“Missionary” Redefined

When you hear the word “missionary” or think of people living “on mission” what is the first thing that comes to mind?

I really mean it-close your eyes and think for a second.

What pops up? Do you think of a specific person? A famous missionary from church history or someone your local church supports?

Or do you think of a place? Maybe somewhere you have gone on a short-term trip or a ministry you have heard from?

Either way, you probably did not think of yourself or where you are. Am I right? If this is true for you, you certainly are not alone. For years my own definition of missionary would not have ever considered local or national ministry as “mission” work, nor would have I considered myself to be living on mission where I am now. In fact, local churches and evangelical ministries think my job is 100% not vocational ministry (though if I moved to another country and did the exact same thing, it would be).

What does it really mean to live “on mission”?

So, what is a “missionary” really? What does it really mean to live “on mission”? If someone is planting churches or teaching at a Christian school in a developing country, we automatically call them a missionary, so why is it that church planters or Christian school teachers aren’t called the same simply because they are in the United States? If you look in the Oxford English dictionary, you would find that it defines a missionary as, “a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in another country.” This is, of course, the definition many think of when they imagine a missionary, and it is widely accepted by the evangelical church. However, it is influenced by those in the church more than by Scripture. It’s a flawed definition and not particularly helpful in this case. The bottom line is that it needs to be redefined, and here is my redefinition, stating with Scripture itself.

Before Jesus left His disciples and ascended to Heaven and the right-hand of the Father, he gave them a final call. In fact, our modern Bible translations give this particular passage a name The Great Commission. Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV) says:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus has directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The call is simple: Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach. The call was to each of the eleven. Not to one, not to some, but to all. Each of them called to continue the work that Jesus had started. Each of them called to share the gospel.

I once had a professor say that he thought that the modern title heading “The Great Commission ” as not the best because it can seem like this is a commission for only some of the Body of Christ. Though Jesus specifically commissioned his eleven, it is also a call for anyone who is a follower of Christ. This professor said this passage ought to be called The Basic Commission because it is a call for all followers, not just the original eleven men.

Though Jesus specifically commissioned his eleven, it is also a call for anyone who is a follower of Christ.

Now, when many read this passage, they get caught up on the first part of the command- go. But this is not the most important part of the calling of Jesus. I would argue that the most important part of this passage is the call to make disciples. When Jesus called His disciples, He asked them to drop everything and follow Him. In doing this, they watched as He revealed His majesty as God the Son and witnessed His death and resurrection. Jesus showed them that He really is the Son of God and told them what they needed to do to get to the Father- follow Him, study His word, do what He did. This passage does not specify where they are to go. He does not say, go across the world to the very poorest people you can find and then start your ministry. No, He commands His disciples to go, teach, and baptize.

We have the same call: go, teach, baptize. For some, He does call to overseas ministry in developing and developed countries. For others, He leads down the street. The bottom line is, our “mission field” is where we are at any given moment. His calling may be for an extended period of time, or until death. It also can be for a specific season. Either way, the focus needs to be on sharing the gospel with those around us where we are right now. There may be a future calling we are looking toward, but until the future becomes the present, your mission field is where you are. Because where you are is where God has you and me for His purpose-even when we cannot see it. Our job is simply to be obedient to Him and share His gospel.

The bottom line is, our “mission field” is where we are at any given moment.

Questions for further personal or group discussion:

  1. What do you think of the idea of re-defining the term “missionary”?
  2. What is the mission field God has called you to right now? What are some ways that you can represent Christ where He has you?
  3. Think about the place you are right now and the people you encounter on a daily basis. Is there anyone specific God has put on your heart in your circle you could be praying for or starting a conversation with?

Alyssa Leach

Alyssa is working on a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship at theMoody Bible Institute in Chicago where she is also working in education in the city as a ministry. She loves reading, writing, and ballet. Alyssa writes regularly on an array of topics at https://renderedeternity.blog/

Contact Alyssa at renderedeternity@gmail.com

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