From the mid-1600’s until approximately thirty years ago, if a Christian heard a fellow believer referred to as a MISSIONARY, they would immediately conclude that these facts applied to that person:
1–They had heard and obeyed a specific and uncommon calling from God.
2–That obedience required them to relocate to a country other than their own in order to declare the Gospel and expand God’s Kingdom to those with no, or very little, access to God’s truth.
3–Their relocation to the place where God had called them required that they say good-bye to their families, brethren in Christ, their friends, and every aspect of life that was familiar and comfortable.
4–Their obedience also required them to step in to a role of absolute dependence on God’s people to provide the financial resources necessary for them to go, live, and do the ministry God had called them to do.
5–The life, culture, and language of those they lived among were radically different than their own, and their ability to adjust demanded an out of the ordinary trust and reliance on God’s Spirit in their lives.
6–That even though they are not super Christians–they’re just regular people, a special level of respect, honor, and notoriety should be bestowed upon them for the level of sacrifice required to be obedient to God’s calling on their lives.
Put as simply as possible, the word MISSIONARY has traditionally been used to describe a small and specific group of people within the larger body of Christ.
But a few decades ago, a number of pastors and local church leaders concluded that by telling their church members that they were MISSIONARIES, they just might motivate them to live out their faith more seriously and to share the Gospel more boldly and more often.
That motivation and the modification of the definition of a MISSIONARY among a small segment of the church in America eventually coalesced with a few other contemporary factors, (which I will explain in the next post), to produce the ever-increasing belief that many people have today–that every Christian is a MISSIONARY.
I certainly don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with challenging all of God’s people to be better witnesses for Jesus. In fact, there are many things right about doing so.
But I’m convinced that redefining a time-tested and well-known word and then broadening who it describes actually produces the following consequences:
1–It distracts God’s people from seeing the importance of learning about and specifically praying for groups of people from other languages, ethnic groups, and religions that live in other countries and have little or no access to the Gospel.
2–It also diverts a large portion of the financial resources away from the small group of His people that God is still calling to relocate to places around the world that require that person to be funded from a source outside of the country where they live and serve.
3–It either diminishes or demolishes the gratitude, respect, and honor that God inspires the majority of the members of His body to bestow upon the few members He calls to literally leave everything behind and begin a new life in a totally different context–similar to what His own Son did.
4–It inadvertently downplays the unique sacrifices, challenges, and stresses experienced by those whom God calls to relocate to totally unfamiliar places, and thus dilutes the understanding and the passion of the larger body of Christ to encourage and help them obtain the type of nurture their unique calling deserves.
Even with the advances of electronic communication technology, God is still calling a small segment of His larger body to live the life and do the things that the title of MISSIONARY summarized and described.
Is it time to find a new word to describe those that He is still giving this unique calling to?
I don’t think so.
I think the word MISSIONARY is worth reclaiming and worth redefining, but to do so, a bit more understanding of what contributed to the current redefinition is necessary.