Not everyone is a missionary: what we look for
I agree with David: “Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re a missionary.” I believe that we are all commanded to be disciples, witnesses, disciple-makers, and baptizers (regardless of whether we face the ultimate price or not; I disagree with a few others on this): this is the commission in Matthew 28. And, yes, sometimes this means we “go into the world” (some have told me Matthew 28 is better translated “as you are going”). Sometimes this is due to circumstances and sometimes it’s intentional. But being a missionary – crossing cultural boundaries, learning new languages, enduring culture shock, etc. – isn’t the same, in my book, as being a witness.
Paul, for example, was a Hellenized Jew, and he mostly stayed within the Hellenized culture. He didn’t go to Britain, India, or China – he stayed primarily within the Roman world. I’m sure he encountered different languages and different cultures but it would have been similar, let’s say, to modern New York, England, or Dallas – different cultures within a common overarching culture. Was he a missionary? What do you think? I think the answer is “Yes–sort of.” It would be similar, perhaps, to the situation that many churches in America find themselves in today, with lots of diaspora people around them.
Representing Jesus to one’s neighbors and co-workers isn’t being a missionary, but rather being a witness. Being a missionary means intentionally seeking out and reaching out to people who don’t have Christians around them at all. There are many pockets of such people within our Christian cities, true. But there are even larger pockets in places that are largely non-Christian, for the obvious reason that there are no (or few) Christians there.
It takes a different set of skills, talents and giftings to be a missionary – more than simply being a witness. At the most fundamental level we look for people who aren’t afraid to speak up for Jesus, and who have shown the desire to strike out and make disciples. They are willing to take a risk: more than simply being willing to speak up if their Christianity is threatened, they are willing to speak out and risk making a fool of themselves. But beyond that, there are additional skills: being a self-starter. Being accountable to others. Living a life of purity in the midst of temptation. Being able to endure when no fruit is immediately to be had. Listening to the Holy Spirit. Being obedient, even when it seems crazy. Being able to raise the funds required (which shows skills of organization, communication, followup, etc). An appreciation for other cultures. A willingness to leave what is comfortable and go into the uncomfortable. A willingness to learn another language and culture, not just work through translators. Cross-cultural friendships. Boldness. Humility. And so on.
To use an analogy, there are people who go to work for large companies, and do a job, and do it well. They take care of their family. They are good to their neighbors. They go to church. They take part in outreaches. All of that is good – we need that. But there is a different set of skills required to start a new business on your own, and to grow it to a substantial size.
ActBeyond (like other mission agencies) has many people in the field: we have over 150. They are wonderful people who I greatly enjoy being around, and I learn from. They are not saints, but they are learners, and they are being obedient to the calling of Christ. So if you feel like you are called to something far away – then we’d love to talk to you. But be aware that mission agencies don’t take anyone, because not everyone is a missionary.