I grew up singing this song, did you? I apologize for it consequently running through your head the for rest of the day if you know the catchy little tune. The Church I attended while growing up was very “mission-minded”. We had big mission conferences, we hosted missionaries regularly, we had a book of prayer cards for all the missionaries that we supported with three or four different ones to pray for every day of the year. They took the Great Commission seriously. I had (and still have) heroes like Hudson Taylor, John Wycliffe and Jim Elliott.
But the reality is that we are trivializing the role of missionary and fundamentally misunderstanding the call of Christianity when we make broad, inaccurate statements like “We are all missionaries” and “Be a missionary today”. A (Christian) missionary is one who is sent, by a local Church, to a foreign country to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ vocationally. He leaves family and he leaves culture.
The very call of Christianity is to firstly:
“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
– Matt 22.37
“…love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Matt 22.39
It is very clearly understood that to love another (your neighbor) as yourself is to seek his eternal salvation first and foremost. You would not want to go to Hell, and you would not want to live a life on Earth without God, and if you are loving him as yourself – if you are seeking his best and well being – you will be pleading with him unto salvation.
Jesus instructed the disciples, the “first church” if you will, to:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
– Matt 28.19-20
This is the “Great Commission”. This is Jesus’ heart for the church and for the world; that His truth would bring about the salvation of every tribe, tongue and nation! And the church needs to equip and mobilize its best and brightest to get out there doing exactly that. But it is a broad command. There has to be a supporting and sending church to facilitate and mobilize vocational missionaries around the world. There are some who are physically unable to go, and there are some who are unwilling to leave family or comfort.
The call of Christianity is to make disciples. Every day. Wherever you are. Loving Jesus, talking about Him, pushing others towards Him is the life of the believer. When you are crazy in love with someone, you cannot help but talk about that person, and that is the outflow of a regenerated heart: to talk about Jesus. It is not obligation or forced, it is natural. This is not missionary work. It is being a Christian. We are all called to this task!
Missionary work is doing this in a foreign culture. Crossing all sorts of borders to the end of furthering the Kingdom of God.
Now, to be clear, missionaries are by no means super-Christians. Jim Elliot, one of my aforementioned heroes who was killed by the Indians he sought to serve made this statement:
“Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked. Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.”
God gives us faith. He gives us abilities. He gives us passions. And He expects us to utilize those according to that ability:
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
– Rom 12.3
And it is according to the measure of faith and ability He has granted us that we will be held accountable. Your measure is unique to you. You will not be judged by your pastor’s measure, your coworker’s measure, your parents’ measure or any one else’s.
That being said, Jesus left us with one task. And that is to make believers of the world. Often times we over-spiritualize the missionary calling: we want a passion or a personal encounter with God. We want a sign or a direct word that is extra-Biblical and personal to affirm that God’s desire to transform the world includes us. If you have faith, you have been called. The real question should be, “Why would I not go?” And if you do not go, then let’s get busy being obedient in our daily life, making disciples where we are planted. Just be a Christian.
“Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire.”
– J. Hudson Taylor