and announced to them that no, He would not be remaining long in order to set up a physical kingdom with His disciples on this earth. In fact, He was going to leave.
The magnificent implications of the Great Commission are too overwhelming to give attention to here, but recall that this Commission was always God’s plan. Christ would come and establish his mustard seed. The church then would grow over time until its shadow would cover the whole earth.
We are greatly privileged to be living in such an age. Those of us called to the boundaries of that shadow bear great responsibility to bear that light honorably and well. May God raise up many more laborers from His church to do just that.
For further reading
Joseph Pliska is a church-planting missionary to Tokyo, Japan. He was ordained and sent out of Landmark Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is a husband to Sierah and father of a beautiful baby girl. He has a masters from Southern Seminary and records and produces Christian audiobooks on the side when not studying Japanese. Joe and his team in Japan have a heart to plant Baptist churches in urban Japan, led by mature and qualified men with the heart and training to evangelize and disciple others.
October 18, 2023
More from Joseph Pliska
What can someone aspiring to missions be doing now to best prepare for cross-cultural kingdom work someday? This article will be a follow-up to the previous article on “What is a Missionary?” It has three application points for young people to consider before heading to the field. These are directed primarily at young people, but are also for pastors who have aspiring missionaries in their churches.
Modern missions has gone off the biblical rails into the pit of pragmatism. Scripture and church history call us clearly to “do missions” as prescribed for us by Christ and his apostles.