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The Missing Component in Modern Missions: Missionaries (Part 1)

June 8, 2012

Today with ease of travel, it seems that nearly everyone is calling themselves a missionary.  I think the definition of “missionary” is so watered down today that basically, if you get a foreign stamp in your passport you are considered a missionary.  A couple years ago I was speaking in a church about missions and I could tell everything I was saying was going completely over their heads.  It was so awkward at the end of the service that no one knew what to say to me, so nearly everyone just walked out of the church without even shaking my hand.  Then one guy came up to me and said something which I will never forget.  He said, “My wife is a missionary too!  She went to Jamaica last year for 10 days.”  That’s when I wanted to leave.  Really?  Ten days in Jamaica, most of which was likely spent on the beach, makes you a missionary like me when I have spent most of my life on the mission field?

Consider the first missionary, the Apostle Paul.  Do you realize that he spent his whole Christian life in a tiny unevangelized region sharing about Jesus.  I know they call it “Asia” in Acts, but it is the size of a US county, not even a US sized State.  Paul explains very clearly what he was doing as the first “missionary”:

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

I see three components to Paul’s missionary life:  First, he was preaching the Gospel.  That is the most spiritual enterprise that one can be a part of.  Secondly, he was preaching “where Christ was not known”.  That means he was working, living and ministering among non-believers. Thirdly, he was not building on someone else’s foundation.  He was starting new works, new churches, and new ministries.  I consider Romans 15:20 to be a Biblical definition of missions.

Ok, think of the missionaries you know.  Where do they work?

I can almost bet you that they live and work and minister full-time among Christians, and may or may not even reside in a foreign country.  They will likely live in a Christian community and majority Christian country.  Don’t buy the line that “they cannot live a country because it is ‘closed’”.  There is really no such thing as a closed country.  There are such things as dangerous countries, but not closed countries.  Do you know with an American passport there is no where you cannot go?  For about 200 of the 238 countries in the world an American doesn’t even need a visa.  You can just buy a ticket and go!  Can an American go to Iran? Of course! And they do every day!  Can Americans go to Cuba?  It is a huge American tourist destination.   Can Americans go to North Korea?  With a little finessing, yes.  Can Americans go to Saudi Arabia, or even Mecca?  They do by the tens of thousands each year.  Americans can even go to the moon!  So, just so you know, there is no such thing as a closed country.  Of course there are countries which are potentially more dangerous than others and plenty which lack the “lifestyle” which people are comfortable with America, but a “closed country”. . . there is no such thing.

Do you know there are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who go on missions trips each year?  Do you know where the most common mission destinations are?  Currently Mexico and Haiti.  Both, majority Christian countries.  Why?  They are nearby US churches and cheap to travel too! Think of your own church’s missions trips. Where do they go?  Mexico, Haiti and other similar countries both have whole industries which have been set up to handle the mission trips from US based churches.

I have another question for the organizers of these mission trips. Where have missiologists (those who study missions) say the most unreached people live?  Mexico and Haiti?  NO.  The 10-40 Window.  The 10-40 Window refers to the region of the world which is from the 10th to the 40th latitude parallel starting from the Philippines and stretching across Asia all the way across Northern Africa.  It covers the countries in the world which are majority Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist.  It is in these countries that many people still have never heard about Jesus.

Where do the least number of missionaries go?  The 10-40 Window. And sadly, many of those who are nearly “real” missionaries gather in clusters of Christianized peoples inside the 10-40 Window.  Places like Singapore; Chang Mai, Thailand; Christian tribes of Indonesia; Manila; Southern India; Christian parts of Pakistan; and among Christian foreign workers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the latest: South Sudan (the Christian part of Sudan).  Now, I am not saying that these people are not “missionaries”, most are doing a good job, but the few numbers of full-time real-live missionaries are still clustered among Christian peoples.  In those very same countries, the non-Christian areas and tribes may have never heard what the Gospel of Jesus is about.

Why don’t more missionaries go to the non-Christian places?  Number one reason:  Its hard!

I am not trying to be-little them; I am just making a point.  My point is coming out of frustration.  Why? Because I know that we are losing ground in the world, not gaining ground.  Statistically, we are losing the nations more and more to unbelief.  I know you hear of great revivals. There are crusades in Nigeria attended by millions of people.  Where are those crusades in Nigeria?  Yep, you got it, it’s the Christian part of Nigeria.  Nigeria is 50% Christian.  The part above the 10th parallel is mostly non-Christian and the part south of the 10th parallel is mostly Christians. Where do all those crusades go? South!  Why?  It is easy to get a big crowd.

What can we do about it?

1)      Decide what is a missionary? Biblically, I like to follow Paul’s self-description.  I paraphrase it as, “a missionary is someone who preaches the gospel among people who have never heard of Christ and starts new churches and works among them.”

2)      What kind of “missionary” do you support from your church?  Honor those who make a serious commitment to reach those who have never heard about Jesus and willing to commit their lives with your financial support, regular prayer support and full-attention of the missions committee.  These are the cutting edge missionaries and they need to be the primary focus on a church’s missions.

To be continued. . .

To view the second part of this article click <here> (Part 2).

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. kara potts permalink
    June 9, 2012 8:29 pm

    Thank you for clarifying the biblical definition of “missionary”. Good teaching! And this is why we are thankful to be able to support the work you are doing.

    • June 9, 2012 9:12 pm

      Kingsland is a model missions ministry. This is common sense for Omar, but unfortunately, so many churches don’t have those as wise as Omar and experienced as you all in doing missions. Thanks for reading! Thanks for being a good model!

  2. June 11, 2012 3:21 pm

    Great thoughts, Steve. I’ve been studying this same concept for the last few weeks. Having come to be a career missionary through short-term missions, I had never balked at others calling themselves missionaries, and I personally believe that every person should have a cross-cultural experience to shake up their world a bit!

    But perhaps in this day and hour it is time to remove the comfort factor from missions and challenge & equip more people, as you are doing, to career missions. By your definition, it will include staying in one’s own nation. However, I believe you have identified Paul’s focus of crossing cultural boundaries, engaging those who have never heard, establishing churches, training leaders and allowing them to get on with being the church in their context. Paul actually left those churches after it was established. He offered support, but he didn’t stay. Should this be the same for us?

    So many in our world seek for status. My prayer is that “missionary” is not a status to achieve, but a calling from God to fulfill – and for a lifetime.

    BTW…a couple of books I read recently that might interest you:
    Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan Johnson
    The Mission of God by Christopher Wright

    • June 11, 2012 3:27 pm

      Thanks for you very helpful comments Shannon. I am hearing from Missionaries like yourself that we really need to address this issue. Its all for the sake of the Kingdom of God! God bless and thanks so much for the book recommendations!

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  1. The Missing Component in Modern Missions: Missionaries (Part 2) « Jungle Adventures

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