What Makes A Missionary?
This is a guest blog post by Luke Finley. Luke first got involved with global missions in 2011 by serving on the RP Missions team at the OPC mission work in Karamoja, Uganda. After graduating from RPTS, he served with the Cush4Christ mission team in South Sudan from 2012-13. Currently, he is pursuing ministry opportunities in Brooklyn, New York, while operating his own apartment cleaning business. Read more about Luke’s current work and life.
As the worldwide economy increases in complexity, jobs become more and more specialized. Gone are the days where the majority of the country worked as self-supporting farming families, with a few doctors, lawyers, and teachers sprinkled in. Now, individuals specialize in one task, which they repeat over and over again, whether it is manning an assembly line spot in a factory, or fulfilling a role in the intellectual machine of a corporation. Specialization drives people deeper into their own individual worlds, as they focus on one focused job that they have been trained to perform.
While specialization over the last century has led to economic growth through increased efficiency, the Church should be wary of this mindset bleeding over into her ministry. Too often, the Church fragments into two groups, trained leadership and everybody else. The men and women who are serving in full-time ministry are seen as the ones responsible for the work of the Church. They produce do the work of the ministry, while being supported by the rest.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘missionary’?
Nowhere does this specialization divide exist more clearly than in missions. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘missionary’? Maybe a man flying in a small plane over the rainforest en route to a secluded tribe. Or perhaps a woman caring for orphan children in the middle of some unheard of African country. Hundreds of years of missionary activity have created a church culture where people who serve in the exotic places of the world are seen as those most obeying God’s gospel commands. Contemporary Christianity has termed these people as the doers of missions, and has reserved the role for everyone back at home as the senders, engaging in mission work vicariously through these select few people in the far off places of the world.
This divide in mission work between those actually engaged in it, and those back at home creates a convenient lifestyle for most of us. A few crazies move halfway across the world, while the rest of us stay in our familiar surroundings, give money to support them and dutifully display their prayer card on our refrigerator. How well this setup agrees with our specialized culture.
The culture does not define missionaries; Jesus does.
There is one problem with this arrangement, however; Jesus doesn’t want it this way. When Jesus was instructing His disciples and other early followers, He doesn’t give a set of commands for the paid professionals of the church, and then an easier, less strenuous set for the regular Christians. Jesus doesn’t attach an asterisk on the Great Commission, with a footnote declaring that this command is only for the few people called to live in a distant locale.
When Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission, He laid out God’s vision for the work of the Church. Each member of Christ’s body plays a role in seeing every people group in this world baptized and discipled into Christ. The Church has rightly seen this as a command for servants of Christ to travel to different nations and peoples throughout the world in order to win them for Christ.
If Jesus stopped with the Great Commission, it would justify the Church’s current view of only having a professional class of missionaries. Our churches could gather for worship and enjoy our familiar Christian routines, while a few were out in the trenches of missionary life. Jesus, though, does not let the rest of the Church off that easy. In Acts 1:8, right before Jesus ascends into Heaven, He gives a crucial statement that further explains the Great Commission. Jesus tells His followers that they will “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This verse strikes down any idea of missionary specialization and draws every believer into a Great Commission-led life.
With this phrase, Jesus calls each of His followers to live as a missionary, or gospel worker. He throws out the notion that Kingdom workers are a special class of Christians who must live in a completely foreign culture. Christ calls every person in a relationship with Him to be a missionary (one who seeks to engage and disciple others for Christ). Jesus speaks to His followers with the understanding that they all are to engage in this great mission of the Church. With Jesus’ statement in this verse, it is not a question of if one is called to be a missionary, but rather where!
Where will your missionary work take you?
Jesus doesn’t lay a guilt trip on His followers, telling them that unless they go to a distant land they aren’t really serving Him. He also doesn’t say those staying at home are let off the hook if they can conjure up a few folks to obey the Great Commission on their behalf. Instead, He allows the Holy Spirit to lead each Christian towards God’s plan for his or her own life. By listing off these locations, Jesus gives each of us the freedom to serve God and make disciples for Him in the place where He calls us. Maybe you are called to live and work in a nearby urban area, like Jerusalem. Maybe you are to stay at home in your small hometown in rural Judea. Perhaps there is a nearby people group or class, like Samaria, that because of racial, economic, or religious reasons is antagonized by your culture. And lastly, you may be called to the remotest part on earth, and minister among those who have never heard the Gospel before.
As Jesus speaks, He doesn’t single out one location as greater than the others; all are legitimate places to serve Him, provided the Holy Spirit’s leading. Not everyone is called to live in a remote village in Africa, Asia, or South America. The variety of places that God calls believers to is shown throughout Acts. Paul, Barnabas, and their companions journey throughout the Mediterranean, speaking to all kinds of cultures and peoples. Phillip goes to Samaria, before being told to head south, where he encounters an Ethiopian. Peter travelled through Judea, while others stayed in Jerusalem and ministered there. God called His people to a variety of ministry paths.
By accepting the call of Christ to repent and believe, you have been drafted into the Great Commission. The question now is not if you will participate in this mission, but rather where? Jesus strikes down the specialization of mission work that the Church is tempted to use as a crutch, and calls you to serve and disciple others through your gifts, in the location where God has called you, be that exotic or simple, crowded or desolate. You may never give a missionary presentation or have your own thumbtack on a church foyer’s world map, but you have a crucial role to play in seeing the Kingdom of God being realized on earth.