Over the last decade or so, many American churches and Christians have accepted and promoted the idea that every Christian is a MISSIONARY. This redefinition and broadening of a word that has traditionally described a specific group of believers, is the result of at least these three factors:
1–A desire by pastors and church leaders to motivate their members to share their faith more boldly and more often.
2–The influence of our hyper-individualistic culture that has moved people to believe that bestowing titles on certain people is somehow diminishing the worth or value of those who don’t receive the title and thus damaging their self-esteem.
3–A redefinition and broadening of the word MISSIONS in general, applying it to almost any activity done by churches or the individuals within churches. In this view, if everything is MISSIONS, then everyone is a MISSIONARY. (The flaw in this thinking is masterfully pointed out in a book soon to be released called When Everything is Missions, which I highly recommend).
Whether for these reasons alone, or others that may meld together with them, I’m convinced that those who have bought in to the idea that every Christian is a MISSIONARY are actually in conflict with:
As Luke 6:12,13 make clear, He selected a small segment of the larger group of His disciples and bestowed the distinct title of APOSTLE** on those twelve. It referred to a person who was given a specific message by a superior and then sent as a messenger from one location to another to proclaim that message. Throughout the four Gospels, that’s the title used to distinguish the twelve from His other disciples.
2–The rest of the New Testament.
Although not a part of the original twelve, the New Testament also refers to Paul as an APOSTLE, and Barnabas too in Acts 14:14, (while he and Paul were on the first missionary journey).
In 1 Cor 12:28,29 Paul says that God has appointed some of the members of local churches to be APOSTLES, (MISSIONARIES would be a better translation). He then makes the point that like the other things God appoints to specific individuals, NOT everyone is appointed to have that role.
In Eph 4:11, Paul says that APOSTLES, (MISSIONARIES would be a better translation) are one of the key gifts that Jesus gives to a local church to equip its members for the work of ministry–which again demonstrates that NOT every saint or leader within a local is a MISSIONARY.
3–Their own usage of titles
Do the same people who believe every Christian is a MISSIONARY also believe that every Christian is PASTOR? Or an ELDER? Or a CHAPLAIN? I don’t think so.
For some reason, even though the breadth and depth of sacrifice required to obey God’s call to be a missionary is usually more challenging than what’s required to obey the calling to be a pastor, elder, or chaplain, many Christians are fine with broadening the definition of the title MISSIONARY, but not these other titles.
Because God is moving the history of humanity forward to what is described in Rev. 5:9 and 7:9, He is still calling some of His people to leave everything behind and begin living among the tribes, peoples, nations, and tongue’s where He has no known worshipers.
When those who have not received this unique calling bestow the distinct title of MISSIONARY on those who have, it not only honors them, it also proclaims that God loves all people and brings Him the glory and honor that He deserves.
I believe the word MISSIONARY is worth the effort of reclaiming and being restored to use for describing those He calls to frontline participation in His “end game” plan for humanity.
**The Greek word in the original that is translated as APOSTLE is used 81 times in the New Testament. Linguistically, the word MISSIONARY could be used in each of those instances without losing the meaning of the word used in the original language.