Roger and Luke were sitting down for coffee to discuss ministry. Roger was a missionary overseas and Luke was a pastor. At one point during the conversation Luke asked Roger what he found most discouraging about his ministry.
His answer was surprising and revealing. Roger told him that the most discouraging aspect of ministry in his area is the other missionaries.
He went on to describe in detail how so many western churches send people to their area for mission work but in reality they are just on a vacation. They collect a check, get the benefits, and relax at the beach. Their engagement with the locals is minimal and when they do—they engage them with a critical spirit. These “missionaries” take up space at church and are really not ready to serve.
What is the problem here?
On one level the answer is simple: they are not doing their job. They are supposed to be doing the work of a missionary. On the other hand, there is a deeper issue at work. This is the issue of identity. They have not been sent to “do missionary things.” They have been sent to be missionaries!
As we consider these people, most would agree that what they are doing is reproachable. It’s a dereliction of duty. But is there any substantial difference between the calling for ordinary disciples and international missionaries?
In a specific sense the answer is yes—there is a difference.
Full-time missionaries are often sent via their local church to cross particular cultural boundaries for the sake of the gospel. Many of these missionaries raise support and consider their mission work their primary vocation.
In a general sense however, the answer is no—there is no difference at all.
Missionaries do not receive a separate biblical commission and calling.
All Christians are sent people. God has given us new life by the gospel, so our lives should revolve around the gospel. And here’s what we need to grasp: believers in the church should see themselves as a missionary family—and the family business is making and training disciples.
How this mind-shift radically changes things
A church member recently asked, “How can I faithfully bring the gospel into my work place?”
What do you think I told him? Instead of telling him what to do, I asked him what to do. The question was simply this:
- What would change about your life if you did your current job as a missionary in Europe
- What changes would you make if you had been sent to a foreign country, given a job, a house, and the mandate to be a missionary and reach those people?
- How would you spend your time?
- How would you pray?
- What types of relationships would you pursue?
- How would your read the news?
- What would you think of your neighbors?
- How would you talk to the cashiers at the local supermarket?
- What would you be listening for in your community?
As Christians we know this is the reality. God is a missionary God who sent his Son to accomplish redemption for his people, and then he has sent his Spirit to apply the work of Christ to his people. Jesus himself reinforces this glorious truth as he articulates that we, his people, are sent into the world as missionaries.
Consider our Lord’s words…
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the 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.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.'” (John 20:21)
As Christians we often need a reorientation in our thinking back to our basic identity and calling.
“What if you were a missionary…?” is not a hypothetical question.
We are missionaries sent by a missionary God.
Do you know who you really are?
This is an extract from Gospel Shaped Outreach – part of the Gospel Coalition’s Gospel Shaped Church curriculum. Find out more about the series here.