Myths About Missionaries

Myths about foreign evangelism abound. Foremost is the idea that there are only a few select, spiritually elite, individuals who are called to be “missionaries.” These, we are told, fulfill a very special role in the body of Christ and often at great peril to themselves. To bolster this idea, we hear some saying, “Not everyone can go, but most can give, and certainly all can pray.” At first, this appears to be just another way of saying that there is room for everyone to be involved in the kingdom of God, albeit in different ways. Consequently, it sounds quite biblical. It’s not. Nevertheless, there is just enough truth in this myth for Satan to make us feel comfortable when we embrace it. As a result, many of us fall into a deadly error—an error that says there really is a missionary elite (i.e., a specially favored, highly talented, relatively small group of Christians who are really God’s choice little band for evangelizing the world). The fact that all this corresponds so closely with what we see and hear further operates to make this seem even more plausible. After all, the number of those who actually go into foreign fields to preach and teach the gospel is relatively small. So, although we may not see ourselves as the missionary type (and few are, we console ourselves), we can surely give from our abundance to support these dedicated few, even if this entails digging a little deeper than usual. After all, foreign evangelism is something very special, we tell ourselves, and if, God forbid, we happen to be in a situation at the moment where we are unable to give, then we can always pray for the work and the safety of those involved.

“What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?,” you ask, and “How could such be unbiblical?” Simply this: 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.

So, with the undeserved fuss that is frequently made over “missionaries,” a group thought to be an elite band of super-Christians willing to make great personal sacrifices to preach and teach the gospel in far away places, many of us unwittingly fall into Satan's snare as we alternately praise and feel sorry for this admired group (viz., the “some” who can go). Believing missionary work to be a task for the few, the rest of us, in moments brought about by guilt, or even by a desire for greater personal service, promise to pay for and pray for “our missionaries in foreign lands.” But in exaggerating the role of those who go great distances to communicate the gospel, we begin to underestimate the divine call to missions that is placed on all Christians. We soon forget that all of us are called upon to live in a mission field, and that all of us are, in fact, missionaries (and this no less or no more than those few who go the great distances). When this happens, the work the Lord left us here on this earth to do is seriously hampered.

We are sometimes lead in the song that says, “This world is not my home, I'm just a passing thru.” This sentiment is an integral part of a correct biblical world view, for as Christians we are to understand that our citizenship is not here on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Here we are but sojourners and pilgrims (2 Peter 2:11). What this means, then, is that wherever we are in this world is the mission field, and when every Christian gets this idea firmly entrenched in his or her mind, we'll be doing a much better job of what it is the Lord left us here to do. Does this mean that I think those who go into foreign fields are not to be admired for their work's sake? Certainly not! Does it mean that I think they should not be supported? No! Does it mean that I think those in foreign fields do not need our prayers? Don't be ridiculous! What I am saying is that we must learn to view what the “missionaries” are doing as nothing more than an extension of the work we are all called upon to do. In other words, mission work is not something “other than” what the rest of us should be doing. We are all in this together, and this is not because we are giving and praying, as we should be, but because we are all missionaries to a lost and dying world.

Our ancient adversary is a formidable foe who specializes in the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, it should not surprise us that a church that prides itself on being missionary-minded, and takes comfortable satisfaction in its support of foreign evangelism, reveling in the long roll of preachers it supports at home and abroad, can still be failing in its primary missionary responsibility. Indeed, it is a pathetic thing when a church that expends great amounts of money supporting the preaching of the gospel around the world, and rejoices in the saving of foreign souls, is made up of members who fail to see themselves as missionaries called to service in the army of the Lord. Failing to see themselves as “candidates” for the Marine Corps of evangelism (i.e., “a few good men”), they forget that they are actually “conscripts” who have been called upon to serve the Lord where they are. They forget the church is not the building where they assemble, but the body of Christ that gathers together on the Lord's Day for worship, and then scatters into the world for service during the rest of the week, going to the unique places God has called them to go. Seduced by a lie and effectively destroyed by a myth, these Christians have caused the primary mission of the church (“to seek and save the lost”) to be seriously impaired as they imbibe the Laodicean legacy. Thinking themselves to be rich and in need of nothing, they do not realize they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

But, there is a remedy, and as always, it is to be found by turning to God's Word. When Christians turn to God's Word for guidance, they will learn to think of themselves as missionaries. Therefore, when men go back into the business world on Monday, they will be doing so not just as an opportunity to make money, but because this is where Christ is sending them. They will see themselves as missionaries to the business world. When the women of the church return to their tasks in the home, the neighborhood, and the world of commerce, they will do so not just because this is the nature of their lives, but because they are being sent by Christ to these places. They, too, are missionaries. And finally, young men and women who have been taught God’s Word will return to their schools and colleges not just because it is a good thing to get an education, but because this is where Christ is sending them. In truth, the role of missionary is assigned to all in the kingdom of God, not just a few. Consequently, the true measure of a church is not necessarily to be found in its foreign evangelism budget or in the number of preachers it supports. It is, instead, to be found in the portion of its own members who understand that because they are saved by Christ, they are sent by Him as missionaries to a lost and dying world. In the plan and purpose of God, all are meant to go. Therefore, the idea that “some can go” falls far short of the truth.

When churches of Christ return to their ancient heritage, rejecting as they should the traditions and think-sos of men, ideas that raise the work of foreign evangelism to pedestals to be exalted throughout the brotherhood, they will realize that God's plan for missionary work is the only effective plan for missions. When we understand the Bible as we should, we will be saying to ourselves and our fellow Christians that all can go, and therefore should; that all can give, and are, as a result, under obligation to do so; that all can pray, and that this is to be an essential part of going and giving, but that this must not be seen as a substitute for either one of these. So, let us all rise to the missionary task set before us, and let us take consolation in the assurance that we can do all things required of us through Christ who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13).

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