What Does it Mean to Be a Pioneer Missionary?
Have you ever stopped to consider why you have the gospel? The simple answer is (most likely) because someone brought the gospel to where you live. For centuries Christians have sent out missionaries to various places on the globe. These were ordinary humans who obeyed the New Testament command to “go” to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel. Many of those missionaries were pioneers.
What is a pioneer missionary? Pioneer missionaries is the phrase used to describe missionaries who have gone to regions of the world where no other previous Christians had gone before. Pioneer missionaries are those gospel workers who have gone to some of the hardest and darkest places on earth to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard.
The apostle Paul sought to be a pioneer missionary. He said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).
The willingness to be a pioneer missionary takes courage. A.W. Tozer put it this way: “The job of carrying the gospel to remote tribes hidden in strange and dangerous places often requires a courage and daring equal to that displayed by the explorer in search of a new river or the soldier in the performance of his duties.” We are thankful for those pioneers of the faith. If you’re interested, check out this article about ten pioneer missionaries that made big impacts.
What Impact Do Pioneer Missionaries Have on Culture?
Pioneer missionaries have been some of the first westerners to enter into unengaged cultures and share the gospel with the indigenous inhabitants. In some instances, those indigenous peoples had never interacted with westerners before those pioneer missionaries showed up.
For years, there has been a big debate over whether or not westerners have the potential to ruin other cultures. Let’s examine the wrong and right ways pioneer missionaries have approached culture.
The Wrong Approach: Westernizing Culture
In the past, there have been some pioneer missionaries who entered into a new culture with the mindset that the locals were pagans and needed to be converted to Christianity. Rather than try to study the underlying beliefs that affected the native’s behavior, they shunned the very people that they had come to share the gospel with.
These missionaries also introduced medicine, food, clothes, politics, machines, and legal traditions from the West into the native culture. However, rather than teaching the local people how to sustain themselves, the missionaries poured all their resources into their own ministries and businesses. While Western practices and values are not bad, the local people began to depend on the Western missionaries for bringing in goods to support their economy.
When the missionaries left, the economy and culture would decline into a worse state than when they found it. In the years that those missionaries had been among the people, there was little lasting spiritual impact and no disciples were made. The missionaries had focused only on physical needs instead of addressing the spiritual needs of the people also. Thus, there was no permanent transformation. You need both to make an impact.
The Right Approach: Studying Culture
On the other hand, there have been pioneer missionaries whose faith in God has driven them to find people who have never heard the name of Jesus. They were burdened with the desire to share the gospel and make disciples who make more disciples.
Rather than try to ‘fix’ a culture, these pioneer missionaries immersed themselves among the local people. They dressed as they did, learned the language, and became learners of the culture by studying the social behavior of the natives. In doing so, they discovered the needs of the people and recognized what was valued in that culture. Often the natives did not have a Bible written in their own language, and pioneer missionaries were able to translate the Bible into the indigenous language of the people they were with.
It takes years to share the full gospel with someone, and see any fruit from their work. Yet these pioneer missionaries knew how to contextualize the gospel and reach people with the love of Christ and endured through faith in building long-lasting relationships.
They also recognized that the people needed to be equipped with skills and trained how to help their own people. Medicine, education, business, and disciple-making became their primary focus of teaching. They also introduced Biblical values that shaped the culture’s social interactions and lifestyle. This produced a long-term impact and has brought greater transformation to these cultures today. A.W. Tozer put it this way: “Today’s missionaries are concentrated less in the far distant, less ‘civilized’ parts of the world due to the unreached masses of people groups in the world’s large cities. But pioneer missionaries have left a legacy of strong commitment to reach the unreached under extreme difficulties.“
Are Pioneer Christian Missionaries Still Needed Today?
There are still 6,000 unreached people groups in the world. More than 40% of the world’s population has never heard the gospel in their own language. Today, we most certainly still need pioneer missionaries.
Pioneer missionaries have the potential to raise up the next generation of leaders to seek after the heart of God and reach all peoples, together. They can inspire the younger generation to rise up in spiritual maturity and carry the torch where the previous generation was unable to go. With God’s strength and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can have the stamina and strength to do the hard things and partner with God in the work He is doing all over the world.
Jesus is worthy to be praised, and yet, there are people whose languages have not yet reached His ears. John Piper puts it this way, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Piper’s sentiment is that there are places where no one is worshipping Jesus, and therefore we want to send missionaries to those places so that some of those native peoples will come to faith and worship Jesus, the one worthy of our worship. There are tribes whom have never hear Jesus praised. We want to see that change. That’s why we need pioneer missionaries.