Team spirit wins the gold

How is being a missionary different than another position like a pastor or an evangelist? – Ben Mauldin (student, Southern Nazarene University)

The Church is like the Olympic Games. Every follower of Christ represents “Team Jesus,” yet each team member competes in a limited number of events. No doubt a basketball player in a pinch could play table tennis and a water polo player could swim the 50m freestyle, but would that be the best use of their abilities? Likewise, God recognizes that the Church will be most effective in fulfilling its purpose if believers are allowed to specialize. In Ephesians 4:11-12, there are several such specialized roles listed, including pastor, evangelist, and apostle.

The dominant image in the New Testament for pastor is shepherd. Peter urged: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…”(1 Peter 5:2, NIV). In the same passage, Peter calls them to “oversee” those entrusted to their care. The pastor provides spiritual care through preaching, administration of the sacraments, hospital visitation, counseling and other means. Sometimes this is directly, but as the church grows this is often done by organizing others with similar gifting to fulfill these roles.

Likewise, God has called some to be evangelists. The clearest example of this role in the New Testament was Philip who went to Samaria to announce the Gospel and win the lost to Christ (see Acts 8). Besides public evangelism, he was also gifted in presenting God’s love on a one-on-one basis, like he did with the Ethiopian eunuch. An evangelist has a heart burdened for those who have yet to encounter Christ in saving faith. Typically, an evangelist focuses on those who are ready to take their first steps following Jesus. While an evangelist can work cross-culturally as did Billy Graham (via an interpreter), more typically like Philip they do their work among those who are closely related linguistically and culturally.

Finally, the Lord has designated some to cross cultural and linguistic barriers to expand the Kingdom of God, primarily through the establishment and strengthening of churches. The late Nazarene professor of missions, Paul Orjala, taught that the term “apostle” is what today we call “missionary.” While we sometimes speak of “being called to missions,” it is more accurate to define an apostle as one who is sent to represent another. The missionary is sent to represent Christ and the Church (Acts 13:1-3) much like an ambassador, a title the apostle Paul sometimes used for himself (Ephesians 6:20).

Today, missionaries serve in many capacities. Some are district superintendents while others equip church leaders through teaching Bible, theology and ministerial practics. Other missionaries serve as doctors, nurses, computer technicians, communications specialists or Bible translators. Missionaries who are just beginning the planting of churches in a new country or area may do the work of an evangelist through preaching or pastoring the first church for a time. However, these tasks are best carried-out by local leaders. Accordingly, the missionary entrusts these responsibilities as soon as possible to new disciples whom God has gifted and called as specialists in these areas.

Nonetheless, flexibility is a must. God may ask a pastor to serve for a time as a missionary. Likewise, God may send a seeker to visit with a missionary who is not gifted as a personal evangelist. The Church is a team and each of us must be prepared to get out of our specialized comfort zone as needs arise.

— Greg Crofford (Ph.D., University of Manchester) is Education Coordinator for the Africa Region (Church of the Nazarene) and Director of the Institut Théologique Nazaréen, a ministerial education program active in 15 sub-Saharan African countries. 

Note: This article first appeared in August 2012 at EngageMagazine.com.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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