New Testament History for Global Missions

There is confusion around “mission of god” or “missio dei” and the concept of being on “mission from God” or “with God” in this world. Really, until the 1900’s missions and mission meant the same thing. People simply went out seeking to reach all that would listen with regard to the gospel of Christ. In many cases this meant crossing cultural boundaries and seeking to understand others in profound ways. The disconnect in today’s culture is that of a disconnect between the thing that God came to do and the thing he has commissioned his disciples to do. One was the mission of God to save the world and the other is the mission of God to make disciples. This is what leads us to uncover what it means to develop a proper missiology or study of missions.

To begin, we can examine the feasts of Israel. There were three annual feasts the Israelites were commanded to keep. These feasts were designed to help Israel appropriately see the big picture of God’s unfolding drama (the Missio Dei).

The NIV version of Exodus 23:14 informs us of these three feasts.

  1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Feat of Passover)
  2. The Feast of Harvest (Feast of Pentecost)
  3. The Feast of Ingathering (Feast of Booths)

These feasts help us understand the context for Pentecost that happens in the book of Acts.

First in Jerusalem – Physically close / culturally close

The Spirit comes and the early church experienced many people including Jews from Jerusalem come to faith through Peter’s preaching and placing their trust in Christ. From this point there is a movement from the Jerusalem outward toward the edges of the known world of the Jews.

Second in Samaria – Physically close / culturally distant

Stephen preaches forcefully and is martyred.  Phillip then (after the scattering) preaches to the Samaritans and through his preaching accompanied by signs and wonders they come to faith in Christ.  The report to the Jerusalem church leaders help them understand that even Samaritans/gentiles can come to faith.

Third at “Ends of the earth” – Physically and culturally distant

Peter is imprisoned and Paul and Barnabas are sent out to preach the Gospel to the “ends of the earth”.  Through the Spirit and the sending of the church Paul preaches to everyone in his path (the known Asian world) or at least as he knew it.

The strategy that we see unfold in the new testament amongst Paul’s three missionary journeys include planning to go to strategic destinations. These destinations include some principles or missionary methods per location.

1st Missionary Journey

  • Strategic Destinations:  Cyprus, Antioch, Lystra
    • Missionary Methods & Principles:
    • Call Able Leaders
    • Look for natural bridges
    • Find Cultural Connections
    • Appoint Leaders ASAP

2nd Missionary Journey

  • Strategic Destinations:  Galatia, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth
    • Missionary Methods & Principles:
    • Gospel Preached to All Clearly:
    • Spirit-led flexibility
    • Looks for places God is already working
    • Target strategic places/people (influences)
    • Look for unreached places/people
    • Find “Catalyst” roles

3rd Missionary Journey:

  • Strategic Destinations:  Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia-Greece
    • Missionary Methods & Principles:
    • Growing Equipped Ministers:
    • Emphasis on making disciples (vs. decisions)
    • Contextualize without syncretism
    • 3 Self Churches:
    • Self-Supporting
    • Self-propagating
    • Self-Governing


Paul’s missionary method of finding ‘catalytic roles’ is illustrated in his ministry at Corinth. Here we see Paul tent making while teaching and equipping the local body of believers. Paul then steps back and establishes indigenous leadership in ministry. This is fantastic from the standpoint of the missionary movement in history, however, there was conflict back in Jerusalem at the Jerusalem council.

At the Jerusalem council the issue was the contextualization. The Pharisees were saying that the gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be followers of Christ (Jewish religious forms vs. Gentile church). Contextualization continues to be a concern in missions today. Contextualization is the process whereby the communicator adapts the forms, content, and praxis of people with other cultural backgrounds.

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