Satan intentionally squirrels up Christian words so that we don’t accurately understand some things in the Bible. This is especially important with words such as, missions and missionary. For example, I once saw an internet article where a woman said that she was being a missionary when she took a cake to her neighbor. I appreciate what she is trying to say, but she ain’t got it right.
When we do nice things for people, or care for the poor, we are not doing missions; we are doing ministry, and that is a great thing. When we go out from our church to witness in our community we are not doing missions; we are doing evangelism, which is also great. Those things are not missions—not in the way that Jesus sent his apostles out to the un-evangelized places of the world and not in the way that the book of Acts describes the gospel being advanced farther and farther into enemy territory.
“Evangelism,” “ministry,” and “missions” are three distinct Biblical principles.
You can’t do missions in America, or among any of the evangelized nations of the world, because missionaries have been there before and have done their jobs well. When we say that we are doing missions in places where there are nearby churches, we are dishonoring the missionaries that were in those places before us while turning our backs on the real unreached places of the world. The term missions should only be used for disciple-making work among an otherwise un-evangelized people group.
Here’s a good example, “My church is raising money to send two missionary couples to start a church among the Somali people.”
In the same way, one is not a missionary just because he or she travels across a border, goes overseas or learns another language. These definitions focus on the Christian disciple and what he is doing. One is only a missionary, in the Biblical sense of the word, when he is making disciples among a people who are otherwise unreached with the gospel. The focus is not on the person doing the action but is on the people that are being encountered for Jesus. It is not about us. It is all about those without the gospel, and that is why this is important.
Main point: Missions is about the mission of God to reveal his children from every tribe, language and nation of the earth. A missionary is one who is engaged in that work.
So what: Let’s help the church understand and apply this important principle so that our prayer, money and people are deployed wisely . I’d love to hear your thoughts.