What is a Missionary?
Recently, I talked on the phone with a dear friend, and shared about God leading us to Papua New Guinea. He told me, “When I was younger, I knew that someday I would either be a missionary myself or someone who supports them.” Something about the dichotomy of this statement unsettled me. I told my friend, “Brother, you are a missionary!”
What comes to mind when you read the word, “Missionary?” Do you think about people living in another country, wearing long skirts, and washing their vegetables in dilute solutions of bleach? Do you think about missionaries to the college campus, who send out support raising letters, and meet with college students in coffee shops to share the gospel and start Bible studies? It is not that these images are wrong, but they are incomplete.
Theologian Christopher Wright defines missions as,
“All that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.”
I love the breadth of this definition. Too often, Christians suffer from a narrow definition of missions. We think of missions and missionaries only in the sense of those who raise support, live in another culture or context, and spend all their time directly doing “ministry.” Where does this leave the rest of us? Has God picked his team of full-time missionaries, and the rest of us are asked to sit on the sidelines or give money?
Poet Mary Oliver once asked, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Her question is poignant. What will you do with your one wild and precious life? What are you made for? Why are you here? The Bible provides one answer to that question. Genesis 1 says God created man in His own image, and God then tells humankind to “fill, subdue, tend, and keep” the earth – to steward the earth in a way that leads to flourishing. Christians are called to live their one wild and precious life in a way that glorifies God by enjoying Him, and to use their unique gifts, abilities, and circumstances to bring all that is good, true, and beautiful – God’s Kingdom – to earth. All Christians are called to live on this mission. Your one wild and precious life is meant for nothing less.
Yet, too many of us view Christianity as a multi-tiered sport. There are the professionals: the missionaries, the pastors, the evangelists, and the theologians. Then, there is everyone else: the project managers, the software developers, the football coaches, the stay-at-home moms. Most of us fall into this latter category. We experience the challenge of finding our place in God’s grand mission and instead settle for tepid notions that we should attend church, tithe, and be a “good person”, while subtly feeling second-class spiritually. This lie could not be further from the truth!
Instead, God calls all Christians into the wild and precious adventure of using our myriad gifts to bring His Kingdom to earth in an unfathomably diverse array of ways. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes this holistic vision through the metaphor of a “body”. A body is composed of integrated parts diverse in function, but all parts are vital. He says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The Evil One is crafty and cunning. If he can convince Christians that there are some professionals with a clear mission and calling from God, but that everyone else is not part of the mission, then he has greatly weakened the forces of good in the world. Identity is core to everything we do. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is. If we have a problem with our identity, everything that follows is skewed. It is like convincing a lion that he is actually a house cat. So many Christians are confused instead of awake.
So, my question is this, “Do you see your life as full of purpose? Do you recognize that you are on a mission from God to bring His Kingdom to earth?”
There are three lies the Devil uses to deceive our identities in this regard. Which do you believe?
- The Sacred-Secular Fallacy
- The Fallacy of Sending versus Going
- The Fallacy of Autonomy
The first lie is the Sacred-Secular Fallacy, which says that there is sacred work that matters to God, and secular work that is second-class. This lie says that we honor God by starting a Bible study at our work but not as much by doing our work itself. Dorothy Sayers once said that we have been tricked into believing that, “…work is not an expression of man’s creative energy in service to society, but only something he does to obtain recreation and leisure.” Our work matters deeply to God. We can bring God’s Kingdom to earth through our work. A stay-at-home mom who loves and nurtures her children honors God as much as a pastor.
The second lie is the Fallacy of Sending versus Going, which says that some of us are called to be missionaries and others are called to send or support them. This lie does not recognize that all Christians are called to live life on mission! That mission looks differently for each of us, but we are all on a mission field, surrounded by people in need of Christ’s love and truth. Let’s broaden our definition of missionary to include every Christian following Jesus, not just those who raise support.
The third lie is the Fallacy of Autonomy. There is nothing more American than autonomy. We all want to be masters and commanders of our souls, striving without end for whatever we think will make us happy. Autonomy is popular in our culture, a surrendered obedience is not. Chuck Colson once said, “God does not want our success; he wants us. He does not demand our achievements; he demands our obedience.” Christians are called to turn over every aspect of their lives to God. To die to ourselves and follow Jesus. This path of discipleship is the path of radical adventure and meaningful Christian living. It is counterintuitive that we will find our greatest joy by surrendering control of our lives to God, but it is true. He is a better author of our lives than we will ever be.
In summary, I hope I have challenged you to broaden your definition of a missionary. Genae and I try to view ourselves as missionaries right here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We want to live our wild and precious lives in a way that honors God and is obedient to Him. We won’t start being missionaries when we get off the plane in Papua New Guinea, and we won’t stop being missionaries whenever God brings us back. We can honor God right here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I work in the Emergency Room. For this upcoming season, we sense God calling us to Papua New Guinea, but even if the location changes, the mission doesn’t.
All Christians are called to live life on mission – to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Your one wild and precious life is meant for nothing less.
- Do you understand your place in God’s story?
- Do you see your life as rife with meaning and purpose?
- How can you use your abilities and resources to bring God’s Kingdom to earth?
- How does your identity need to change to incorporate this broad view of mission?
If you are interested, I spoke about this important topic to a Cru college ministry, and you can listen to that recording below!