Indigenous missionaries or Western missionaries?

By October 15, 2014
The Great Commission
(Photo cred: Micky Aldridge via Flickr)

(Photo credit Micky Aldridge via Flickr)

International (MNN) — There’s a controversy afoot. MNN asked President and CEO of The Mission Society, Max Wilkins, for insight.

“There are many who are starting to say that the season for Western missionaries in the rest of the world has passed, and that it’s the day of the indigenous missionaries,” shares Wilkins.

“I think that fails to take into consideration several different dynamics.”

The Great Commission

Prime among those dynamics is Christ’s command to His disciples in Matthew 28:16-20, otherwise known as the Great Commission: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Great Commission

“The Lord has given us all a call to ‘go’ and to make disciples of all the nations. It’s not an either/or thing; we all have this global mandate.”
(Photo credit The Mission Society)

“The Lord has given us all a call to ‘go’ and to make disciples of all the nations,” notes Wilkins. “It’s not an either/or thing; we all have this global mandate.”

In addition, many countries that were previously “receiving countries” only–meaning they needed missionaries and teachers to bring them the Good News–are now sending their own missionaries to the Western world.

“Jesus is alive and well and working [in] just about every place on the planet today,” says Wilkins. “The world has changed, and the needs of the global Church have changed.”

However, “While the [world] landscape may have changed, the need still exists for both indigenous missionaries and missionaries from more developed Church countries.”

Global missions challenges

As a “sending” agency, The Mission Society recruits, trains, and sends what they call “cross-cultural witnesses,” or missionaries.

Wilkins says missionary recruitment is becoming more challenging as the world changes, but “we’re still seeing significant numbers of men and women who sense the call of the Lord to give their lives and use their lives and their skill set and their training as full-time overseas missionaries.”


(Photo credit The Mission Society)

Another change Wilkins has observed is that many churches are becoming “sending” agencies. Congregations throughout the United States, parts of East and West Africa, and South America have begun actively supporting and sending their own missionaries to unreached and least-reached communities, both within their own nations and beyond.

“I think that’s really exciting and has a lot of possibilities for the future,” Wilkins states.

What it means for you

At the end of the day, the global need for people to hear about Christ and His salvation remains the same. The need for your prayers remains the same, too.


(Photo credit The Mission Society)

“There’s a lot of things that we have a tendency to want to pray about: strength and safety, and all of those things, but the people in the field all have a similar prayer desire, which is that they would be fruitful,” Wilkins shares.

“There’s no greater joy, I think, than for our missionaries to see fruitfulness, to see people coming to faith and being discipled and begin to get a Kingdom vision for the world. There’s great value in the Body of Christ praying for that reality.”

Find more prayer needs here.


  • I belong to a small fellowship of churches, and our missions emphasis prefers local missionaries: already culturalized, languageized, and economized. Is this not he basic message of China Aid mission man who wrote a book on this?

  • Max Wilkins says:

    Hi Darrell, Thanks for your attention to this message and for taking the time to respond. I think that there are wonderful ministries taking place using local missionaries, who are often very effective for all the reasons you stated. And I am in full support of both developing and supporting local (indigenous) missionaries. However, we are nowhere close to the place where the mission of Jesus Christ can be carried out solely through indigenous missionaries. And, despite what a few books advocating local missionaries only might say, there are a number a reasons why this is just not feasible. There are many places where there is no established church, and thus, no community of indigenous people out of whom to draw the local missionaries. Remember that 2 billion people on the planet, from a couple of thousand people groups, still have never heard the gospel. Thus, there are no indigenous people to serve. Likewise, in countries such as India, for instance, there are still many unreached people groups, and it is often a challenge to get indigenous Indian missionaries to cross cultural and language groups to serve those unreached groups. So, one role western missionaries are playing in that context is in raising up and mobilizing indigenous Christians to cross those cultural boundaries. The need for this type of work is great. Additionally, many of the willing indigenous peoples in various places around the world have the desire to go, and even the resources to go, but they lack the training and preparation to effectively take the gospel to the unreached people in their area. For this reason, many of the indigenous mission movements are pleading for western missionaries to come and work in preparing and training and discipling indigenous missionaries for their task. And, of course, we can not ignore to Biblical mandate for us all to go to “all nations” (which literally means to all people groups). It is a wonderful thing for a western church to support local indigenous missionaries, and is a greta Kingdom benefit. However, in my opinion, it is a terrible mistake to do that to the exclusion of supporting and sending western missionaries to come along side in accomplishing the mission Jesus have us. It is simply not true that the day of the western missionary has ended. There is a great need for both! I pray the Lord will bless you and your church as you join Jesus in His mission. And thank you for the support you are giving to indigenous missionaries. I am sure the Kingdom is richer as a result.

  • Luvuyo Maku says:

    Shalom waits I am interested a lot to be equipped by the word as I am in the ministry. And your support will highly be appreciated.

  • Would you please support me as a missionary in Liberia. i earned MA Degree in Missions and Evangelism at ECWA Theological Seminary (Nigeria) in 2008. I am back in Liberia serving as a local missionary within denomination, Evangelical Church of Liberia (ECOL). I would appreciate were you to partner with me in ministry

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