Eddie Arthur has hearkened back to an old post of mine and written an excellent piece himself: “What do words mean?” (which we could subtitle, “Are all Christians called to be missionaries?”).
I want to hammer on his later point first – it is very easy to stir up an online argument. I am quick to write about some things online, because definitions are important to me. Face to face, I’d focus less on these issues, as it’s usually obvious in personal conversation which definitions we’re using, and there are more profitable ways to use such time. I love that Eddie & I blog back and forth on a topic, while remaining civil. He sharpens my thinking without cutting me to the core, and I wish more of the Body worked that way.
Eddie says he and I use the word missionary in two different ways, and I think that’s true.
But I also agree that all Christians have a call to witness to Christ.
And I agree that this is not something to be “left to the professionals.”
There are two ways in which we might say “not every Christian is a missionary.”
The first: say, by way of analogy, some young man refers to himself as “married”–in that he is preserving himself – body, mind, soul, emotions, everything – for his future wife. In one sense, he claims to be married, which means he takes on certain restrictions. He keeps himself chaste. He invests in things (like a house) for the benefit of his one-day wife. He gets an education and a good job. He takes out life insurance. Etc.
But what if he never actually married? He might be thinking of this potential person and acting on her behalf, and yet not actually be a married individual. Which means he doesn’t have to do the day-in day-out things – the dying to self, the cooperation, the communication, the consideration, etc. – that husbands are commanded to do.
In a similar way, I’ve seen people say “I’m a missionary to my _x_,” but do not take up the activities.
The second way of saying “not every Christian is a missionary” speaks more to Eddie’s piece.
Eddie says “all Christians have a call to witness,” and I agree. My plain reading of Matthew 28 says it applies to everyone, not just missionaries. We are all commissioned to be witnesses, proclaimers of the Gospel, disciple-makers, baptizers, etc.
But my plain reading of Ephesians 4 suggests that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are different giftings. (And I’m one of those who think “apostle” and “missionary” amount to the same thing.)
So if Matthew 28 applies to all but Ephesians 4 says different people have different gifts/calls/roles, the differences between them must be something other than what we are all commissioned to do.
Everyone is called to do some of the things missionaries do, but not all of the things missionaries do.
To return to my marriage analogy: We are all commanded to love–others, our neighbor, our fellow believers, and our enemies (so, essentially, the world). But only married people are called to love their spouses in the “husband-and-wife” way – (“husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, willing to give up your life for her”), and this is different from the way a pastor loves his flock or a business-owner loves (is charitable toward) his or her employees. In the same way, we are all commissioned to witness, proclaim, and make disciples, but missionaries do these things as part of an overarching missionary strategy of planting the church where it is not.
That, to me, is the difference in how Eddie & I are using the word ‘missionary.’
Eddie says God is on a mission, and we get to be part of that mission wherever we are, and I absolutely agree. I have sometimes said “missionary” is “foreign” or “cross-cultural,” but when I do, I find I almost instantly must disagree with myself. First of all, there’s plenty of crossing cultures to be done in our home country, in this globalized world. Second, while “crossing culture” is a big part, an even bigger part is this: “apostle” = “sent one,” so the missionary task implies being sent (perhaps not the best reading, but I’m not a Greek scholar) to a place where the Gospel is not, to bring it there, plant it there, see a new ekklesia created where it was previously not. This is not the pastoral or evangelistic or prophetic job.
(By the way, I don’t really emphasize or make too much of the idea of a “calling” as some kind of mystical thing you must have, with harps and music and tongues of fire. I’m pretty much of the idea that anyone can do the missionary task, but it’s different from the pastoral or evangelistic or prophetic task.)
Now, you might be sent to your neighborhood, and thus you are a missionary to your neighborhood. But that means – how do you plant an ekklesia in your neighborhood? (This is not simply “defending the faith” to your stubborn neighbors, for example.) How do you reach everyone in your neighborhood with the Gospel? (This is not simply worrying about the guy to your left and your right.) And – are you ready and willing to move out of your neighborhood once it is reached and an ekklesia is planted? (Paul was always moving on to new places where the Gospel was not.)
It is because of the specialized nature of this task – different from the things we are all called to do (“be a witness”) – that I don’t want to conflate “missionary” with “witness.” NOT because I think a select few are to be witnesses. NOT because I think a select few “participate in the mission of God.” When Eddie uses missionary to mean “someone who participates in the mission of God as a witness locally,” I’m not going to argue too loudly. Because I understand and somewhat agree with this usage (though the purist in me wouldn’t agree technically). And because I overwhelmingly agree with Eddie – I don’t want us to ever think “missionary” is something only a few are mystically called to, or that only professionals with special 8-year training and degrees can do. I firmly believe in “amateurizing” the skills of mission – which means simply spreading them out in the general community.
To sum up:
1. Can any Christian be a missionary? Yes.
2. Are all Christians called to be missionaries? No. (some are pastors, teachers, prophets, etc.)
3. Are all Christians called to be witnesses, proclaimers, and disciple makers? Absolutely.
4. Are all Christians called to participate in the mission of God, wherever they are, whatever they do? Absolutely.
“Missionary” as a task is not all that different from “being married” – in the sense that anyone (pretty much) can do it, there are a certain set of requirements and skills which can be agreed to, that anyone can learn the skills required, anyone can make the choices required, and mostly it just means making a commitment and doing the job.
p.s. in a sense we at Beyond look for people who are being missionaries locally. Our saying: “If you don’t make disciples at home, you won’t probably won’t make disciples in a cross-cultural setting. There’s nothing magical about airplane seatbelts.” This is also a key reason why the Ephesus Team, of which I am part, is focused on helping foster Home Hubs (local cultural missionary training and implementation) to intern at before going to a Foreign Hub (where you do the same stuff you did in the Home Hub, just adding the cross-cultural layer). If this interests you, email justinlong@gmail.com and I’ll connect you.