Another Look on Whether or not All Christians are Missionaries

It’s hip to say that “Every Christian is a Missionary,” or “Every Christian ‘ought to be’ a missionary,” or even, when in our own predisposed contexts say; “We are all missionaries.”

but look at the following proposition;

“If God is a missionary God, and we are created in His image, then the people of God should be a missionary people.” 

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

The problem is one of language. Should God’s people be missionary-ish? I believe they should. Should all God’s people be ‘missionaries’ in the most common understanding of the word? Let’s consider these before answering;

  • “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”

This is a quote from the famous 19th Century British pastor and theologian, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was a megachurch Pastor in his day. He was called ‘The Prince of Preachers,’ and it is estimated that he presented the gospel to over 10 million people in his life. That’s Astounding!  If only .01% went on to be earnest followers of Christ, then he could well have made 1000 disciples!

I don’t think that Spurgeon was inferring that every believer had to pack their stuff and head to some secret and dangerous ‘unreached’ local. I believe he was saying that every believer should embrace their sent-hood and adopt attitudes and actions that reflect God’s ‘on the move’ nature. (In Him we live and move and have our being)

Jesus was the archetypal missionary. 40 times in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as “sent” on a mission. He left his home and glory in heaven, left his family, and left his ‘culture’ to come to the earth as a missionary to reach a people, who without that sent-hood, would have never been reconciled with the Father.

Jesus also inferred that every believer is sent. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).” There is a question of scope. Was Jesus truly referring to EVERY BELIEVER in John 17? If He was, then is there really such a thing as a subset of believers that are called ‘missionaries?’ Let’s see what others have to say on the subject:

  • Tim Keller communicates a similar concept in Center Church. He says, “Not only the apostles but every Christian did evangelism — and they did so endlessly. Numerous passages indicate that every Christian was expected to evangelize, follow-up, nurture, and teach people the Word. This happened relationally — one person bringing the gospel to another within the context of a relationship.”
  • Winkie Pratney, New Zealand evangelist and author, says, “Every Christian a missionary; every non-Christian a mission-field.”
  • Allen Turner says that, “The ‘going’ that God commands of His people is not limited to an elite group of super-Christians, even as it was not limited to the apostles to whom it was first given.” Further, it is not limited to far away places that inevitably involve the crossing of large bodies of salt water. On the contrary, the Lord calls every Christian to be a missionary. In doing so, He commands all of us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Yes, I realize that the Lord first directed this to His apostles, but most interpreters have understood that this wasn’t limited to them alone. In fact, and this by way of extension, it is every Christian’s “call” to the mission field—a field made up not only of exotic sounding places and far away locations, but one that includes our houses, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It includes the factories and offices where we work and the schools we attend. In reality, the mission field may be as unromantic and unexotic as that area just over our backyard fences. In other words, although we Christians are no longer “of the world,” through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are still “in the world” (John 17:6-19), and it is to this world—the one in which we live every day—that the Lord has called us to be missionaries.
  • Eddie Arthur says that, “Some think that only ‘some people GO’ – the rest of us can stay behind and pray and give. But, this just isn’t what the Bible story is getting at. God is on a mission and we are called to be followers of this mission-oriented God.

    Mission isn’t something we are to do, it is what we are. To ask whether All Christians are called to be missionaries is a bit like asking whether all dogs should have four legs.

  • Ernest Goodman says that, “The new paradigm is simple: all Christians are missionaries. They must be, because none of us are at “home.” Even if your ministry is to a group of people that you grew up with- a group that looks, talks, and acts just like you – you must recognize that your transformation in Christ necessarily makes you an outsider- a foreigner- to even your own culture. You can’t afford to assume that you are ministering in your own context. You don’t have a context in the world anymore.”

I have heard variations on this theme, namely that “Simply living in the spirit of Jesus Christ is a powerful witness to those around us and marks us out as a missionaries in the modern world,” but in my view, it lacks intentionality and the seemingly imperative sent-hood.

All of those examples, and many more, would seem to confirm that yes, indeed, all Christians should be considered missionaries.

Whose Job is missions anyway? 

Now let’s look at some opposing views.

  • Charles Ryrie has pointed out that we must distinguish between a general practice in the church and a special gift which God gives to some in that area.
  • Herbert Kane has suggested that although it is not possible to give a flawless, scientific definition of a missionary, the following one should suffice: In the traditional sense the term missionary has been reserved for those who have been called by God to a full-time ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4), and who have crossed geographical and/or cultural boundaries (Acts 22:21) to preach the gospel in those areas of the world where Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown (Rom. 15:20). Not everyone, I think, fits THAT description of a missionary.
  • Guy Muse, a fellow laborer and missionary here in Ecuador says that; “One of the common misconceptions about missions is that all believers are missionaries. It continues to be stated so often that few question the validity of this oft quoted misconception making the rounds from our pulpits and missions conferences. I truly wish it were true, but frequent repetition does not make it so. I believe we need to correct the language we are using and stop calling all believers missionaries.
  • Gordon Olson says it well when he states: “If every Christian is already considered a missionary, then all can stay put where they are, and nobody needs to get up and go anywhere to preach the gospel. But if our only concern is to witness where we are, how will people in unevangelized areas ever hear the gospel?”

Guy also says that; “The Great Commission is taking the Gospel to our Jerusalem. This is where we live. It is where most of our time, efforts and ministry are centered. But Holy Spirit empowered believers are likewise charged to be His witnesses to their Judea, Samaria, and, yes: the ends of the earth–the nations. When we begin to move beyond our Jerusalem and seek to engage our Judea, Samaria, and the nations–then, we become missionaries–the sent ones that we are meant to be.” (You can read his blog post in full here.

Guy concludes by saying that;

“Everyone may indeed NOT be a missionary, but it is my belief that we should deliberately seek to do everything in our power to make sure we ARE missionaries.”

Some personal thoughts; playing ‘devil’s advocate in my head…

  • As I stated before, it’s a problem of language. The concept of a missionary can be traced to Acts 13:2-3. During a revival, God told the church to send out Paul and Barnabas.  While every believer within the nascent church was a witness, it was the Spirit who separated Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries. It was the Holy Spirit communicate directly to the prophets and teachers in Antioch and told them to send out Paul and Barnabas.

    Antioch DID NOT commission Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, they just obeyed the Spirit who already made them missionary-ish and sent them.

  • The elements of the missionary call were these: God called specific individuals, the church either came alongside that call or not, they covenanted with them to be supportive, and sent them. The missionaries would relay information and sometimes report back.
  • This description does not necessarily fit every Christian, and to say that every believer is a missionary will only make a useful term meaningless. One has said. “If mission is everything, then nothing is mission.”  We could just as easily say, “If everyone is a missionary, then no one is a missionary.”
  • Further, there are ‘other’ works and words to consider. All believers may be ‘witnesses,’ (Acts 1:8) but not missionaries (Although being a light to the nations sounds very missionary-ish to me). We may all be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), or the gospel message (Christians are God’s ambassadors in that they have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4), but not ‘missionaries.’ (Although reconciling and gospel bearing sounds very missionary-ish to me) We are all, comissioned to Make disciples of all nations (Matthew 20:18-20) but again, not be missionaries. (Although GOING, TEACHING, and BAPTIZING sounds very missionary-ish to m

I can’t remember where I read or heard this idea, but it goes something like this;

“If everyone is a missionary and everything we do is missions, then everyone that is unreached will remain unreached.”

This statement seems to overreach, pun intended, but I understand it’s point. While not every believer may properly be called a “missionary” by the traditional definition (e.g. someone who is sent by The Church for the purpose of growing The Church in a new and different place among unreached or under-reached people groups,) missionary-ish living should characterize the life of every believer.

Robert C. Shannon said,

“Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is — where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge.”

Some final thoughts: What’s the point of getting everyone to ‘buy into’ the thought that ALL ARE MISSIONARIES? If it’s to change hearts and minds and have people embrace there sent-hood, then it doesn’t appear to be working. There are still less than 1% of believers, when asked if they had made a disciple in the past year that answer in the affirmative.  There’s a good chance that if disciples are not being made by whatever ‘missionary’ endeavor the church finds itself in, then it’s not mission, and they are not missionaries anyway.

As Guy stated above, incessantly repeating the mantra will not make any more true.  Also, I happen to agree that we should start in our own Jerusalems (where you currenlty are), but it’s not a hard rule. Further, with the globalization of our own communities and the multi-cultural opportunities right next door, it’s cool to say that we CAN all be missionaries, but there are 2 things to consider;

First, there will always be those that God calls to the fringes, the marginalized, and the dispersed ones (diaspora). It’s no more cutting edge to minister within a multi-cultural community a stone’s throw away than on the fringes of a multi-cultural community ‘far away.’

Second, the bulk of multi-cultural or globalized communities exist in the world’s cities where there is free and easy access to the gospel. There would seem to be less need for ‘missionaries’ in that kind of environment. I say ‘seem,’ because I will not make that a hard rule either.

In case you were wondering, ‘sent-hood’ is a play on ‘sainthood.’ This post was updated from a post on April 13th of 2015. So, what say you?

Are all Christians Missionaries? 

8 thoughts on “Another Look on Whether or not All Christians are Missionaries

  1. guy muse says:

    Last night we had an extended dialogue with several believers about another aspect of the above well-written and expressed thoughts: namely, why aren’t we doing anything to reach all the diverse ethnic and religious groups right here in Ecuador? We are willing to go to the ends of the earth, but not down the street to make friends with the young family recently arrived from India trying to set up a restaurant. There are communities of Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Koreans, Buddhists, Muslims and others in our midst within a few blocks of where we live, and yet we are unwilling to reach out to them. In no way am I saying believers should not heed the call to go to the nations, but a good starting place would be to reach out and engage those ethnic groups right here in the city!

  2. Heather says:

    If we BELIEVE that Jesus is who he says he is, then we will have compassion and a heart to love others. If we BELIEVE the Bible is the Word of God, and we are obedient to what the Word of God says… (some are not obedient…)then we SHOULD have the desire in our heart to tell others about what God has done for us. If we had an exciting adventure somewhere we would tell our friends and family… The message of God is so much more than…just an adventure…it gives us hope for every hour of every day. Without this message… we are hopeless and defeated… What is the purpose in life?
    Missions is to tell others what God has done for us…and to love them enough to encourage them in God’s love… telling them that God not only loves them, but that he sent his son to die for all of us…
    So, if I sit in the church pew, yet I do not live my life for God… then I must not BELIEVE that the Gospels are true… Because Matthew 28:18-20. GO, means living our lives everywhere for HIS glory. That means I am “on missions” in my home with my children or in Ecuador… or elsewhere… It means we give God 100% all the time… everywhere… I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; give thanks IN all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
    God created us all different. He created some to be teaches, preachers, etc…Yet, we are all called to Love each other. If we truly love each other, then we should have compassion for the hearts of others. So, yes…each is called to missions…. It just depends on where and what your mission is… for a time I felt that my mission was teaching kids to ride horses while taking that opportunity to share about Jesus and share how God has given me hope and love and life… this past week my mission was listening to men on the street in Pensacola… today I’m loving and teaching my kids at home and serving my family… God put opportunities in front of us each day… wherever we are.
    Yes, Some are called to other places…When God calls people to different places… He will open doors or close them…Sometimes, God tells you to be patient… as this is what God told me… Serve here and now ….while I wait…

    I hope I answered the stated question! LOL! I am sure you wanted more…But it doesn’t have to be complicated…

    I enjoy the blogs! 🙂

  3. If we want to enjoy the abundant life Jesus said He came to enable, then we need to discern and enable the gift(s) God has sovereignly bestowed upon us, and then use them within the context of the Body of Christ. Following Psalm 37:4, He will instruct us as to how we are to do that.

    I’ve heard pastors say that the “Great Commission” applies to each of us as individuals, to which I routinely respond “How many people has your wife baptized?”. And “Which of the Apostles went into ALL THE WORLD?” Those point to the fact … in my mind … that the Great Commission was given to the church, not to us as individuals, and our task is to determine our part in the Body, and fulfill that role. In much the same manner as God not really expecting Adam & Eve having 3 billion babies themselves, but rather expected mankind to fulfill that command.

    • Miguel says:

      I suppose a more poignant question would be why aren’t all of our wives baptizing people?

      Also, Colossians 1:23 suggests that the Gospel has indeed gone to ‘all the world.’

  4. Jonathan says:

    1. How should we, in the light of the arguments presented above define ‘mission?’

    We do see in Scripture that some were called to proclaim the Gospel to Jews and some to the Gentiles. That, coupled with the point that Bob makes about how the Great Commission (or THE Mission) was given to a church, not to just individuals, does make help define ‘mission’ in a way that cannot be fully grasped or accomplished by the individual. So its “we” have a mission as opposed to “I” have a mission. If we think this way, there will be much less “what is God’s plan for my life?” and more “what is God’s plan?”

    2. How should we, in the light of the arguments presented above describe mission work?

    I start with Matthew 28:18-20 and let the context (of Matthew 28, of Matthew, of the Gospels, of the NT, of the entire Scripture) determine usage, meaning, and urgency. We, the local churches, are to make disciple makers as we go into all the nations (which includes my city, my street, my job site). Not all will be in every location at the same time. Not all work will be identical (work among the unreached will look different than work in the inner city or surrounding communities of my city.)

    3. Bottom line; Are you comfortable with the idea that “Every believer should be a missionary?” Why or Why not?

    Again, depends on usage. I like how John Piper distinguishes between “mission” and “evangelism”. Every believer, being part of a local body, is, by definition part of the advance of the mission….but not part (directly, in person, etc..) of every component and location of this advance.

  5. Stan Meador says:

    As long as we continue to hypothesize using terminology that is not in the Bible we will not resolve the questions.

    Did not God communicate to Saul that he would be the apostle to the Gentiles (sent one) before the Holy Spirit revealed it to the group of prophets and teachers who were worshiping and fasting in Antioch? And, Barnabas was a Levite, which would probably connect him most closely with the Teaching role mentioned in Ephesians 4. Later, when Paul traveled with Silas they were an apostle-prophet team.

    Looking for additional insight, when the followers of Christ fled Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen they proclaimed the Good News about Jesus everywhere they went.

    Why quibble over the word “missionary” when it does not even appear in Scripture? Let us get back to all believers proclaiming the gospel everywhere they go.

    • Jonathan says:

      “Why quibble over the word “missionary” when it does not even appear in Scripture? Let us get back to all believers proclaiming the gospel everywhere they go.”

      That’s a hard statement to argue against, Stan

      • Miguel says:

        Because apparently the ‘everywhere you go’ or ‘as you go’ mentality never yields lasting fruit. Mission is imperative, intentional, and inclined to GO where God leads.

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