Let’s Rescue Missionaries from the ‘Pastorate.’


Insanity, according to Albert Einstein; is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The ‘pastorate,’ is one of those same things.  ‘The Pastorate’ is usually made up of a select group of professionals who have met the requirements of a particular denomination or group, have gone to seminary, been ordained, etc.

It’s an unfortunate term. The function of the pastorate, along with its misplaced authority has caught many a missionary by the tail and impeded the work of God in the world. When the lasso of the pastorate is thrown around the missionary, and likewise the assumption; ‘all missionaries are pastors,’ insinuated, it can have grave consequences for both pastors AND missionaries and the work of mission. What are the problems in auto-associating missionaries as pastors?

1.  It puts an unnecessary yoke on the missionary who may be gifted in other ways.

Not every missionary is given the Ephesians 4:11 gift of pastor. In fact, I would suggest that most missionaries are predominantly apostolic followed by evangelistic, and prophetic. (Ephesians 2:20) To restrain the missionary or to demand pastoral function of a missionary is to be either biblically presumptuous, controlling, or just plain lazy. That one is sent of God into the world to herald the good news (mark 16:15), to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in foreign contexts, or even to ‘do justice’ (Micah 6:8) does not necessarily require a pastor or a person with pastoral gifting.

2.   It’s backwards.

It’s Christology – Missiology – Ecclesiology.  First comes Jesus in all things concerning mission and church. Christ informs mission and mission informs church. Church (local) is forged in the fire of mission.  Jesus determines the mission through the Holy Spirit, and the mission determines church. To place pastoral authority over mission is to put pastoral function/development before mission.  This is completely backwards.  If it were true, then you’d have to create a pastored church before you could have mission.  In other words, you would need a pastor before you could ever have a missionary.

Think about that for a moment. The trajectory towards being a missionary, if the current systems of things are correct, is to train up pastors and then release some of them as missionaries.

You’d be hard pressed to substantiate that from scripture.  The pastor derives his authority/influence from being in the midst of a congregation working and worshiping WITHIN or AMIDST them, not OVER them. (1 Peter 5:1-4) The church doesn’t have a mission. The Mission, God’s mission has a Church. If there are key roles which seem to have authority on mission, then that authority should be derived from the foundation laying work of people gifted in the apostolic and prophetic. (Ephesians 2:20) The pastor’s leadership role in mission may be third at best. Don’t trust a pastor who wants to run the mission program and keep control over it. Trust the pastor who is disposed to leaving his congregation behind with a well developed group of leaders to search for the one lost sheep. That’s the heart of a pastor. (Matthew 18:12)

3.  It creates a system which Jesus was emphatically against.

Hierarchies, or tiered structures of authority are not to be practiced by the church. Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25,26 and Mark 10:42, 43 are precise in their propositions and clearly understood by their audience.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the unbelievers use their self-given authority to dominate, or ‘lord over’ others, then their higher officials exercise authority over them, and so on… It shouldn’t be that way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

The word ‘servant’ in those passages is the word ‘deacon’ in Greek, and the deacons serve ‘among’ the brethren, not over them.

The church deceives itself if it thinks that the localities (local churches) can establish hierarchies without ‘lording over’ others. The pastor is not the key person in effective mission, the first mobilizer, the central catalyst, or even the one in charge of mission. To make him so is to reject Jesus’ teaching and to bench 40% of the team/body.

4.  It reinforces the unbiblical Idea that only an ordained pastor can commission a missionary.

‘Pastor’ is not a title. It’s a gift. The pastor is not in charge of the congregation and is not an extension of God’s authority on earth. The pastor does not commission the missionary. The pastor obeys the Holy Spirit, and with the congregation, sends them out with every resource available from the local congregation. That includes the prayer, the equipping, offerings, and the commitment to follow through until the end of their journeys. The pastor, like the missionary, obeys the Holy spirit. It would be a faulty hermeneutic to assume that the church in Antioch ‘commissioned’ or ‘ordained’ Paul and Barnabas. They did not. It was in the course of regular gathering where they listened for and heard the Holy Spirit.  They obeyed. That’s it. Paul and Barnabas too obeyed the Spirit. That’s it. In fact, if we look closer at Acts 13:1-3, we’ll see that pastors are not mentioned, and the ones who laid hands on Paul on Barnabas were most likely those who were gifted in the prophetic and teaching.

5.  It sidelines the majority of the church and sustains the ill-conceived notion of a clergy laity divide.

Missionary development, formation, and sending is done by everyone in the local church while always affording the same opportunity to those in the church universal.  Those opportunities are more likely to come to fruit when the missionary missions.  It happens on the way.  Everyone gets to participate in the building up of a missionary. Everyone gets to be a missionary in that sense. Whether one goes or stays has little to do with the missionary impulse to live as sent ones in the world. (John 17:21) There is no clergy and laity in the church. If there’s no clergy, there’s no ‘Pastor’ in the commonly accepted notion of the word.

6.  It usurps and distorts Ephesians 4:11-16

Making the pastor the key to missions or requiring the pastor-ization of the missionary is an act of violence to people, to the word of God, and to mission itself. The church, for the better part of the last few centuries, has excised the apostle, prophet, and even the evangelist from the ‘the work’ (mission) of God in the world. The pastor-teacher has taken control, pridefully, of everything. The weekly service, the centrality of that event, the pulpit, and the pastor have done a hostile takeover of mission. This is not to be so among you.  That is unless, of course you actually think that the church has already…

“attained to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)  If it has, then you’re right, there are no more apostles, prophets, and evangelists. But, then again, there would be no pastors either.

7.  It can ill-equip people for mission.

Take a ‘missionary,’ one who has been shaped by God for the task, and train them for the pastorate.  Often the end-product (person) no longer resembles his or her original purpose.  Seminaries, for the most part, train people to be pastoral or gear them up to function in ecclesiastical roles and systems. They train people to be leaders led by leaders and so on.  A pastor trained missionary, while sometimes good, is most often limiting in the sense that missionary functions/service becomes too narrowly focused and sets the missionary to fit in rather than to branch out and experiment with the requirements of the contexts they find themselves in.

It’s time to stop. A missionary is a wonderful gift of God whose talents and abilities can be as diverse as God’s creation itself. The missionary is willing to pay a price that few understand. The missionary shouldn’t have to pay the piper of a domineering pastor who wants to control at a distance. A missionary can be pastoral, but doesn’t have to be. Stop automatically assuming that missionaries are pastors. Stop training up missionaries to be pastors when they could just as well be prophets, or evangelists, or even apostles and teachers. Stop calling every missionary you see ‘pastor,’ and call them ‘brother,’ or ‘sister’ instead. Stop using pastoral theology as a catch-all in the preparation of a missionary. Stop teaching homiletics to better the show and start equipping servants/deacons to be great sent ones in the Kingdom of God. If the church keeps going back to those things which aren’t working, then by definition, we’re insane. As always, a few questions:

Who leads mission in the local church’s sphere of influence?

Who leads mission where there is no local church?

Who leads mission where there are multiple overlapping local churches?

Two more:

Do missionaries have to be pastors?

What does it mean to ‘lead mission’ anyway? 

2 thoughts on “Let’s Rescue Missionaries from the ‘Pastorate.’

  1. chosenrebel says:

    “The church doesn’t have a mission. The Mission, God’s mission has a Church.” Amen. Miquel, much to chew on and commend here. That’s what I am going to do. Thanks for your work brother.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I’m not sure if I agree with one order (“the church has a mission”) or another (“the mission has a church”)…primarily because the Text doesn’t require either and that both church and mission are so intertwined in the NT that to separate them out does damage to both.

    That aside, on to your questions:

    1. Who leads mission in the local church’s sphere of influence?

    As strong as is my bent toward being antinomianism and is my push back against the current leadership culture in the West, there is biblical precedent and prescription for leadership within the local body. The Great Commission was given to the gathered (and local) body of Christ and we each were compelled to participate. So “lead’ in this context must be a leading from the front style of leading that just doesn’t fit a great deal of what modern local church leadership looks like (especially from the mid-mega to mega size evangelical churches).

    2. Who leads mission where there is no local church?
    3. Who leads mission where there are multiple overlapping local churches?

    Again, “the mission” was given after Christ had already described “the church” (going so far as to address the concept of discipline within the body before even fleshing out the church more fully through the revelation through Paul’s ministry) so I’m sure that I can read the NT and see “the mission” outside of the context of “the church”. Okay…but so what? What happens where there is no local church? This is one of those areas where we seek to thread the needle to apply what the Scriptures do not completely define for us.

    We see two types of missionaries being sent out in the NT: those sent directly by God’s command (Apostles) and those who were sent out and supported by various local churches. In both cases, we see churches being founded and supported and checked up on later by those who were sent out. What we do not see is a mercenary style of Christian missionary, unattached to a local body, going and doing in lone ranger style. So, what I see is where ever there is authentic Christian mission happening, there will be a linkage to a sending church (or churches) present and, as such, the missionary is an ambassador of one or more local bodies. Who is leading in that circumstance? The missionary is, of course.

    4. Do missionaries have to be pastors?

    Yes…and no. Yes, in the sense that all missionaries need shepherd the work that they are in. No, in the sense that they much first become the Western, senior pastoral alpha male in a large chuch in the US. I would submit that the tappings of becoming a senior pastor in a decent size church in the US act to keep the person from becoming a missionary. Does this mean that these trappings are probably, therefore, problematic to Kingdom advance? Probably but this question is for another discussion. 🙂

    5. What does it mean to ‘lead mission’ anyway?

    Who has the responsibility in a particular mission? Who has to oversee the mission budget (time and money and people)? Who owns the responsibility to make sure that all activities are directly toward making disciples first?

    Kinda answers itself. 🙂

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