I was pretty sure I knew what a missionary was. We had just talked to Tracy Evans on the podcast and heard her story. What surprised me the most was not that she was a missionary, but what exactly she did as a “missionary”. The biggest part of her mission was not converting people to a religion. It was something much more…
I did a quick study on the term “missionary”. According to Dictionary.com here is what missionary means:
- a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.
- a person strongly in favor of a program, set of principles, etc., who attempts to persuade or convert others.
Now, that first definition is the one, I think, that we all think of when we hear that term. But, I was more intrigued by the second definition. It breaks down the intent of a missionary into more basic meaning. It seems that in that context we could all, in a way, be missionaries.
I think on a simpler level, a missionary is someone who is “sent” somewhere to spread a “message”. Our most recent guest, Tracy Evans, was sent to Mozambique to spread the message of the love of Jesus. Jim Elliot and Eric Liddell are other great examples. They all traveled to foreign countries to spread the message of Christ. But what if being a missionary is much simpler than that, and much more?
Oswald Chamber’s Definition
“A missionary is someone sent by Jesus Christ just as He was sent by God. The great controlling factor is not the needs of people, but the command of Jesus. The source of our inspiration in our service for God is behind us, not ahead of us. The tendency today is to put the inspiration out in front— to sweep everything together in front of us and make it conform to our definition of success. But in the New Testament the inspiration is put behind us, and is the Lord Jesus Himself. The goal is to be true to Him— to carry out His plans.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
I love this point that Oswald Chambers makes. The true motivation of being a “missionary” is not the needs of the people you are reaching, but instead the “call” or “command” of Jesus. You go because He said to go. You go because he planted the desire within you and you must follow that desire. This is a great definition but it still needs some clarification:
What are “His plans”?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Matthew 28:19
That is Jesus’ definition of being a “missionary”. (After all, the word “missionary” is not found in the bible.) Notice, it’s much more than spreading a message or trying to persuade others in favor of a program or set of principles. It’s even more than saving souls or converting people to something. Those things are great and should not be discounted, but there is something more, something deeper here. Discipleship is mentoring and partnering with someone. It’s close and intimate. Look at the way Jesus pursued the disciples. Yes, Jesus, preached to crowds and ministered to lots of people, but the method of transformation that he was giving us is best shown in his relationship with the disciples.
Tracy spends her time in Mozambique, not trying to convert people, but simply loving them, discipling them. She gets to know them, serves them, and builds relationship with them. They eventually come to Jesus on their own because they see him in Tracy and want what she has, not because she has talked them into it.
I remember when I was growing up being scared to death that Jesus was going to call me to the far reaches of Africa to be a “missionary.” It was somehow going to be my duty to go and it would be a terrible thing to disobey or even to not want to go. It was Christian duty. Now, it just seems funny. As I grew in my relationship with Jesus and began to learn His heart, I realized that, although I may not be called to Africa, I am called to follow after Jesus and his example. And his example is discipleship. I needed to be discipled (and still need it) and I need to disciple others. It is the “formula” to truly transform the world.
So, if you take anything away from this, let it be that. We are all called to disciple others. It is the truest definition of being a missionary. You may not be called to Africa or to the other side of the planet, but there are people all around you who need what you have. You are in your mission field. Now, go therefore and make disciples…