Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Difference Between Pastors and Missionaries

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Missions. Just the word alone put images in our minds. For many people it means that someone leaves their home in the United States and goes to live in a grass hut in a Third World undeveloped country and eats monkey brains for breakfast every day. For other people it means a person must learn a foreign language so they can communicate with some exotic people group. 

But when I think about the word “missions,” I think more about the focus of one’s ministry, not the location of that ministry. To me missions means that we are focused on reaching non-believers with the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of where they live, what language they speak, or what they eat for breakfast. We need far more missionaries than we currently have if we are to impact both our local community and the farthest corners of the earth for Christ.

I think being a missionary is different than being a pastor. Pastors primarily serve believers in the local church by equipping them to do ministry effectively. It is important work. We need more healthy effective pastors doing the work that pastors are supposed to do. Good pastors strengthen their local church and then that church is able to send out missionaries. They might send them across the street, to the next town, the next state, or to other countries. 

Missionaries focus on reaching lost people for Christ. That does not mean they do not disciple people or strengthen churches, that is just not their focus. Pastors focus on discipling believers. That does not mean they do not engage in missions, of course they do, that is just not their focus. For example, while a pastor is thinking of how he will lead another small group Bible study, a missionary is thinking about how he will reach another community with the gospel. One is not better than the other, it is just different. And both are needed. 

Sometimes missionaries become pastors. And sometimes pastors become missionaries. But most often, they discover a calling from God and remain in that primary calling for most of their ministry. We need both pastors and missionaries working in partnership to fulfill the Great Commission. We need lay people to support their pastors and to support the missionary programs that their church has set up. Both are needed and both need prayers, volunteers and funding. They should not be in competition, but in partnership together so that they whole world might hear the glorious gospel of Christ.

Lord, raise up pastors and missionaries to help lead the church to be all that You want it to be. Amen.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett serves at the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of New England. He has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

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