Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Is A Missionary?

Although it may surprise some people, the word missionary is actually not in the Bible. The word missionary came into use in the early 1600s and the word means, a person who goes on a mission, especially a religious mission. The closest word in the Bible that could be used for what is known as a missionary would be the word apostle, which means someone who is a delegate or an ambassador, someone who is sent out. However, because the word apostle has often been misused in the church world I would not want to call myself an apostle. But the word missionary can be so vague and it sometimes gives the wrong impression.

When people think about a missionary they often think of someone who lives in a jungle or some other primitive conditions. While this can be true many people like me live in very modern cities in modern countries. So a missionary cannot be defined just by where or how they live.

Some people think missionaries are those who help the underprivileged get access to food and clean drinking water. This may be the case but not always. Some missionaries combine humanitarian work along with their spiritual work but this depends on the missionary and the work they are called to do. Some missionaries spend time translating the Bible into the language of the people they work with. That is not an issue in Germany; Martin Luther translated the Bible into German about 500 years ago.

Missionaries can be from any one of the five spiritual leadership offices listed in Ephesians 4 (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher) or even in the helps ministry. But to define a missionary as only being a pastor or evangelist would not be accurate. Sometimes I have difficulty explaining to people that while I am considered a missionary and that I use the term because people understand it, my real calling in the context of Ephesians 4 is that I am a teacher and teaching the Bible is what I am called to do.

So what is a missionary? A missionary is someone sent out and equipped by God. Missionaries live in a variety of places, under a variety of conditions, doing all kinds of work. While every Christian is not sent out to another country, every Christian is called and equipped by God for some "mission" so in one sense of the word everyone is called to be a missionary. Next time you meet or hear about a missionary in another country, find out exactly what God has called them to do; I am sure you will be happy you did.

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