If they are coming here, why bother going there?

‘The nations are coming to us’ has been an eye-catching headline for some time now. The strategic implications of ‘ministry in our back yard’ are important for candidates to consider:

They are easier logistically to reach. We don’t need huge budgets or life in difficult places; we can just find sound missiological ways to be a blessing to the immigrants among us. (Easier logistically doesn’t necessarily translate to easier missiologically, although it can be a tempting mistake to make.)

Converts here might spread the Gospel to their families back home. Many keep in touch with those they left behind, and new believers here are often eager to share their faith with their families. This has led to households coming to Christ.

Converts here could become a valuable part of a church’s mission staff. They can use their knowledge of language and culture to inform the development of programs. They might even go  with short-term teams as a kind of expert guide who can open doors for a church in their homeland.

Converts here might want to return to their homeland desiring as a missionary to their own people. Their bold witness could spread the Gospel far and wide—they already know the language and culture, and would be far more effective communicators.

Each of these points has obvious strategic value and should not be overlooked. Still, ‘converts here’ are not a simple solution to the challenging complexities of the Great Commission. We need ‘the whole church’ to bring the whole Gospel to the ‘whole world.’ Here are some challenges with ‘converts here’ that keep us from focusing on this strategy as our sole option:

1. Just because people are moving the West doesn’t mean they are moving into strongly evangelical or even majority-Christian areas. To physically reach them may require a church to get out of their ‘backyard’ and go to a nearby suburb dominated by a different ethnic group (and this might be more akin to going to Samaria, with all of the cultural implications, than to Judea).

2. Just because people are moving into our country doesn’t mean they are moving into the average church’s backyard. Many are headed to specific, largely urban places. The idea that ‘nations are in our backyard’ holds true for many urban churches, but it is not necessarily the common rule. You may find them in a nearby state.

3. Many coming to the West are already believers or heavily evangelized. The largest diaspora groups (Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Syrians) have substantial churches ‘back home.’ Many (Turks, Iranians, Iraqis) are Christians fleeing warfare and persecution. They may have little influence ‘back home’ and little desire or ability to return.

4. While some ethnic groups are coming to us, many are not. Many poor minority groups are not able to leave their current homes; some do not wish to. Consider the Acehnese: virtually all are found in on the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. Some tens of thousands have migrated to Malaysia. Very rarely would one likely find an Acehnese anywhere around the average Western church.

5. Of the groups that are coming: while many individuals from them are immigrating, many more remain in their homeland. Another example: while there are large numbers of Turks in the West,  there are far more in their homeland. Reaching the Turks in Germany, Canada or the United States does not automatically (or even probably) translate into reaching Turkey.

6. It is not a foregone conclusion a ‘convert here’ will lead to ‘converts there.’ There is potential for contact between the diaspora and their families at home. Some in the diaspora send money home and maintain contact using cell phones or VOIP technology. Some who work abroad return for regular visits. Still, in many cases, the fact they are abroad can indicate a separation between them and their family which will prevent the Gospel flowing back home. Many Turks and Persians are somewhat more liberal-minded than their families, and have gone abroad as much to escape the religious climate as to find work; their influence back home may very well be muted.

7. Finally, one significant danger: this question taps the deeper idea of doing what I can do instead of considering what needs to be done. ‘What am I called to do?’ or ‘What is my share in the Great Commission’ can quickly become the temptation of: ‘what is the least I can do to assuage my conscience?’ Let us not fall for the easy route to ‘checking the mission box off our life list.’

So, what should we do? There are clearly very large diaspora communities. There are more Chinese in diaspora than there are French living in France, and 22 million ethnic Indians are ‘scattered across every continent.’ Filipinos, Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Somalis, Ethiopians, and others can obviously be found everywhere, and this grand migration should be blessed with the Gospel. Here are some thoughts about a both/and approach:

1. Bless ethnic groups everywhere—near and far—in whatever ways are most appropriate and most impactful. Don’t forget the nations we don’t easily see, while not ignoring the nations in our back yard: a gift of hospitality while they are here may do much to counter false ideas about Christians and Christianity.

2. Engaging with ethnic groups here can be excellent training for crossing cultural lines elsewhere. Consider how this work might be used to identify potential candidates, partners, and opportunities to gain experience.

3. Raise up believers within the diaspora to minister to others in the diaspora. Those culturally closest to a group will be best able to communicate the Gospel within that group. I think we should certainly encourage the development of home groups and churches that give preference to the languages and cultural forms used by those within the diaspora.

4. Don’t shirk from sending workers to labor among people in remote places, remembering that while we may see Chinese, Indians and Indonesians, it is less likely that we will see Acehnese, Uighurs, and Zhuang. We are about every people group and individual having a chance to hear the Gospel.

Can I be involved in mission if I’m not on the field?

I don’t know how many people ask this question. I see a lot of writers presuming the question and responding to it with two extremes: “If you’re not called to stay, you’re called to go” (even I feel the guilt on this one) and “everyone is a missionary.” When I personally hear the question asked, it’s usually in the form of ‘what should I do at home?’ The stock answers are: ‘pray, give, mobilize.’ Rather than talk about specific tactics of involvement, let’s discuss levels of participation and the attitudes they imply.

0. No involvement at all. I mention this in passing simply because it is a real ‘level’ of participation (‘none’). People say “I’m not called” or “missions isn’t my thing” or “I think we should do here before we do there” or “we have a lot of troubles here.”

1. The guilty checklist participation. I don’t know how I should be a part, or I feel like I should get involved, but I don’t want to–so when someone presents a low-level option (like participation in a mission offering), I do it quickly and consider the item “checked off.” (Additional opportunities to participate, or persuasion or pressure, may anger me.)

2. The trophy participation. I decide to do something “significantly above and beyond”—like hosting a missionary family, or going on a short-term trip. Afterward, I think of the missionary component of my life as “complete.” I look back on my photos as a kind of ‘trophy,’ and feel a little (or very) proud that I’ve done this and many others have not.

3. Busy involvement. I do lots of missionary things. I’m at prayer meetings, I pray through Operation World, I give, I go on repeated short-term trips, I help out when missionaries visit, I invite people to opportunities. But if I’m honest, this is a ‘less guilty’ form of the checklist: I’m doing things because I should be involved, and these are opportunities for involvement. I do things, and leave the results to God, because only he knows the eternal impact.

4. Serving a long-term strategy. For one reason or another, I don’t believe I can go to the field right now–but I have a heart for a particular place, and I am purposefully seeking to make a significant impact. I do this ‘part-time,’ meaning it is not my full-time occupation (although it may consume a lot of hours). I find ways to serve a long-term, comprehensive, thoughtful, prayerful strategy. I say ‘yes’ to some opportunities presented to me, and ‘no’ to others, based on the strategy I serve. I listen to others (particularly those with long experience, and particularly locals), do some things (like trips or giving), and collaborate with a wider network.

5. I serve a strategy as my full-time occupation. I am part of a team, accountable to some form of sending organization (be it church, denomination or agency). I may live directly amongst the people group or place I am trying to impact, or I may have to live in a remote place (in the case of a restricted-access people group). There is a lot of blending between stage 4 and 5.

You can see that each of these levels use a lot of the same kinds of actions (praying, giving, going)—just from different motivations and with different long-term goals behind them. An individual can make a difference in an unreached people group from any place in the world. The ‘level’ of difference will vary depending on the resource investment (time, talent, treasure) and the strategic nature of the action. It’s true that simple actions (prayer, giving) can further the kingdom amongst a group. (For example, money contributed to Bibles will be useful.) But thoughtful actions chosen for particular impact are likely to have a longer-lasting result.

Can we be part of mission without going to the field? Yes, but we still ought to think as a missionary does.

Choose a field to impact, whether you go there or not. The more fine-tuned your focus, the more impact you can have, because your focus leads you to high-impact opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise discover.

Explore your field and find voices of wisdom. You don’t have to go to the field to learn from people who are active in it. I develop all of my in-depth Cluster Forecasts from an office in the United States, simply by emailing people, asking who I should talk to, and arranging Skype interviews. You can learn a lot simply by asking to spend an hour with someone who knows a lot about the field. (If you want to know how to conduct that kind of interview, email me, and I’ll set up a time to walk you through the process.)

Find a strategy or a group of people who want to make a long-term difference, and ask how you can serve them. In nearly every ‘larger’ unreached people group, a network already exists. Some are tiny and some are large; many have been around for decades. Find these, and leave your ‘great ideas’ behind: seek to serve them for a while, and learn from them.

Become a great advocate for the strategy. Listen to the experts and learn to speak intelligently about your field, and then watch for opportunities to share what you’ve learned in other settings (small groups, and larger groups). Kindly encourage people who have a ‘busy involvement’ in missions to consider a ‘strategic involvement’ (maybe in your field).

Spend some time looking for new opportunities for impact. As you become more knowledgeable about your field, God will use you—your talents, knowledge, experiences, resources, connections—to bring new opportunities to the network that otherwise wouldn’t be available. That’s why you’re there. Don’t shy away from humbly and charitably offering these ideas. Don’t feel sorry if some (or even all, at least at first) of the ideas don’t work out. Lots of ideas are unworkable, for a variety of reasons; but one idea out of a hundred could become the thing that breaks open a great opportunity. (And someone might be able to take the germ of a bad idea and turn it into something great-—that should be welcomed, too.)

Being involved in mission at home isn’t about the things that you do. It’s about the being involved, just from a different place. The trend of globalization makes this more possible than ever. So be involved, and you’ll find that the specific tactics of involvement (praying, giving, going short-term, going long-term, recruiting, and so on) will become abundantly clear.

Calling vs Surrender: should I just tell an agency to send me wherever?

From time to time, some will articulate the wish for missionary candidates to simply offer themselves to the agency and go wherever they are sent. This is typically viewed as a mark of spiritual maturity and surrender to Christ.

In general, I don’t wholly agree with this. I suggest that you, the perspective candidate, should listen to it with a certain amount of caution.

Yes, we should be fully surrendered to Christ.

That is not the same as being fully surrendered and obedient to an agency, church or pastoral leader.

The calling of Christ is between Christ and the individual. It is a journey of discipleship, on which Jesus commanded us to follow Him. In following him on a path, we may find others are on the same path, at roughly the same spot we are. We are following Jesus together.

The agency, like the church, is a particular kind of fellowship or community. (I have elsewhere argued that, in a sense, an agency is a church, in that any gathering of believers is a church, because the believers together are the church.)

But while we are all part of a Body, the reality is, we have to pick and choose which individual community we are part of. We pick and choose this on the basis of the leading of Christ.

In short, you are on a path following Christ, and that path is defined by the command of Christ in your life. You need to pick an agency that is on the same path. Don’t let an agency tell you which path you should be on–only Christ can tell you that.

Now, having chosen the agency, and the place you will be working, expect that there will be a great deal of daily sacrifice, surrender, and service to be done. If you are in a community, you are to be serving your brothers and sisters. I am not suggesting you get to define for yourself what you do on a daily basis! Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him–to die daily to self, and live for others.

Missionaries must be learners: kinds of learning

One of the skills any missionary must have (and really, it’s good for everyone) is being a life-long learner.

The reason is obvious: you can’t know everything you will need for the situations you’ll encounter in life. (As a simple example, this study says 65% of of children entering school today will work at types of jobs that don’t exist today–new kinds of work.)

Here are a few kinds of learning we all need to be skilled in:

  1. Learning about something–SEEKING. Learn to gather data comprehensively–both information that exists, and information you create through experiments.If you want to find a Person of Peace, you’re going to have to look in a lot of different places. What places seem to have spiritually hungry people? What places don’t? You’ll need to gather “samples,” explore areas, experiment, etc. Do places have more spiritually hungry people at certain times of year (holidays, festivals, etc)? Do certain places have different kinds of people (who are potentially spiritually hungry) in certain holidays (like Chinese New Year)? How are you gathering information about non-believers around you? Constructing experiments that can be run, re-run, and whose results can be observed and analyzed is an important skill to develop.
  2. Learning from others–listening, asking questions. Learn to identify and gather high-quality articles, books, and reports. Learn to compile subject bibliographies you can refer back to. Learn to interview (listen to, record, and analyze) experienced informants. Learn to ignore the fluff and mine for applicable wisdom. Of the collection of knowledge there is no end, so we shouldn’t always be in this mode–but if we ignore it, we will only end up repeating their mistakes.
  3. Learning from failure–planning experiments, analyzing results. We make mistakes. We have near misses. We have off days. We have bad patterns. We need the ability to learn from these failures–to understand what went wrong–so that we can try not to repeat the mistakes, and choose good patterns instead. There is a commonly cited idea: “Those who fail fastest, win.” But this only works if you learn from the failure and don’t repeat it. If you are constantly failing, you won’t win. But if you never fail, you probably aren’t trying new things.
  4. Learning from successes. The book Rework focuses on this: forget learning from failures, learn from successes. There’s a balance to be had. We must, through experiments that fail, eliminate all the bad options to discover the good. But once the good has been discovered, we ought to focus on that: learn from success, figure out why it happened, optimize it.
  5. Learning from ourselves, to avoid stagnation. We need to know ourselves, our personalities, our patterns, our work, so that we don’t get mired in our successes. For example, we can become a very successful small church pastor–and yet be so mired in the success of small-church pastoring that we don’t multiply, that we don’t reach out to those outside the church, that we don’t see the larger harvest.

Last but not least: all of these skills are about “learning to learn.” No one knows everything. We might know “enough” for today, but no one knows “enough” for all the days of the future. We must always be in a position of humility, constantly asking questions, constantly open to correcting ourselves.

How do I know I’m called?

call. verb.
1. to cry out in a loud voice; shout.
2. to command or request to come; to summon.
3. to ask or invite to come.
4. to communicate, or try to communicate, by telephone.
5. to rouse from sleep, as by a call; to waken.
6. to read over (a roll or a list) in a loud voice.
7. to convoke or convene.
8. to announce authoritatively, to proclaim.
9. to order into effect, to establish.
10. to schedule: “to call a rehearsal”
11. to summon by or as if by a divine command
12. to summon to an office, duty, etc.
13. to cause to come, bring
14. to bring under consideration or discussion
15. to attract or lure (birds or animals) by imitating characteristic sounds
16. to direct or attract (attention)
17. to name or address (someone): “his parents called him Jim”
18. to designate as something specified: “he called me a hypocrite”
19. to think of as something specified; to consider; estimate: “I call that hogwash.”
20. to demand of someone that they fulfill a promise, furnish evidence: “called his bluff”
21. to criticize adversely, express disapproval of, censure (often by “calling out”)
22. to demand payment or fulfillment of (a loan)
23. to demand presentation of (bonds) for redemption
24. to forecast correctly
25. sports: to pronounce a judgement, to put an end to a contest
26. pool: to name the ball one intends to drive into a particular pocket
27. computers: to transfer control of to a procedure or subroutine
28. cards: to demand, to demand the display of a hand, to equal a bet made

One of the more common statements I hear is: “Thank goodness I’m not called.”

Less commonly: “I think I might be called–but how can I be sure?”

A frequent argument: “You don’t need a special calling to be in missions” (and this largely because we passionately want more workers and we’re afraid people using the “calling” ideas an excuse)

We’ve discussed the idea of sentness before (“Can I be a missionary?”). I believe we are all, based on Matthew 28, commanded to “go to the nations” (some translate as “as you are going to the nations”–so whether promise or command, it applies), be a witness, make disciples, teach them to obey, and baptize them.

This command applies to everyone – young or old, rich or poor, male or female, ordained and not ordained, believer 5 minutes or 50 years. You do not need a calling to obey this command, any more than you need a calling to obey the commands to love God and love your neighbor.

So you don’t need a calling to be a cross-cultural witness and disciple-maker, and you can get good at it.

But we’ve also discussed the role/gifting of the apostolic, and the need to be sent/called.

The Bible doesn’t talk about a “calling” in the sense of “there is one occupational path for your life, and if you miss it, you’ve messed up.” However, it does in several passages say God wants to guide and reveal. So if you’re asking for the assurance that God is calling you into the apostolic role – that he has shaped you for “sentness” – here are some ways others have found it:

1. You will have some kind of personal conviction/compulsion. Sometimes, this conviction arises out of a supernatural revelation (vision, voice, sign, etc); other times, it may be little more than an unshakeable internal sense. God promises to reveal make his will known, and I believe if you earnestly seek him, you will find him. Further, rest assured (and you can even test it)–such a conviction will stand the test of time. There may be instances of questioning (I’ve had them myself), but it will consistently reassert itself.

2. You will have a personal desire. Even believers sometimes have difficulty responding to what they perceive as a hard calling (“Lord, please don’t send me to Africa!”). But that said, God shapes us as gifts to the Body of Christ. If you have no desire to act in the apostolic role (not just a conflicted desire), that’s a large red flag.

3. You will be inspired by this inner conviction to undertake work in response to it. It might be the decision to apply to an agency and see what happens. It might be as simple as a short-term trip, or a visit to a local cross-cultural market. The point is, if the conviction doesn’t lead to action, one has to question the conviction. The actions, in the beginning, may be full of fear and trembling. They may be “small wins.” Where you “end up” in life may be totally different from where you thought your gifting was leading. God doesn’t call us necessarily to one specific destination, but rather to be the gift he has made us to be to the Body and the World.

4. Your calling will be confirmed by others in the church. The community will also bear witness to God’s call on your life, and validate it.

It seems simple, and it usually is.

What do you do if you have any or all of those items? Being called doesn’t mean you pack your bags and head to the mission field tomorrow. It’s just the first step on a very long journey. Instead of worrying too much about what the “next step” specifically is, the best “next step” is to surround yourself with several counselors who will help you figure out each “next step” over the long run. (An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”) Wise elders in your church should help you. Some of your peers may be helpful as well. You can also call and talk with mission agencies (like Beyond) who will help you process what the next steps are, even if you aren’t ready to apply (or at any rate, they should). And you can always email me.

Candidates: don’t put missionaries on pedestals

Have additional missionary biographies to add? post them in comments. –Ed.

What happens when we read a missionary biography? or see a missionary in church?

Are we inspired? scared off from any idea of being a missionary? repelled (“God, please don’t send me to Africa”)?

Does their story equip us to take the next step in mission service?

In this respect, some missionary biographies may do a disservice to recruitment. Even worse can be the “headlines” about missionary pioneers that we share, repost and tweet. Famous sayings (“He is no fool…” or “God’s work done in God’s way…”) can make people seem to have continuous heart attitudes we can barely aspire to on our best days. We tout these “missionary saints” as somehow having a higher level of commitment than the current slacker generation. This is hardly inspiring.

If you feel that tug in your heart toward the idea of missionary service, let me suggest:

Read and repeat fewer inspiring quotes. I share quotes just as much as the next person (there’s usually 10 in the Friday roundup). But–pithy sayings don’t capture the reality of field life: day-in-and-out stresses, moments-of-peace, fears, braveries, victories, defeats. If you are going to repeat quotes, try to find some that aren’t commonly shared.

Look for biographies of less-known missionaries. Check out the “Legacy” and “My Pilgrimage” articles that have appeared in most (each?) issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research over the decades; for example, “The Legacy of Frank Arthur Keller.” Or, read the numerous short biographies on the Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Or, the many in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Grab a copy of Tucker’s “Guardians of the Great Commission” and read the stories of really less-known women missionaries.

If you’re going to read a bio of a “missionary saint,” be sure it’s a detailed biography.

Ultimately, talk to real missionaries. Sit down over a cup of coffee, and ask them to speak more about their lives and field experiences. Assure them of whatever level of confidentiality they need to feel comfortable, then ask them to share challenges, failures, and how they overcame them.

Most of all, don’t put existing missionaries on pedestals, either. We are all too aware of how many cracks are in our “jars of clay.” Be wary of missionaries–or any one–who seeks fame and celebrity, for any reason.

Telling the real stories of missionaries is an important way to enable those who feel a stirring to figure out what the next step is. Let’s not do candidates the disservice of telling glossed-over heroic tales that, while entertaining, neither educate nor equip.

Can I be a missionary?

“Can I be a missionary?” Based on the number of people who actually apply to agencies as a percentage of the total Christian population in any given country, I can’t imagine this is a question that is asked by very many people.

In fact, I rather suspect that the inverse is more often said, as a statement: “I’m not a missionary” or “I can’t be a missionary” or “I’m not called to be a missionary.”

I have argued before that not everyone is a missionary:
Not everyone is a missionary: what we look for
The article in which I agree with Eddie on who can be a missionary
Single vs Complex Culture Crossing; or, we are not all missionaries
However, what I’m really arguing in those posts is this: that ‘missionary’ is a particular role.

If not everyone is a missionary, can I be one? Who is a missionary, biblically speaking? That’s hard to answer, since Missionary isn’t used in the Bible at all. It’s an English word, derived from the Latin mitto, a translation of the Greek apostolos. The Oxford English Dictionary says it was first used in 1598; by 1729 it was broadly used in association with the Biblical sense.

So if “missionary” comes from apostollo, is a missionary an apostle? The two words are related by translation: the Greek apostollos was used in classical Greek impersonally to refer to something sent (e.g. an army sent). Josephus used it to refer to Jewish emissaries sent to Rome to petition Caesar. Apostolo is used hundreds of times in the LXX (Septuagint) as an equivalent of the Hebrew word for “send.”

However, in the New Testament apostollo is used most frequently to refer to a specific group: mainly those in leadership, and specifically to the Twelve. Yet while admittedly the evidence is a little thin, it doesn’t seem to me to be limited to the Twelve. The Apostles undertook to replace Judas (Acts 1). Paul calls himself an apostle, and says in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 that “these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” It doesn’t make sense to me to think we still have pastors, teachers and evangelists today and not the others (apostles and prophets).  But you should know others argue “apostle” ended with the early church; that “apostles” amongst other things had to be eyewitnesses to Christ (and Paul does make the case he is an eyewitness as one of his proofs).

Update: a colleague sent the following list of times in Scripture when “apostles” didn’t mean the Twelve, helpful:

  • A great prototype for our kind of apostle, Barnabas: “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul…” (Acts 14:14)
  • Most debated, Junia (a clearly female name), who was “outstanding among the apostles.” (Romans 16:7) 
  • Andronicus – same description, in Romans 16:7
  • James: “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:19 ESV) “From the form of this phrase it would appear that James, the Lord’s brother, was considered to be an Apostle.”
  • Others in Paul’s team: “We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority” (1 Thessalonians 2:6). (None of the 12 were with Paul in Thessalonica.)

What is an “apostle”? This is really the question we need to ask, since it will drive our understanding of the word “missionary.”

  • An apostle appears to be one chosen–and by God, not men. In Acts 1, they asked God for direction and cast lots. In Romans 1:1, Paul declares himself “chosen by God.” In Colossians 1:1 he says “chosen by the will of God”; in 1 Timothy 1 he says “appointed by the command of God.” In Galatians 1 Paul makes the point that he was not appointed by a group of people or authority, but by God himself.
  • An apostle appears to be one who is sent for a purpose. In Romans 1, Paul says “sent out to preach…” In 2 Timothy 1 he says, “I have been sent out to tell others about the life he has promised through faith in Christ.”
  • An apostle appears to be one sent to a specific group. Paul declares he is sent to the Gentiles (Romans 1:1, 11:13); he also describes Peter as “the apostle to the Jews” (Galatians 2:8).
  • An apostle is not always understood to be an apostle. Because some don’t think he is an apostle, Paul suggests proofs he is. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 he points to the fact that he had seen the Lord, and suggests that “because of my work, you belong to the Lord” as evidence (9:2). In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he points to the signs, wonders and miracles he performed as proofs.
  • Maybe, an apostle can also be other things: Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:11 that he is a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher; is he distinguishing between these roles?

Let’s ask again: is a missionary an apostle? With a non-Biblical word, we can make “missionary” mean whatever we want it to–and we have. By “missionary” some mean “I go to a distant place and proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, baptize”–and this is permitted because we’re commanded in Matthew 28 to do precisely that. This is the sense those who argue “everyone is a missionary” use the word in. If someone goes to be a worship leader, a pastor, an English teacher, a business-starter in a distant place, and through that attempts to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples–this is “going on mission.” That’s a worthy thing. It is obedience to Matthew 28.

On the other hand, if we say “missionary” is one “called by God and sent for the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel and planting the church”–now we are verging on equating missionary with apostle, in my book. “Can I be a missionary?” in this sense? I’d tread a little more lightly. I don’t know all of what the apostolic role means, but one thing seems clear: one does not simply choose it. To be an apostle is not just to go, but to be sent; and not just to be sent, but to be chosen; and not just to be chosen by men, but chosen by God. This is ground that we ought to enter with some fear and trembling.

To be an apostle seems to be taking spiritual responsibility for others (Philemon 1:19). It seems to be taking responsibility for places no one has gotten to (Romans 15). It seems to be taking responsibility for all within an area, not just a handful (Acts 19). It is maintaining relationships and continuing to mentor over long periods of time (1 Timothy 1:2).

In passing, let me dispense with the idea of an apostle as a kind of “rank.” While 1 Corinthians makes some kind of ordered list (with apostles placed first), in other places the list is given without any sort of ranking, and still in other places Paul made clear that all parts of the body are needed and equal before the Lord. Jesus himself said those who would be first in the Kingdom must be the servant of all.

One more time – can I be a missionary? (or, can I be an apostle?) – I think the answer for anyone is “yes” — anyone can be (don’t prejudge whether someone is or not), but not everyone is (depending on how it is defined). And you can’t decide to take on the apostolic role on your own; you can’t “send yourself.” You need to first place yourself in a position before the Lord of saying “Here am I, send me.” Then, I think you need a clear sense of being sent–one that is confirmed by others (even if it isn’t always widely confirmed!).

I know this flies in the face of what some have said (“we are all sent”) and particularly what Eddie Arthur has argued (whom I very much respect, and generally agree with–and I think he’d agree with me in this post). I think in this I’ve balanced the two ideas and delineated between the two.

Am I called? I can’t answer that for you–but let me suggest perhaps the strongest initial signal of God’s calling is the willingness to “go on mission” even if you are not “sent.” In my experience very few are willing to “go” – so few that I suspect a strong correlation between “I want to go” and “God has sent me.” If you’re asking the question, “Can I be a missionary,” it’s a pretty good indicator to me the answer will be “Yes.”

See also
Are we all missionaries?” Rollin Grams. (“No.”)
Are all Christians called to be missionaries?” Eddie Arthur. (“Yes.”)
What do words mean?” Eddie Arthur (also on the complexities of how we define “missionary”)

I’m not a theologian by degree; I’m just a lay activist for missions. I welcome comments, thoughts and critiques.

People as the Minimum Viable Product

In a startup, a “minimum viable product” (MVP) is the thing the startup is offering to the public. A startup has a promise it makes to the market–we will help you organize your email better, or we will help you schedule appointments better–and the MVP is the product that meets this promise at the bare minimum. It may not be very elegant, it may be a little buggy, but it’s out there. The first iPhone was an example of an MVP–it didn’t even have cut-and-paste.

If we think of a disciple-making movement as a kind of startup, then I propose that, in a sense, people are the ‘minimum viable product.’ DMMs produce disciples–but more than that, DMMs produce disciple-makers; if they don’t, the movement isn’t sustainable.

Like a startup’s MVP, a disciple-maker may not be elegant, poised or well-developed when they start out. In fact, a disciple-maker can be a little buggy. Their gospel delivery may not be pristine. They may be nervous facilitating a DBS. They may (gasp) make theological mistakes from time to time.

At bottom, the minimum requirement for a disciple-maker is not perfection but willingness. They have to want or be willing to make disciples – they have to be able to overcome their short-comings and fears and uncertainties and reach out.

If 86% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists (in fact of all non-Christians) don’t personally know a believer–personal contact is the primary barrier that must be overcome. If a believer is unwilling to make personal contact, all the information in the world will just be a waste.

So before we train, we have to filter for people who meet the minimum requirements of viability. One man who did micro finance training filtered by asking people to raise the $10 in capital required to start a business (the program brought the training and knowledge to the table). We at Beyond filter for our online trainings by asking people to gather a group to participate–if someone can’t gather a group of friends for a training, are they likely to have the ummph to gather a group of nonbelievers?

Are there other “minimums” to be “viable”? Things that people have to be willing to be/do in order for a movement to multiply? While I don’t claim these are all of them, I suggest a few:

1. a willingness to feed themselves from Scripture, and adapt their behavior (obey) to its demands

2. a willingness to live their faith out loud, sharing Scriptural stories, values, etc. with nonbelievers, at the risk of persecution

3. a willingness to invite people into their homes to study Scripture

4. a willingness to lead people to Scripture and let them learn from Scripture rather than being the “authorized teacher”

5. a willingness to submit themselves to others, for accountability, and to shape behavior based on feedback

6. a willingness to hold others accountable to obedience to Scripture

I’m sure, in this casual list, I’ve missed a few. What would you add?

Nowhere in this list am I adding things like seminary training or literacy. By not including them, I’m not saying these things are bad. All I’m saying is – what’s the minimum you have to have to be a disciple-maker in a DMM?

Here’s another way to consider it: 90% of all disciple-makers are simply parents of children. What does one need to be successful in parenting?