What is “Euthanasia of a Missionary”?

Euthanasia is sometimes called “mercy killing”. The term comes from the Greek word thanatos (death). It literally means “good death”. It typically refers to the killing of a patient with an incurable disease. In Christian ethics, euthanasia is considered sinful and contrary to God’s word.

When Euthanasia is Good

But when it comes to Great Commission work around the world, “euthanasia of a missionary” or “euthanasia of a mission” is actually a good thing. It’s one of the goals of missions.

When St. Paul was establishing churches from town to town, his plan was never to stay at one particular church plant for the long haul. He was always looking to leave the new congregation in native hands. He was always looking for ways to work himself out of a job, or “kill himself off” if you will. It wasn’t long after establishing the church in Philippi that Paul could write: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1).

Paul sometimes stayed in a town for only a few days or weeks. Other times he was able to plant a church in a matter of months, like the church in Thessalonica (Ac. 17:1-9). Sometimes it took a year or two to establish a church, as it did in Corinth (Ac. 18:1-17) and Ephesus (Ac. 19:10).

Regardless of the exact time it took, Paul was always looking to get out of Dodge, basically from the time he arrived.

Johnny Mac is Not a Missionary

John MacArthur began pastoring Grace Community Church on February 9, 1969. He’s still pastoring the same church over fifty years later. It took him over 40 years to preach through the entire New Testament. This is awe-inspiring and praiseworthy, but only because he is a pastor. But what is commendable for a pastor is often damning for a missionary.

“Euthansia of a mission”, a phrase probably coined by 19th century missiologist Henry Venn, refers to the process whereby the church plant of a cross-cultural evangelist becomes indigenous to the point that the missionary can leave and the work will carry on.

A Word of Caution

But one must be cautious with this term because it could refer to the process of eliminating big salaries to native workers. It may reference the termination of the elaborate administrative framework that often accompanies missionaries. This is why Venn also referred to the initial work of missionary as “scaffolding”. If we mean by scaffolding the initial work of the missionary whereby he is preaching, evangelizing, visiting, giving, showing hospitality, disciplining church members and so forth, then yes, scaffolding is a necessary things that eventually (and ideally, promptly) must be removed.

But if we mean by “euthanasia of a mission” or “scaffolding” that the missionary should first roll into town with big money programs, big buildings, and big salaries, only to eventually walk out on those, then we have some problems.

Problems with the Big Missionary Machine

There are several reasons for this. First, Paul and the apostles didn’t establish churches city to city with big programs and hefty salaries. His methods were simple and evangelistic.

Second, it is almost impossible, as almost any missionary will tell you, to walk away from big programs and still have the church in a good spot. Once the locals are on the dole or have a taste for a certain level of foreign influence, good luck trying to make them completely indigenous when the missionary eventually walks away.

Finally, expensive programs are usually associated with medical clinics, well drilling and other social ministries. While these may have their place in missions, the emphasis should most often be on evangelism and establishing churches. So if there is a lot of “scaffolding” to take down, one must wonder why it was ever there in the first place.

One more caution: be prepared for vigorous opposition if you try to slim down the Big Missionary Machine. Many missionaries know that in some ministries, without the scaffolding the entire operation will come crashing down. The scaffolding has ceased to be a temporary structure. It is the permanent structure itself, buried deep into decades of concrete programs, so secure in its position that only complete demolition could change things.


Foreign, church-planting missionaries should always be looking to work themselves out of a job, to end their ministerial life at the church he established so that the congregation can flourish in the hands of local, faithful, Christian pastors.

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