Some well-meaning believers, in their efforts to keep the missional intent of Missio Dei (i.e., the truth that mission originated with God from eternity past, not from the Church itself) in front of as many believers as possible, overgeneralize by stating that all believers are missionaries, without thinking through their statement and its (lack of) biblical support. Others have historically, perhaps unintentionally, recognized or created a super-spiritual class of believers known as ‘missionaries’ who are expected to be authorities on everything biblical and are seen as being a significant cut above all other believers on a plane of spirituality that super-qualifies them. The author saw this attitude displayed every summer at evangelistic youth camps in southern Oklahoma, where those discerning and expressing a call to mission were described as having responded to God for ‘special service’. That approach unwittingly relegated the rest of those responding into a group that apparently fulfilled somewhat less valuable service in God’s kingdom, whether their commitment was for salvation, prayer, baptism, membership, etc.

George Peter posits that a missionary “is a messenger with a message from God, sent forth by divine authority for a definite purpose of evangelism, church-founding, and church edification.”[1]

Jim Chew, who has served with The Navigators since 1963, uses the phrase “cross-cultural messenger”[2] interchangeably with “missionary”, giving a clue as to a possibly more adequate definition of the expected nature of such a servant.

The well-known scholar of world Christianity Andrew Walls supports the view that the five marks of mission include proclamation of the good news of the kingdom; teaching, baptizing, and nurturing new believers; responding to human needs via loving service; seeking to transform unjust structures of society; and striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.[3] Further, Walls relays the prevailing attitude regarding missionary candidacy held by many prominent English clergymen in the late 1700’s: “The missionary needs spiritual qualifications, a knowledge of the Bible, and common sense. Competence with a mallet or saw is all to the good, but formal education is not necessary—which is as well, for educated people are most unlikely to offer.”[4]

So, just what is a missionary and who can be a missionary? What should missionaries be and do? A brief perusal of Old Testament and New Testament evidence will aid us in answering these crucial questions in the next blog post.

     [1] George Peters, A Biblical Theology Of Missions (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 248.

     [2] Jim Chew, When You Cross Cultures: Vital Issues Facing Christian Mission (Singapore: Nav Media, 2009), 6.

     [3] Mission In The 21st Century, ed. Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008), v.

     [4] Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement In Christian History: Studies In The Transmission Of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996), 163.