Local churches are entrusted with all authority in commending ministers within a church and when sending them out as missionaries. This claim is in contrast to any belief that individuals have the authority to volunteer themselves to be pastors or missionaries. It is unfortunate that ministry work is often dependent on subjective individual “calling.”
Keys to the Kingdom
Local church authority is biblical and rooted in Matthew 16. Jesus gives the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to the church, not to individuals (Matt 16:18-19). He gives authority to a body of professing believers. Every church should represent the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:4-16) and it is in this fullness that they can claim to have been given heavenly authority.
The Church Sends
This principle is seen in the first century church. As a church, they exercise their authority in choosing their missionaries. No one seems to volunteer for missionary work. In Acts 11, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22-24) “for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” The congregation or at least a number of the believers in Jerusalem recognized faithful qualities in Barnabas. In Acts 13, the collective Antioch church was led by the Holy Spirit to pray and fast over Barnabas and Saul and then, as a church, sent them on their missionary journey.
There are instances where individuals choose other individuals to do missionary work. Barnabas chose Saul in Acts 11:25-26, Barnabas later chose Mark in Acts 15:39, Paul chose Silas in Acts 15:40 and Paul chose Timothy in Acts 16:3. Still, it was Barnabas and Saul who did the choosing. These are two men who were commended by churches in Jerusalem and Antioch to do missionary work, including finding help. There is no volunteering in the first century church. This is why it is unfortunate many missionaries and even pastors are volunteers rather than men explicitly chosen by the church. The volunteer system is not found in scripture.
Selecting the Best
When Jesus said he was going to give “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to the church, he was also developing a very practical system. In Michael Griffiths book, Who Really Sends the Missionary?, he writes:
When seeking persons for vital positions, one selects the best available. A government does not select ambassadors by calling volunteers at random. Why should one be any less selective in seeking ambassadors for the King of Kings? (14)
Even secular organizations depend on the collective to choose individuals for important work and not on a volunteer system. God wants faithful men to be on the frontlines. God gifted his churches in such a way that the churches themselves will effectively choose the faithful to commend as ministers of the gospel. The volunteer system may only welcome those making decisions based on emotions or circumstance. A lack of excitement at home or graduating Bible college does not automatically make you a qualified and faithful servant of God.
Role of the Parachurch
Now if churches are the only institutions that can claim heavenly authority for choosing ministers of the gospel, what role do parachurch organizations play? The answer lies in the submission to local church authority. If an organization outside of a local church is faithful to the authority of all local churches, then that organization can rightly have a role in the gospel movement.
Organizations outside of the local church are not ordained to advance the gospel. Jesus said it was the church that the gates of Hades will not overcome in Matthew 16. The church is what leads the offensive with the gospel as their weapon. Parachurch ministries should never confuse themselves with churches, acting like a church. That would conflict with church authority. What they can do is submit to local churches and help them advance the gospel.
Protecting and Helping the Church
Local churches often face challenges that distract them from their primary purpose of making disciples of all nations. Sometimes help can come from within the church. We see the first-century church face a challenge in Acts 6. The apostles employed seven men to deal with the neglect of the Greek women. They did this because the apostles did not want to neglect the primary ministry of the word. Their priority was the advancement of the gospel. J. Mack Stiles writes in his article, Nine Marks of a Healthy Parachurch Ministry:
Parachurch ministries must understand the principles the Apostles employed in Acts 6. Though there are many important things the church can do—as important as feeding widows!—nothing should subvert the primary calling of the church: to preach the Word. Parachurch ministries should come alongside the church both to fulfill important roles and to protect the unique and primary calling of the church.
Help can also come from the outside but those organizations should be designed to be helpful to the ministry of the church and not a replacement to the ministry of the church. For example, the development of a missionary agency that documents the challenges of a particular region may be helpful to local churches that plan to plant new churches in that particular region. The agency’s desire is simply to consolidate information and aid local churches. They themselves do not intend to advance the gospel. They depend on the local church and their authority to send out qualified missionaries to spread the gospel message. Individuals may be willing to be ministers of the gospel but it is the local church that has the authority to say, “Yes, you are willing and yes you are qualified.” Organizations outside of the church should only help those that are qualified. It is through their aid that the local church can be more effective in their mission to make disciples of all nations.