Everyone A Missionary?

We’ve got to stop distinguishing between “missions” and, well, “not missions.”

The old paradigm was this: ministry is sharing the gospel. If you preached to believers, you were called a “pastor.” If you preached to non-Christians in your own culture, you were an “evangelist.” If you needed a passport to get there, you were a “missionary.” If those distinctions were ever helpful, they certainly aren’t today. Not when “the nations” are moving in next door and going to school with your kids. Not when there is yet to be an expression of Christianity that is truly free from modern rational humanism. We’re all missionaries because there is no “home.”

The division has resulted in “that’s not my job calling” on both sides of the divide. Many missionaries today see the church as a major distraction from their focus on evangelizing unbelieving people. Most churches outsource missions to a homely couple they send money to and pray for once a year.

The new paradigm is simple: all Christians are missionaries. They must be, because none of us are at “home.” Even if your ministry is to a group of people that you grew up with- a group that looks, talks, and acts just like you- you must recognize that your transformation in Christ necessarily makes you an outsider- a foreigner- to even your own culture. You can’t afford to assume that you are ministering in your own context. You don’t have a context in the world anymore.

Saying that all Christians are missionaries doesn’t mean we’re all good missionaries. Most Christians lack the skill, sensitivity, intentionality, and to truly be effective missionaries. Most Christians don’t worry about working to enter and engage culture because they think they’re already immersed in it. They may be, but the vast majority still step out of their cultures and subcultures and into an artificial “Christian” one every Sunday in order to worship and be discipled. We need missionaries.

If you are a Prius-driving, Lego-modding Starbucks barista, you’re uniquely qualified to be the missionary to that tribe. If you’re a Mac-using, soccer-mompreneur PTA member, your job is to incarnate the gospel among your people. It’s not enough for you to just try to fit in. You were saved to live out a Christ-transformed life in the midst of your social circles. You are where you are for a purpose.

There is no “home” and “foreign.” You are a missionary.

17 thoughts on “Everyone A Missionary?

  1. When the mission of Jesus finally touched my heart and mind, I soon realized I had become a stranger in a strange land. Yet I live, breathe, work, raise a family, worship and serve in this strange land. So I love this land and those (Christians and non-Christians) that inhabit it. But I often alternate between being completely frustrated by those (Christians and non-Christians) who are fine with the status quo or finding myself returning to the safety of the status quo. As a missionary, I find myself facing the same quandary posed by Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

  2. The conclusion you draw from the nations moving in next door is opposite of what I was expecting. Instead of nowhere is home I thought you were going to say everywhere is home. Could this be a possibility? In some way, aren’t Christians more “at home” in creation that anybody else since we are made new creation, re-created in the way God originally intended in Genesis 1-2? And so we are less perpetual “outsiders” than the most inside of insiders.

    This is a nice blog. Fun posts, good readership and comments. Thanks.

  3. Matthew,
    That’s me, always doing the opposite of what you’d expect.

    I think I was trying to make a point about the lack of gospel contextualization. Rather than translate the good news into every culture and subculture, we convert people to a modern, rationalistic “Christian” subculture in order to convert them to Christ. The result is that if you’re a Christian, you really don’t share the worldview, yet the missiology of “home missions” assumes that we do.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I think church leadership usually creates this problem. If a person has a heart to reach the lost….they need to sign off on the BFM2000+, be trained, inspected, given a physical, checked for bankruptcies within the last seven years….and if all is well then…..a staff member needs to do it with them. And it must be on campus…that’s where Jesus lives! And then if the person is really good at is, listens to the Gaithers and has a God’s Gym t-shirt then we hire them on staff….taking yet another believer out of the real work-place and making an expert out of them.

    More and more are saying enough of this and doing their own thing…outside of existing churches and denominations…it’s easier to be missional there.

  5. great post! loved the “momprenuer” line!

    what did you mean by this statement? can you elaborate?

    “Not when there is yet to be an expression of Christianity that is truly free from modern rational humanism.”

    many thanks…

    david

  6. David,
    Thanks for reading. I always appreciate the opportunity to try to clarify and explain what I write here.

    My opinion is that Christianity, as we know and practice it (especially in the U.S.,) is thoroughly Modern. Our vocabulary, our epistemology, our apologetic, even our worship styles were formed by Modernistic thinkers and are therefore rooted in rationalism and humanism. We tend to focus on the individual, on the propositional, on the objective. I don’t think this is bad, because it’s still the Truth and because most Christians in the U.S. are modern. This expression of Christianity is appropriate for them.

    But for the growing percentage of Americans who are less modern- the “postmodern” if you will- conversion to the American version of Christianity also requires a “conversion” to Modernism. To be conversant in Christianity today, one must learn to think in terms of either/or. One must learn to conceptualize theology that has been systematized. There are few examples of corporate worship beyond singing. Most “proclamation” is through lecture. Most teaching is didactic. These things are not wrong, but they are not indigenous to Postmoderns. Just as missionaries must do the work of “cultural translation” of the gospel (contextualizing the communication of the Good News with language and cultural bridges), so must we allow for the translation of the gospel into the postmodern worldview.

    We’re working through that (the “emerging church” may be an experiment in just that), but we’re way behind the curve. The process of translation is tricky, though, as evidenced by heresies that are emerging along the way.

    I’m not sure this makes any more sense than the original line, but thank you for asking. I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on the matter.

  7. Ernest,

    Do you have any suggestions, ideas or things you have tried or seen being successful in the things you mentioned (conceptualizing systematized theology, corporate worship beyond singing, proclamation beyond lecture, teaching beyond the didactic, translating the gospel into the postmodern worldview)?

    “Our vocabulary, our epistemology, our apologetic, even our worship styles were formed by Modernistic thinkers and are therefore rooted in rationalism and humanism.”
    Can you give some examples of this and why they are rooted in rationalism and humanism?

    Thanks,

    Clinton

  8. Clinton,
    I guess my blog here is my attempt to work through some of the issues of translation from Modern to Postmodern Christianity. I’m also part of a church that’s working to do the same. I think we need to refocus on our individual contexts. So much of what we do is prescriptive (“how to do church,” “how to share Christ,” etc.), but ultimately, our cultural contexts can vary wildly one from another.

    Some good examples I’ve seen are urban churches exploring things like hip-hop and the arts in worship. Rural churches doing more outside (they do everything else outside already). My church in the Pacific Northwest avoids lecture by keeping things conversational- there’s still a preacher, but he’s a very gifted discussion leader who preaches interactively. Most of this is just basic contextualization.

    As for the Modernistic leanings of American Christianity- there are plenty of examples. Until the Enlightenment, Christians didn’t talk about the faith “making sense.” Christians adapted to the prevailing worldview (as we should do) so that they could talk about God in a way that was appropriate.

    Today, we use logic and reason in our apologetics (“Lord, Liar, Lunatic,” or “The Way of the Master” stuff), and a humanistic appeals to common morality (this goes beyond “God’s word is written on their hearts” to an assumption that everyone who is in sin recognizes that to be so- that non-believers are amoral.) These assumptions, and others, keep Christianity Modern. New believers are discipled into that Modernism.

    Again, I’m not against Modern Christianity. I’m just concerned that it’s inappropriate for postmodern cultures, which are emerging everywhere.

  9. Without getting into the endless discussion over the meaning of “missionary” and “missions”, I find it discouraging that we find the need to apply this term which has historically been understood to represent those who have been sent out to leave home and culture to travel to other lands/cultures, and apply them to every believer.

    I believe that we do so, only because we have diluted and lost the original, simple meaning of “Christian” and “Priest”. When I hear someone say, “We are all missionaries”, I typically want to interrupt them and say no, you are a Christian Priest. Once ANYONE becomes a Christian, they become subversive; their real purpose in life is to know Him and make Him known.

    Why then, for social conveniance, should we abduct a word/term so that it too will become diluted in time? Why not just get back to basic instructions regarding what being a “Christian” means?

  10. Chris,
    We can thank Christendom for the definition slide you refer to. When “Christian” is used as a synonym of “American” or “moral” (or, worse still, as an antonym of “Muslim,”) we need to find new ways to say the same thing. The thing is, culture defines the term for us. We can fight the battle of word definition, or we can start over with words that help us communicate in the present reality. That’s why we have “new” words like “emerging” and “missional”- to communicate what a Christian- all Christians ought to be.

    In this post, however, I’m trying to go beyond reminding people that they are “Christian Priests.” I’m talking about applying cross-cultural communication skills that have not typically been practiced by Christians (priests or otherwise).

    Christians should indeed be subversive. But subversive within a cultural you consider to be your own is very different than subversive within a culture that is foreign to you. I believe that the world has changed to such an extent that all Christians must begin to think like missionaries and put in the effort to influence people in cultures that, though they seem familiar, are not our own.

  11. Acts 1:8
    As soon as we receive the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to be a witnesse for Christ we are a missionary! Either in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, or another country! Please pray for our church as we are endeavoring to equip our entire church to be one of those types of missionaries.

  12. As a Missionary in the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador, I totally agree with your post and will be spending some time covering this exact issue with some very large groups in October and November when I return to the states for a short time.

    Well said, and well done!

  13. Pingback: Is everyone a missionary Here’s what others think… | The Long View

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