In our Mission Research class it came up a second time. Should there be missionaries serving here in the Philippines? After all, if over 90% of Filipinos self-identify as Christians, are they needed? If one identifies missionaries in terms of the Biblical role of apostle– evangelist and churchplanter– they are unnecessary in much of the Philippines. An outsider is less effective in evangelizing and churchplanting… so an outsider has little purpose in such work unless it is to throw money at the problem. Sadly, throwing money at problems from outside sources can create dependency— and I certainly have seen that.
So should there be missionaries serving in the Philippines? As one who could be described as a missionary, a foreigner ministering in the Philippines, it is awkward for me. My tentative solution is to separate the term “Missionary” as it is popularly understood, from another role. Perhaps we could call it “Cross-cultural Minister.”
So maybe the criteria for Missionary could be:
- Serving outside of the local church primarily. (This is in-line with the NT Apostle)
- Serving in another culture or same culture. (This is also in-line with the NT Apostle. There seems no evidence that apostles only worked cross-culturally)
- The focus is more directly on Kingdom Expansion (more on evangelizing and churchplanting, though that should not negate social ministry, or translation, for example)
- Works in support of local churches or where the church does not exist— rather than in competition with local churches, or doing what local churches should be doing themselves.
Even though I like very broad definitions for many things, including the term “missionary,” the above list seems reasonable.
One might then come up with criteria, or at least examples, of what would entail a Cross-cultural Minister, who doesn’t also fit into the criteria for Missionary:
- Serves in a cross-cultural setting.
- Humbly works in support of local churches or other ministries in that setting
- May support missions (such as in logistics, training, member care, and such)
- May help churches in that new setting work more effective in local cross-cultural ministry.
Why might it be useful to designate a difference between missionary and cross-cultural minister?
- To understand the term missionary from a Biblical sense, it may be more useful to tie the term better to the New Testament term “apostolos.” However, the term missionary today is too broad, so developing a Biblical-Theological understanding of missionary is difficult. Perhaps narrowing it and setting it more in line with apostolos would help.
- Nations and peoples transition from being mission-receiving to mission-sending groups. However, there may be reasons for having cross-cultural ministers long after the need for missionaries has gone. This is easier to understand if different terms are used.
Cross-cultural ministers should always exist, I believe. Christians are stronger in their unity, as we recognize our international, intercultural diversity. One way such diversity is celebrated is through individuals working in other cultures. We learn from each other. Also, with refugees, economic diaspora, and more, cross-cultural ministers can be a great asset for a local culture to reach out to another culture in their midst. Diversity of viewpoints from different cultures also can make us wiser and stronger.
(On that last point. I am from the United States, and reading the poorly thought out ethnocentric bigoted statements made by sheltered, but sincere, Christians there, I say we truly need cross-culture ministers from other nations serving in the United States as well.)
I have served in the Philippines for 13 years. The first 6 years I served primarily as an organizer of evangelistic medical missions to under-reached communities. That may well meet the narrower definition of missionary, but I primarily worked with local churches, local medical personnel, and local church planters. My role was more as a catalyst than anything else. In recent years, I primarily teach missions, and teach and do pastoral care, especially for local pastors and missionaries. This would not meet the narrower criteria for missionary, but in a sense I am more necessary now. The island of Luzon, generally does not need missionaries… but they do need a reminder that the Church is international, universal… not just local– and that we are stronger in our unity, when we embrace our diversity. We all need that.
Of course there is a risk here as well. Many Christians like to say that they support missionaries. I would hate to see many (including myself) cut off financially because they support missionaries, but not cross-cultural ministers. Classification of terms can be useful in certain settings, and destructive in others.
II. A Missionary is one involved in cross-cultural work.
I mentioned three traditional understandings of missionary… One is that of being called, a second is that of being cross-cultural, and a third is that of being professional or full-time.
Dave Mays has a good article that addresses the issue of being cross-cultural. He compares his (or the traditional) view of missionary with that of the missional church movement. Even though I am involved with cross-cultural missions, I fail to see why cross-cultural should have anything to do with the term missionary. The original idea appeared to be that an apostle was one who was sent out (sent out by Christ and sent out by and from the local church) to reach those who are not believers. Even Paul and Barnabbas would just barely qualify as missionaries if bound by the cross-cultural standard.
That being said, the article by Dave Mays is very good and seems to be a fair and reasoned attempt to look at a difficult issue.
I have to admit that I prefer the missional church understanding of missionary.