Further Thoughts on “Missionary Pastor?”

Dave Doran has some interesting thoughts over on his Grace and Glory blog about missionaries serving as long-term pastors of a missionary church. He is correct that this does not fit the biblical model.

Several years ago we had to address these issues at the church where I pastor. In our case, these “missionaries” were foreign nationals planting churches in their home countries, often their own hometowns. In one case, the man planted a church in his hometown on an island in the Caribbean and the church was larger than our own church, had a Christian school, a youth camp, a Bible college, and supported more missionaries than we did, all off of money coming from the US through “missionary support.”

Many in our congregation saw this as a way of helping them help themselves but it doesn’t fit the biblical model any more than the situation stated by Dr. Doran.

I taught our church about the model of church planting we see in the NT and encouraged them to set a standard for support that included missionaries planting churches with a goal of handing them off to indigenous pastors.

Here is the bulk of Dr. Doran’s post (I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing it here):

One major concern I have is regarding the too common practice of missionaries serving as the long-term pastor of a mission church. I’m not speaking about the short-term practice of planting a church and serving it until it can call a pastor. I’m concerned about the practical reality that some men are essentially serving as a pastor on the mission field while remaining supported by churches back in their sending country. I’ve seen cases where the same man has served as the pastor of a mission church for decades—so long, in fact, that the church itself would no longer really consider itself a mission church. The congregation looks and acts mainly like an independent congregation, but its pastor is actually supported by other churches, not them.

I can think of no good reason for this to happen. It is not consistent with the biblical pattern for missionary work. It is contradictory to Baptist beliefs regarding the independence and autonomy of each congregation. It undercuts the accountability of the pastor to the congregation. Most, if not all, of the situations which I have been aware of give evidence of all these. The perception, as long as the congregation does not take care of itself, is that this is the missionary’s church, not the congregation’s. Sadly, sometimes the missionary treats it that way too and is free to do whatever he wants because he receives support from people outside of the congregation who have no idea of whether he is a good pastor or not. In fact, usually all they know about him and the church is what he tells them in a missionary update.

Because few people want to be critical of missionaries, we’ve too often tolerated this unbiblical pattern and accepted weak excuses about a lack of leadership or finances. Are we really prepared to believe that not one faithful man has been found in decades? Can we seriously claim lack of finances when the congregation owns its own building and supports other missionaries?

This should not be happening, but it won’t stop happening until we stop supporting it.

Link: Missionary Pastor?

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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