The way you view the relationship between missionaries and the church might not be biblical.

I find the way the God’s Word translation renders Ephesians 4:11-12 at once surprising and appropriate:

He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to His church. Their purpose is to prepare God’s people, to serve, and to build up the body of Christ.

It’s not surprising to see missionaries in the Bible, though most translations use the word evangelistsEvangelists is not really a translation but a transliteration — that is, translators rendered the Greek word euangelistos as evangelists, instead of translating the word that means one who spreads the Good News as missionary.

No, what’s surprising is to see God speak through Paul’s writing of missionaries as part of the church — as teammates with pastors and teachers in preparing God’s people, serving and building up the body.

Pastors? Sure, that makes sense. This past Sunday our pastor did a great job (again) of breaking down how we move forward in God’s strength, and I’m looking forward to more of his series. His role in building up the body is clear, and I certainly see him as a gift from God.

Teachers? Last month I was teaching at church, and each week at least one person thanked me and told me how much they valued the lesson. It’s so normal that I’d say the church sees teachers as gifts and recognizes their role in building up the body.

But missionaries?

Doesn’t it seem strange to say missionaries are teammates with pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people and build up the body?

If that does sound strange to you, don’t feel bad. I’m a missionary, and it sounds strange to me.

Yet, it’s completely appropriate. It’s what Ephesians 4:11-12 says. And throughout the New Testament, we see missionaries relating to local churches: sent out from churches, sustained by churches, reporting back to churches, encouraging churches — even exhorting and rebuking churches. 

The New Testament never treats missionaries like outsiders to the church. It always treats them as integral to the church. It would not have been jarring for first century believers to read Paul’s writing about missionaries in virtually the same stroke of the pen with which he writes about pastors and teachers.

So, let’s treat missionaries like part of the team that prepares God’s people and builds up the body, and maybe we begin by treating them like part of the church.

That’s why I suggested to a woman who is involved in writing a missions policy for her church that she involve missionaries in that process. If they’re part of the church, that’s a no-brainer. But it sounds strange if we think of missionaries as outsiders.

What else can you do to promote the biblical concept that missionaries are part and parcel of the local church, gifts given to the church to build up the body?

I can’t help but think that all of us will learn and grow and be blessed if we foster biblical relationships between missionaries and churches.