What is a Missionary? [2022 Update]
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;” (Matt 28:18-20).
WHAT IS A MISSIONARY?
A Missionary is a person sent by a church or a religious organization into an area to evangelize, provide humanitarian relief, serve communities, and other activities, such as educational or hospital work.
Basically, missionaries are Christians who are willing to travel to other areas, both international or domestic, and immerse themselves into the existing culture. They do this so that the gospel of Christ might be advanced and introduced to others.
The premise is based on the spiritual principle that it is God’s desire for everyone in the world to know His teachings and come to a spiritual understanding of His offer of salvation.
WHAT DOES A MISSIONARY DO?
There are many kinds of missionary work. Missionaries travel to other countries or areas that have never been exposed to the gospel.
International missionaries form churches, meet humanitarian needs, or serve communities in foreign lands.
Part-time missionaries travel to other countries for days or weeks at a time, and share the Good News or provide disaster relief to communities.
Throughout the history of the church, believers have followed the Biblical principles to travel to other places, make relationships, and through their presence help others learn of God’s love.
Often, missionary work involves leaving the familiar behind and adopting the ways of a new culture, so that the work of evangelism is made easier.
Many missions organizations focus on serving and building communities in impoverished countries, emanating the love of Christ, and introducing Jesus to the communities while serving them. Coreluv is an example of a community-building missions organization.
Image Source: Coreluv
However, the work of missions is not just limited to international ventures. Domestic or local missions are equally important. Many groups and organizations spend time donating services and time to needy areas inside the borders of their home country.
For instance, volunteering at a women’s shelter, or a local food bank might be good examples of missionary work that is done on a more local level. Often, the need for compassion and evangelism is just as great in one’s own backyard as on the otherside of the earth.
WHAT IS A MISSIONARY IN THE BIBLE?
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus told early believers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them His commandments” (Matt 28:18). A careful study of this command, known to Christians as the “Great Commission” has several commands imbedded into it.
Jesus says to “Go” (to venture into a new place with purpose, “a mission”, and that mission is namely to “make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all the Jesus has commanded.”
SCRIPTURES THAT SUPPORT MISSIONARY WORK
There are several verses that support the idea of going and communicating the gospel. One of the first occurrences of the idea of missionary work occurs in the early ministry of Jesus. In the book of Matthew, Jesus recruits his disciples by laying out a divine plan that would eventually become the basis of the early church.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us, as Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, he went up to a couple of ordinary fishermen cleaning their nets and invited them to embrace a change of life. Jesus commanded them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19).
The Bible records that “they immediately left their nets.” In essence, they dropped what they were doing and walked in his footsteps of their Savior. Their response to his direct invitation would literally change the world forever and be the beginnings of growing the ministry of Jesus Christ.
MISSIONARY WORK IS A CALL TO ACTION – “FOLLOW”
As the word missionary implies, there must be the willing heart of a person, who will embrace the mission of the church or organization and go. Many believers surrender to evangelistic or humanitarian work after their own personal encounter with Christ.
As believers, knowing that it is the desire of God for the entire world to hear the gospel, they agree to travel to be present in the lives of strangers. They build relationships, cultivate friendships, and do all kinds of humanitarian work so that they can communicate the gospel. The truth is that this good news has made such an impact on the heart of the missionary, that it must be shared with others.
Image Source: One Kingdom
Missionaries follow the example of Jesus. As Jesus was obedient to follow the principles of His Heavenly Father, so these early disciples followed Jesus. Think about the kinds of activities that Jesus was involved in during his ministry.
A typical day in the life of Jesus might find him preaching to the masses, healing the sick or even feeding the multitudes. The Gospels record the fact that he often was seen in the company of the common folk. (This was a primary complaint the religious order of the day had against him). “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 NIV).
A true missionary moves out to where those who need to hear the good news and be ministered to are located. Consider the compassion and care that Jesus demonstrated during his ministry.
He might “go” to a blind beggar who called out for healing (John 9). He might be entering through the gate of a town and notice a funeral procession walking out and raise a dead son to life (Luke 7).
He could even be reclining at a dinner table and use that event as an opportunity to teach about forgiveness. (Luke 7). He could be teaching in a place and suddenly, the roof starts to be ripped apart and a lame man is lowered down, and Jesus performs a miracle right there on the spot (Mark 2).
The scriptures tell us that, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35). Jesus is willing to go, to follow a call to action.
MISSIONARY WORK IS A CALL TO BE RELATIONAL – “ME”
Evangelism through the work of the missionary is always relational. “Follow Me” – Jesus said. An inspired missionary begins his quest for evangelism by building bridges to the hearts and minds of the people around him. The history of missiology shows us that many people over the years have reached out to build relationships with people they barely know to help spread the love of God.
Unfortunately, this kind of personal relationship building is a lost art in our world today. In our digital age, many organizations use modern technology to spread their message.
While the use of mass communications can help to disseminate the gospel to many people, Jesus’ approach is much simpler and just as effective. The mission style of Jesus started by forming a relationship with two men, (Peter and Andrew), which soon became four (James and John).
Image Source: One Kingdom
He started his ministry by summoning two ordinary guys and challenging them toward a personal relational change. Then He invested himself into their lives, living with them, eating with them, and teaching them each day for the three years that He walked the earth.
MISSIONARY WORK IS A COMMITMENT TO A PROCESS – “MAKE”
When Jesus tells Peter and Andrew that he will make them fishers of men, he was committing himself (and them) to a process. Over the next three years, these men would learn more from Jesus as they walked in his path and learned from watching and imitating him.
Jesus could have just uttered a prayer and made these men instantly endowed with the knowledge and power He wanted them to have. The heavens could have opened, and the Spirit could have descended on Peter and Andrew just as it had on Jesus. But that was not the best way.
The greatest lessons of life are learned. Missionary work is a journey, not just to a new place, but to a new heart. Most missionaries will tell you that to spreading the gospel is more of a marathon than a sprint. It can at times be a painstakingly slow process.
Jesus knew what was in store for his life ahead. But he also knew what lay in store for the disciples over after He left them. He saw how stubborn they would be. How unlearned they were. He understood that they would have petty squabbles like who would sit at his right hand would cloud their vision.
Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. They didn't understand what he was doing. But later they would understand. Serving people, loving them, and building communities is a way to be Jesus for people.
The One Kingdom ministry (below) not only provides for 70+ countries to advance the gospel, but they also actively build and serve others across the globe.
He knew that in his hour of need, Peter would deny that he had ever known him. Despite all these things and more, Jesus still committed himself to the process of making them into something better than they were. They eventually got it.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus reminds the disciples about the process of learning from him.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV).
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt 6:20 NIV).
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29 NIV).
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15 NIV).
Mission work is a process that does not happen overnight. Often, it involves a lifelong commitment to helping others learn the ways of God.
MISSIONARY WORK INVOLVES A VISION FOR THE FUTURE – “FISHERS OF MEN”
Finally, Jesus tells Peter and Andrew that he will make them fishers of men. In this simple statement, Jesus was casting a vision for his disciples. These two fishermen may not have known what that phrase meant exactly, but Jesus did. Regardless, the disciples were willing to trust Jesus so much that they dropped their nets and followed.
Whether it was simple curiosity or a deep compulsion for change, the act of obedience indicates that they accepted the Master’s vision for who they might become.
The human heart was built for something more. Deep inside each of us is the desire for a connection to something or someone greater than who we are. God created this need in each of us.
Why do you think that speeches like Dr. Martin Luther King’s address, “I have a dream…” so resonate with us? Or why did Thomas Payne’s speech, “Give me Liberty or give me death!” so invigorate and inspire our forefathers that they threw off the yoke of English rule?
Why did the cries of “Peace Now” help to end the war in Viet Nam? Or “Black Lives Matter” bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in protest?
These words cast vision. The people connected these movements sought something greater, and once that dream was established, they put feet to the idea. They acted to change the way things were.
A FINAL THOUGHT REGARDING MISSIONARIES
Missionary work must begin somewhere. Until a person surrenders to the calling of God and overcomes the fear of the unknown that might be present, no mission work can begin.
Every missionary journey involved the first step of a willing heart. Each person should prayerfully consider their role in helping others learn of God. Once, the Spirit has placed a need on the heart, then be courageous and faithful to the call of God. The Heavenly Father will use your desire to guide you to the very soul He wants you to minister to.
Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19 NIV). And that is exactly what the disciples did.