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).

What is a Missionary? Part 3

The third part is the question of whether being a professional (full-time) is a necessary characteristic of a missionary.

In other words, can one be a volunteer, be a part-time missionary, be a short-term missionary, a tent-maker,  however one wants to say that one is not a full-time professional… can they be called a missionary?

The classic missionaries of the New Testament were wanderers. Paul, Barnabbas, Apollos, Philip, and more (including Christ) travelled from place to place. Some worked to fund themselves. Some did not appear that set roots long enough to fit the role that some would consider as long-term missionary (at least within a regional culture).

While I understand why one might consider short-term missionaries as not “real missionaries”.  That being said… I still have problems with narrowing the term. Certainly, being “professional” or paid makes no sense as defining a missionary.

What is a Missionary? Part 2

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.


What is a missionary? Part #1

I.  Missionary as “One Who Is Called”?

I started out planning to talk about how to define a missionary. Some characteristics of a missionary often used include:

a.  “Called” to mission work.

b.   Cross-cultural work

c.  “Professional” or “Full-time”

So my goal was to look at these three points and then offer some sort of alternative.

However, when I started to look into the first one— being called— I found a better article… so I would like to reference this one below by Kevin L. Howard.


Missions Starts at Home. Part II

Curiously, a previous post, “Missions Starts at Home” has gotten an awful lot of hits. The problem is, perhaps, that my title was confusing. Missions to me is a wholistic educative process of transformation. The Matthew version of the Great Commission says that we are to Make Disciples… or create learners. Part of this process is, teaching others to obey everything Christ has commanded. I decided to utilize the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6 is part of a wholistic educative process of transformation. However, there are other ways in which Missions Starts At Home.

Here are some more:

How can children be prepared for Christian Missions?

1.  Food. Don’t just feed children on spaghetti and hamburgers. The world is full of good food. When a child is 2-4 years old (and younger), they are developing a palate. Don’t just give them what they like, help develop what they like. Go to foreign cuisine restaurants. Try a wide variety of cooking at home. Don’t become dependent on restaurants (especially fast food), or on the microwave.

This is an area we, thankfully, did well. Our children do great in this. They eat balanced meals. They appreciate nearly all cuisines.

2.  Money.  Practice financial self-control. Don’t seek to compensate lack of quality time with expensive gifts. Don’t live in debt. Practice frugal living and joyous giving to church, missions, and charities. Bad attitudes about money are definitely inherited.

3.  Education. If you as a family are really planning to be missionaries, it is good to homeschool at least a year to make sure you can do it as a family (both as parents and children). We found that we could homeschool, but one of our children was found to be very much of a social learner. Happily, when we got to the Philippines, we found a school for our children to attend… but in many parts of the world this is not possible.

Remember, EVERY CHILD IS HOMESCHOOLED in the sense that the education of a child is ALWAYS the responsibility of the parents. Parents may outsource some aspects of the education to a public school, a private school, a private tutor, a church program, and more. But parents must always recognize that they can pass on authority, but not responsiblity. Always add to education with various family activities and trips.

4.  Broaden your child’s perspective. It is tough for those in the US. Media in the US is very nationalistic. Few have anything that remotely constitutes an international perspective. But parents should try their best to broaden their children’s world. American culture has aspects of beauty and horror. So do every other culture. Having a distorted view of any culture (either excessively positive or negative) is destructive. Children need to learn to appreciate different cultures while still recognizing that each has its problems. America loves dualism. There is a tendency of seeing the world in Dickensian terms. People or cultures are either the good guys or the bad guys. Helping children to see all peoples with God’s eyes is a great blessing. Cultivate relationships with people of different cultures. Americans tend to confuse culture and color. They tend to focus on “Red and Yellow, Black and White,” but a lot of these designations aren’t that useful elsewhere. Culture is more useful to focus on.

5.  Spiritual. Pray for and with your children. Get them comfortable with home Bible study. I would, surprisingly, suggest not to overdo it.  I have seen children react negatively to overdoing “spiritualistic” behavior in the home. Seek a balance. Also seek integration. That is, integrate a spiritual perspective into one’s life rather than turning it completely off or completely on. Attend church, but just warming pews and singing songs has little to no impact. Be involved in ministry locally as individuals and as a family.

6.  Missions. Practice missions. Help those who can’t help themselves. Work with religious and secular groups that are seeking to do good. Pray for missionaries in an informed way. Email them and build relationships. Learn about other cultures. Buy an atlas and learn it. Find out how one can be involved in missions at home. Be involved in short-term missions… as a family if possible.

7.  Last Thoughts. Help your children develop a value system and ethical system in line with Christ, not the dominant culture. Find joy in simplicity. Spend considerable quality time with your children. Simplify your life so you can afford to spend more quality time. Teach your children skills in line with their interests (but this does not mean a constant handing them off to different clubs, tutors, teams, and external activities). Make your children recognize that they are a loved, and valuable, part of the family team.

That seems like enough for now.

In Search of a Real Missionary

Preaching from a Waggon (David Livingstone) by...
David Livingstone, 19th century missionary in Africa.  Image via Wikipedia

The following is an excerpt from Successful Mission Teams: A Guide for Volunteers by Martha Van Cise  (New Hope Publishers, 1999) Excerpt from pages 145-147.  A good book, definitely worth owning.

“When my husband and I were serving as full-time missionaries in Haiti, we took a group of volunteers to a remote area in Northern Haiti. Another missionary, who had spent nearly 30 years in the country, accompanied us because he knew the area and the congregation.

During the team’s stay, volunteers put up walls for a new church, gave their testimonies in church, and gathered each evening for a devotional and songfest with the local people. On one occasion, the team visited an American missionary couple who manned a transmitter for a Christian radio station. By the end of the tour, team members were excited about sharing missions in their home church.

On the way back to Port-au-Prince, …, one middle-aged woman said, ‘This has been a wonderful experience. I guess that I just have one regret. I brought several packages of gelatin to give to a missionary family, but I never did get to meet a real missionary. I really had my heart set on meeting a real missionary.’   …

Another visitor returned home to report the truth about what was happening in a mission organization. ‘Those people weren’t spiritual,’ he said. ‘Some nights the missionary families got together and watched videos that had no religious content in them at all.’   …

Some team members feel responsible to evaluate the performance of mission organizations and missionaries and report their findings to anyone who will listen.

Assessment of mission work made by team members are often inaccurate because regular field activities must be curtailed in order to care for the team. Furthermore, team members who who are trying to photograph the work of the missionaries forget that everything which is accomplished on the field cannot be photographed.  …

Few missionaries will ever measure up to the ‘real missionary’ image some volunteers bring to the mission field. In the past, missionaries could live up to the ideal image because their contact with supporters was limited to one or two hours during speaking engagements while on furlough. When supporters move in with the missionary for ten days, however, the true missionary is revealed. The realities of modern-day missions and missionaries often disillusion volunteers.

If mission teams are to be an effective link between the home church and the mission field, team members must go to the field with a realistic understanding of the modern missionary movement.”

Money and Missions, Reprise

Corrie Ten Boom, in her book “Tramp for the Lord”, speaks of how she used to ask for financial support for her work. However, at a certain point in her ministry, she believed God told her to stop asking for money. She goes on to say that she got two letters close to the same time from others who told her that “God told them” that Corrie should not ask for financial support. So she stopped doing this, and God continued to provide for her work. It is not my interest to say whether her method was correct or whether God literally gave her this message (she tended to like to appeal to the mystical side of faith). It doesn’t matter because God used her the way she was and how she was working (be it based on divine message or from personal conviction).

Cover of "Tramp for the Lord"
Cover of Tramp for the Lord

One possible reason for not believing that the message came from God is on page 87 (1974 edition) of the same book she says,

“God takes his prohibition of asking for money very seriously, just as He means it seriously when He says He will care for and protect us. However, if we seek to raise our own money then God will let us do it—by ourselves. …. But we will miss the far greater blessing of letting Him supply all our needs according to His own riches.”

This passage suggests that Corrie Ten Boom believed that her decision is conforming to a universal law of God, rather than a personal message.

But what is the truth? Can a missionary ask for financial support?


  1. Stories like Corrie Ten Boom and George Mueller could be used as evidence against asking for financial support. (Of course, both did freely express their needs and vision to others and left the actual request unspoken. One might argue that there is not a lot of practical difference between expressing need and asking for help versus expressing need and leaving the request for help unspoken but clearly on the table.)
  2. Clear abuses in fund-raising by so-called “tele-evangelists” and mission organizations demonstrate that at least some fund-raising is deeply flawed, if not simply evil. Certainly greed can be poison to a missionary and his/her work. Such groups often develop a parasitic relationship with Christians resulting in harm to local churches and other organizations, as well as a bad reputation to the broader pluralistic society. <I had a relative who gave regularly from her meager pension and social security to several religious and political groups. After she died, my father and I literally had to go into her back room with shovels to dig through the piles of ridiculous requests for money, from a woman who was partly senile and could barely afford to pay her own bills.>


  1. The Bible clearly has some places where support was asked for. The Old Testament practice of tithing was essentially a tax (a financial demand) for both civil government and religious leadership. Paul asked for financial support from churches to support Christians in Judea. The requests were quite direct. There are other examples in the Bible that appear, at least, to disallow the generalization of the mandate (of Ten Boom or Mueller) not to ask for financial support.
  2. Most missionaries (including those who might not ask for financial support) feel free to ask for prayer, time, and work from supporters. Should one separate money from these other needs? If we should not ask for money because God will supply all our needs, it seems like it would also be inappropriate to ask for prayer, time, or work from others because that would likewise be circumventing God’s provision.

Personally, I haven’t, up to this point at least, asked directly for money from others (except our supporting church… and only after they have asked us first). But I think it is ill-advised to generalize or moralize a rule regarding asking for money. I would like to suggest a middle ground of sorts.

  1. One should not set a universal rule regarding this issue. If one missionary has a conviction not to ask (directly) for financial support, that is fine. If another feels it is perfectly appropriate to ask , that is fine as well. I believe God can bless both and approve of both.
  2. One should always be careful about the sins of hubris and greed. Far too many have fallen because they began to choose money as their Master rather than God.
  3. Missionaries should ALWAYS be ready to express both needs and vision… regardless of their own opinion about asking directly for money.
  4. Missionaries should not be too quick to see money as distinctly different from other forms of resource support.
  5. Support should be linked more to partnership (building a relationship of joint work) with supporters rather than looking for cash cows. Missions may need money, but it needs people far more.
  6. All giving by Christians for God’s work should be given wisely. If that is so then missionaries should help others give wisely, not seek people to make rash, unwise decisions.

A good book that focuses on raising support (but not just in terms of money) is “People Raising:  A Practical Guide to Raising Support” by William Dutton. It was written in 1993 (not sure if there are updates), so it is a bit out of date due to technological changes… but many of its principles are still extremely valid.