What is a Missionary? Part 4… the Conundrum


Now, I have to admit that I don’t like terms that deny people of their proper place. Back when I was a mechanical engineer, I had a friend who did mechanical engineering, but was quick to say that he wasn’t a “real engineer” since he did not have the college degree to support it. He moved into engineering through the technician route. In my mind… if you are doing engineering, you are an engineer. People who feel a degree is needed to get the title seem to me to lack the self-confidence in their own craft.

Here in the Philippines, a recent law was passed to “professionalize” the term “counselor”. That means, one cannot use the term “counselor” unless one has been registered. I understand this to some extent. Previously, anyone could call themselves a counselor and charge money for their “professional” services. For people with demonstrated training and skills, they can now stand out from “posers”. Yet, counseling is a skill and a gift, not a profession. I can understand having a term like “registered guidance counselor” as an exclusive term… but to make the term “counselor” exclusive seems to me to be a denial of reality.

Now consider the term “missionary”. We haven’t gotten to the point that one needs a Master of Arts in Missiology to be a missionary (thankfully). But there is the concern of allowing the term to be used too loosely. After all, missionaries need to be supported from a distance (usually) so they need to be trusted.

Yet some people who call themselves missionaries don’t really do missions (on any level). Some simply work overseas and tell people that they are missionaries in the hopes of getting a second paycheck. Some simply funnel money to locals who do the real outreach work, while doing nothing missional themselves.

Obviously there are problems with sloppy use of the term “missionary”. Every time I post something about missionaries, the Internet links and tags try to connect my posts to the Mormon religion. Since Mormonism has nothing to do with historic Christianity, it is frustrating that the term that describes my calling before God is viewed by Internet logic circuits as involving a completely different religion.

On the other hand, there are dangers of getting things too narrow. My wife and I train Christian school teachers, church leaders, and missionaries. We also help run a Christian counseling center. These might not be viewed as real missions since they are not about church planting or a traditional understanding of evangelism. Now, I work in a cross-cultural setting, but my wife is working in the culture of her youth. Does that mean that I am a missionary and my wife is not?

Okay… I admit it… this post is strange and confusing. When I get around to Part 5, I will try to put together something more coherent on what a missionary is (in my view at least).

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3 thoughts on “What is a Missionary? Part 4… the Conundrum

  1. When I was called on into the fulltime Bible work my family and I were called a missionary family and this is the way its termed, that you are not a missionary until you are called into the work. Frequently missionary work is laid down to going out and spreading out literature door to door witnessing to the people and then going home and having a different lifestyle. This kind of missionary mentality falls short of what true missionary work is. Jesus was called as a missionary. Jesus was sent on a mission. When did the missionary work of Jesus begin? Are we happy to think that his life was totally a missionary life? Every moment. Some people think he went into his mission when he was baptised and he did his work. He was a child and a carpenter. Children are missionaries. The home is a missionary centre because Jesus was a missionary in his home as a child. As Jesus was sent as a missionary to this planet, who is sent as a missionary as Jesus is sent? Do we have an understanding as who is sent as a missionary?

    http://sabbathsermons.com/2011/05/14/a-missionary-life/

    • Thanks for your comments. I have always liked the Great Commission in John: “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” To me, to accept that sending is to be a missionary. However, I understand how it is that some missionaries want a more technical definition. I have seen many call themselves missionaries that (to me at least) did not really take that role seriously. Still I would rather see a broad rather than narrow definition be used.

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