Missionary Pastor?

I am away speaking at a missions conference, so that subject is on my mind a little more than usual right now. God is doing great things for His name around the globe and it is very encouraging to see Him raising up a new generation of servants who are serious about the Great Commission. I think we need to keep sharpening our focus on the mission, and that means occasionally addressing some areas where we’re out of line.

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.

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