Not Every Christian is a "Missionary"

Updated: Sep 15, 2018

by Dave Miller


Not every Christian is a missionary. Every Christian should be about the mission.


Clarity is needed in the “Every Christian is a missionary" discussion. I have said it. I have preached it. I have taught it. The end goal, at least from my perspective, was to help every Christian understand they are a Great Commission Christian. I do not question the need to get every available follower of Jesus fishing for men. Far be it from me to even hint at the contrary. But now I find myself needing to clarify the statement. To start let me define a couple of ideas.


Great Commission Christian

A follower of Jesus making disciples as they are going in the culture they are in by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands while in fellowship with a local church.

Missionary

A Great Commission Christian who intentionally crosses cultural boundaries to make disciples and trains them to live as Great Commission Christians in the new disciple’s culture in a new local church.

With these definitions in mind let’s clarify…

Every Christian should be a Great Commission Christian. Any Christian can be a missionary. Missionaries cross cultural boundaries and release new churches.

Every Christian Should be a Great Commission Christian

If you are still reading at this point, I am going to assume you agree Matthew 28:18-20 applies to all believers in all times. The evangelistic task to share the gospel of Jesus is one of the most basic of Christian responsibilities. Jesus simply said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” If you are not fishing for men, it means you are not following Jesus.


The gospel spreads quickly along existing relationships. When someone first believes in Jesus, the relational network is at its most prime moment. Many friends and family are not believers. Those same relationships are existing and need not be built. Gospel conversations are the most natural when they tell what has just happened to them to those they already know.


Existing believers also have existing relationships in their current situation. Be it friends, family, coworkers, third-place acquaintances, or any people who go where they go and do what they do, the cultural jump to initiate or leverage those relationships barely exists, if at all.


In both of these instances, inviting someone to discover Jesus with them in a local church expression is natural. The barriers are simple invitations, a resistance to religion, or maybe a heartfelt apology to restore a broken relationship. Culturally, however, these existing relationships would feel comfortable in the local church expression. 100% of believers should be trained and actively engaged in the Great Commission making disciples as they are going in their every day lives.


Any Christian Can Be A Missionary

In our glocal world, especially in the American experiment, navigating multiple cultural environments has become a daily practice. For instance, a suburban family man wakes up among a culture very familiar to him, his home. He drinks a cup of coffee and watches news stories from around the world. He then spends his day in an office with multiple nationalities, and probably native languages, all gathered for the purpose of work, but communicate in English. Then he leaves work to watch a little league baseball game where people from all around his city have gathered with their children. They have multiple religious backgrounds. They have different neighborhoods, different food preferences, and may even talk to each other in different languages, yet they share gatorades from the same cooler and wear the same team shirt. He then waves to the family across the street who recently moved from another country when he arrives home.


We have, unaware, been trained to adapt like a missionary by navigating multiple cultures every single day. I tend to find, for example, that urban 20 somethings do this with ease because it has been life since they were born. Everyone, however, still has a culture that feels most like home. The culture where we can relax and just be ourselves without effort. For me, it tends to be where 70s-90s country is playing and everyone around likes it. Yet, I find I spend very little time in that culture. (For some of you that elicits a sigh of relief.) Because we are so used to finding a home in a culture slightly different than our preference, we assume everyone can eventually feel at home in the same place. But sometimes, the jump is more than someone is willing or even able to take. When the gospel is at stake, cultural barriers are of eternal significance. The missionary must cross cultural barriers and stay there until the job is done.


Missionaries Cross Cultural Boundaries and Release New Churches.

The point of transition from Great Commission Christian to missionary tends to raise its head when making a disciple in fellowship with a cultural expression of a local church.

A Great Commission Christian should be engaged in abiding in Jesus, knowing with whom to share the gospel, how to share the gospel, and how to teach new disciples to obey all Jesus commanded. Most of those they reach will enjoy and even thrive in the same church or one very similar. But what happens when someone within the Great Commission Christian’s daily life trusts Jesus, but will not naturally enjoy the cultural expression of the disciple maker’s local church? This is the transition point.


A Great Commission Christian asks:

Will the new believer feel comfortable in my church? If not, how can I help them feel welcome?

A Missionary asks:

Will the new believer’s relational network feel comfortable in my church? If not, how can I help them start a church where their friends will feel welcome?

Do you see the difference?

Great Commission Christians make disciples as they are going in the culture they are in by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands while in fellowship with a local church.

Missionaries are Great Commission Christians who intentionally cross cultural boundaries to make disciples and train them to live as Great Commission Christians in the new disciple’s culture in a new local church.


Both are engaged in abiding in Jesus. Both are asking with whom can I share the gospel. Both know how to share the gospel. Both know how to teach new disciples how to obey all Jesus commands, but the missionary seeks establish a new local church where culture of the body is leveraged for the gospel rather than viewed as a barrier to overcome. This is not to say one is right and the other is wrong. It is simply to clarify the statement “Every Christian is a missionary.”


As the unreached population continues to grow in the US context the missionary impulse is gaining momentum. I am extremely thankful. But we must understand when we operate as backyard missionaries, sometimes we are wearing the Great Commission Christian hat and sometimes we are wearing the Missionary hat. In the US context the discussion gets cloudy because the cultural distance from one geographic segment to the next is deceiving. No matter the city, the majority will be able to speak a common language, know the difference between Pepsi and Coke, can tell you whether or not they like a Big Mac, and can name at least one NFL team. Therefore we can conclude that a church comfortable to me will be a church comfortable to them. This subtly makes believers from the US who want to become missionaries in the US think they can act like a Great Commission Christian and call it a missionary.


The further from one’s own culture a person moves, the more one needs training to adapt and disciple well in the new culture. There is a significant change that must take place to transition from the Great Commission Christian posture to a Missionary posture who crosses cultural boundaries for the sake of the gospel. Knowing the difference can encourage multiplication of the kingdom or leave us in addition. Operating with the right hat can be the difference between entire cultural segments impacted by the gospel and a family joining our church. Without question, when the kingdom grows we rejoice and we pray it continues. Should we not also seek to release the kingdom into the hands of new leaders from every tribe, tongue, and nation in our own cities who will take the gospel where we will never be able to go? Time and relational capacity limits us all. But it need not limit the gospel.


Conclusion

Not every Christian is a missionary. Every Christian should be about the mission.

Every Christian should be a Great Commission Christian. Any Christian can be a missionary. Missionaries cross cultural boundaries and release new churches.

When we merge the role of Great Commission Christians with Missionaries, we hinder the expansion of the kingdom in our own backyard.

The skills and end goals of the Missionary need a focused expression in addition to the Great Commission Christian. In this way, our local expression of church will push further into her close culture for the gospel, so every person within that culture hears and the culture begins to transform. While at the same time, we admit our local church cannot reach everyone in our geographic region, nor should we. We can, however, have gospel impact by sending our local missionaries to cross those cultural barriers until there is #NoPlaceLeft where there is not a cultural expression of the New Testament church pushing into her own close culture.


Our cities are diversifying faster than our churches can change. The simultaneous duality of Great Commission Christian responsibility and Missionary responsibility in our own backyards can be paralyzing. Every missionary wired leader shouts about those who are not like your church, while every shepherd wired leader shouts what about our families and those around us. The conversation is not an either/or, it is a both/and. The cultural expression of a local body needs a team of leaders who equip others in their gift set. They must celebrate the sentergy of the local church pastor who trains Great Commission Christians in everyday life to take the gospel to their friends and family while the Missionary engages gaps with the gospel to establish new churches where new pastors train Great Commission Christians in everyday life to take the gospel to their friends and family. In this way our cities, segment by segment, will bend their knee in worship to our King Jesus.


Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...

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