Let’s quickly walk through the goal, the way, the means, and the actual work of doing world missions in a practical and thoroughly Reformed manner.
the goal must be reformed
I am not talking about the eschatological goal of missions here, but about the practical goal (though the two are, of course, related). What is the goal of Reformed missions? More often than not, the goal of evangelical missionary endeavors seems to be to “make converts” to the Christian faith. Evangelical parachurch missions agencies are indeed “making converts” in Western Europe. And we praise the Lord for that. But somehow that does not seem always to translate directly into churches’ being planted and these converts’ being folded into those churches as disciples and members. For broadly evangelical purposes, very often, “the convert” seems to be the goal. While we as Reformed believers should be joyful over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:10), conversions are not the final goal but rather persevering disciples of Christ. And that takes place in the bosom of the church. Indeed, it requires the ministry of the local church. The words of Christ in the Great Commission obligate us to “make disciples of all nations,” to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded us (Matt. 28:19–20). While the evangelical view often focuses on the beginning of the Christian life, we as Reformed churches should focus on the mature product—disciples of Christ growing up into “mature manhood,” “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). And that is the picture of Christians who are enfolded into local churches and into their ministry (vv. 11–12, 16). Our confessions teach us that we are to take an all-encompassing view of salvation, which ordinarily does not happen outside the visible, local church (see Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2; Belgic Confession 28). Thus, the goal of world missions is from the outset a consistently churchly goal.
Having this goal firmly fixed in our minds, we should also think about a Reformed and churchly way to reach that goal.
the way must be reformed
To make disciples, when we think “Reformed world missions,” we must inevitably think “Reformed church planting.” And that requires that the spearhead of world missions be missionaries who are called, trained, and sent Reformed church-planting pastors. This compels us, as sending and supporting churches, to take the long view. The work on any given mission field may well be started by missionaries trained in other countries, with thriving churches and seminaries. But the goal must be to plant indigenous churches and therefore, in the long haul, to establish indigenous seminaries through which God will provide the pastors necessary to sustain the planting of churches and the formation of an indigenous Reformed church. From my view, there is a very encouraging paradigm change in some Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have shifted focus to training, sending, and supporting primarily indigenous ministers on the mission field. These are the most natural and the most likely candidates to know their people, to faithfully contextualize ministry, and to stay in the work as a lifelong calling to see a church, even a denomination, being established by God’s grace. That is the churchly, Reformed, and biblical way to go about the work of world missions. But what about the practical means?