Are We All Missionaries?

I’m a dental hygienist. I clean teeth everyday: mine. I was told it’s what I’m supposed to do; I am responsible for my teeth, so I brush and floss everyday. You are a dental hygienist also. It’s your responsibility, obligation and mandate from your dentist. I know there are those who do it everyday for a living. I know they studied hard, passed exams, and have paid the price to become a Dental Hygienist as their vocation. But we too clean teeth everyday, or at least are supposed to, so we in essence are all dental hygienists and should call ourselves such.

I’m also an accountant. Forget that I hate math and really am lousy with numbers. I may not be certified to publicly offer my services, but I do balance my checkbook and work out a simple budget. You really don’t have to do it for a living to bear the title. We’re all supposed to handle our money wisely! That’s why we are all accountants.

Most importantly, as true Christians, you and I are also most certainly pastors. I know we don’t all have our own church to lead. We may not stand in a pulpit delivering a sermon every week, but we are to share God’s Word with others and teach them what it says. We are to pray for them. All we believers have some little circle of sheep, whether our kids or another social setting, whose faith needs motivation and growth.  It’s our responsibility! So what if there aren’t ministerial credentials to back that up; not only should those who carry credentials bear the title. Since we ought to be doing the same, therefore we ought to be identified the same.

Whatever the profession, it should be socially acceptable for such titles to become inclusive of us all. There’s power in positive speech! By so labeling (positively confessing) ourselves in these matters, we will all be encouraged and motivated to fulfill those roles to greater degrees. Just imagine the impact: Cleaner teeth! Better budgets! Stronger Christians!

I know what you’re thinking: “This is nonsense! Vocational terms like these must not be redefined simply for positive social impact.” And you are right. The rebuttal to such nonsense is forthcoming by those whose professions have just been mentioned…and abased. Those titles, they would argue, carry the weight of persistence, uniqueness, and dedication to their chosen fields, and that often through testing, hard work, and sacrifice.

So why, then, is the term missionary applicable to all? Haven’t you heard it said (or perhaps you yourself have stated), “we are all missionaries”? Are we really all missionaries or do we just like the terminology?

We are taught that the Great Commission applies to everybody. So it does. But does that translate into all believers being labeled as missionaries? All believers should be making disciples. All should be engaged in personal evangelism. We used to have a word for this: witness. The very title ‘Christian’ embodies the responsibility to engage us in the duties of evangelism and discipleship.

Is my son really a missionary to his high school or is he simply a Christian student who should be salt and light as a witness for Christ? If you are a Christian, are you really a missionary to your workplace or are you a child of God whose life and testimony ought to point to the Savior? Are we really set apart and sent forth to our neighborhoods and communities or are we simply to lift Jesus high with our lifestyle and love so He can draw all men to Him?

Somewhere somehow it gradually became socially acceptable in the post modern culture to redefine the term missionary. Perhaps it was for greater motivation and impact. Perhaps it slipped into the positive confession movement amidst ignorance or disregard to biblical accuracy.

According to the Bible, the term missionary was first applied to Paul and Barnabas when the church sent them out or away, by the will of the Holy Spirit. They went with the message of Christ to other cultures and other geographical areas. In Ephesians 4:11-17 we are told that Jesus gave some, not all, to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. An apostle means missionary. In other words, He gave some to be missionaries (and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers).

When words become culturally redefined, there tends to be confusion and loss of integrity of the word which leads to social implications. Is it possible that the financial and prayer support of today’s missionaries is at risk due to this very fact? Is it even possible that the health of the church has been compromised by deviations of such scriptural teachings?

Are we all missionaries? The rebuttal is forthcoming by those who carry the weight of persistence, uniqueness, and dedication to this calling; by those who through vigorous testing, hard work, and sacrifice have been given to the Church by Jesus Christ.

15 thoughts on “Are We All Missionaries?

  1. Thank you for asking. I’ve been a little under the weather, not interested in doing a whole lot recently, and just found out that I’m a ‘little’ anemic…hah! Go figure! I wonder if I can blame everything on that???

    Maybe my ramblings about nothing will return to normal soon 🙂

  2. Ilona,
    I enjoyed this post, a little late at responding…but add to the mix the people who come as “missionaries” for 1 or 2 weeks or even a month and turn the world upside down and then leave those of us here to pick up the pieces or to hear about their amazing stories…

  3. I’m finally back on to reply…
    @redhead – i’ll get to that meme asap
    @sista cala – you said, “but it will be a glorious day when a culture can be redefined by the WORD!” I like your play on words there! Amen – may it become a reality and not remain a pun!
    @Sandy – Very good thoughts! You said it well: “we are all called to disciple and do it however is the most effective way to do so. We are all also called to work together as the body of Christ, and that means giving of my money and time, submission and love.”
    The truth in that is when the body of Christ is doing that actively (and proactively), no other ministry suffers financially (whether it be the local church or the missionary) because God’s plan is in place and there is a fervency to comply in all obediences.

    These last two years back in the states have revealed much to us, especially in this regard. That is why I was compelled to write this article. It just seems to me that the phraseology of ‘we are all missionaries’ has given license to taper off or drop support for the ones called to full time ministry of missions. “Why invest in them over there when we need to do it here”. In this way, missions (not to be confused with local evangelism) has lost its urgency.

  4. Ilona:

    Let me add to what I commented on earlier. You are right that the Great Commission applies to everybody. I have said that we are all missionaries because it is all of our responsibility to communicate God’s grace in a context that is culturally relevant to our listener. Hence, it is my job to get to know my neighbor, his/her culture, his/her world views, his(her language. I guess this hits home to a Californian who itinerates in a district that is a huge cultural mosaic.

    But, and this is a big “pero”, that does not then give us permission to not support those who are called by God to live full time a life that requires economic support from the church and its members. I am a missionary in Mexico or California, but if I live out my missionary principles in California, I must continue to obey God by supporting those who have been called to live elsewhere and need God’s money to do so.

    Also, there seems to me to be a decline in respect for those who have studied and prepared themselves to fulfill another degree, if you will, of the calling. The idea that “I can do it better than you in only two weeks time” can be pretty frustrating for those of us who work hard at developing trusting relationships in another culture over years. We all took classes, studied and did further preparation to become full time missionaries. We can’t do it without the backing of our sending churches and individuals. That doesn’t mean that they are not suppose to learn cross cultural principles to reach their neighbors and friends. It only means that we are to do both and be respectful of those who have prepared themselves to a greater degree.

    Just like we are all priests, I respect those who have gone to school to study far more of God’s word than I have, or those who are committed full time to living out the gifts that God has give them as teachers and apostles. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t continue to study God’s word or become a better teacher of it. It just means that I hold in high regard and listen to those who have dedicated their lives to do this full time, and when the circumstances dictate, hold myself in submission to those who are my spiritual leaders.

    So I guess to sum up this lengthy response, I think we are all called to disciple and do it however is the most effective way to do so. We are all also called to work together as the body of Christ, and that means giving of my money and time, submission and love.

    Sorry for the length. I am enjoying the conversation.

    Sandy

  5. “When words become culturally redefined, there tends to be confusion and loss of integrity of the word which leads to social implications. ”

    So many words/things have been culturally redefined…but it will be a glorious day when a culture can be redefined by the WORD!

  6. Hi Ilona:

    I always enjoy reading your blogs. In this last posting you blogged something that Paul and I have touched on for years when asked to speak anywhere. We are all missionaries. We are all priests – a kingdom of priests. Hence, God’s will is that we live out that call.

    Thanks, pastor, for all of your words of wisdom! We look forward to having you guys here on the Yucatan peninsula.

    Love,

    Sandy

  7. @Dorinda – missions is the heartbeat of God, and in that sense the flowing theme of the entire Bible. The Church and her members are all to be missional, meaning having a plan in place for evangelization of their community and the world, but again, that is different from the office or ministry gift of the missionary.
    Thanks for giving it prayerful consideration. That was my intent.

  8. wow! such depth of thought. I have never thought of it that way.
    I love missions. I believe it is the very heartbeat of God.
    Your post deserves thought and prayerful consideration. I would NEVER want to put at risk prayer coverage for our foreign missionaries, or our home missionaries, or our Christian students in the dark halls of their secular schools.

    thanks again for your posts!
    dorinda

  9. @Hellen – Your friend is probably referring to the truth that we are all to minister to Christ, in the sense of servanthood. But that is very different from the office of a pastor, or any other of the offices given to the church for her edifying by Jesus himself (Eph 4). So many wonderful, precious Christians out there; if only they knew more of God’s Word and less of pop psychology! By the latter I mean the “I am special too” teaching that began floating around 30 or so years ago in secular society and has evolved into the eradication of anything negative. “We are all winners” “No one fails in this classroom” etc etc. That has since crept into the Church and even now, as secular society is beginning to realize how that perception and teaching is backfiring, the body of Christ embraces it with firmness.

  10. Hmmm, powerful post indeed. And I believe that the same goes, in many cases, for pastors. I was walking with a friend the other day who was indignant at the fact that her pastor brother in law felt that she didn’t understand the impact of being a minister. She said ‘We are all ministers.’ Same theory. I tried to explain to her just what you have done here…

    Very well put, IH! Thank you.

  11. @Cahleen – you are correct- no one is ‘better’ than another for the work they do and Christians who stay in their own country have an important task.

    @Chris – appreciate your comment

  12. Paul and Barnabas were separated by the Holy Ghost and sent by the church at Antioch to do “the work whereunto I have called them”. That work included evangelism, discipleship and church planting. You are correct, there is a major distinction. It’s unfortunate the term has lost some of its meaning.

  13. Wow! What a powerful post! I sometimes think that when everyone calls them self a missionary, they are inadvertently belittling all the hard work and sacrifice that actual missionaries do by picking up and living in a foreign country (learning the language, eating strange food, etc.). I’m not saying that Christians who stay in their own country don’t sacrifice anything or that missionaries are somehow better than other people, but neither is it right for someone to claim a title that doesn’t really belong to him or her.

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