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1 March 2016

One who is ‘Sent’ – Understanding the meaning of ‘Missionary’

by Allan Webb

PH_Mark_McDowell_MapRather surprisingly the word “missionary,” as such, is nowhere to be found in the English Bible. The word comes from a Latin word which means “to send” which in turn comes from a Greek word which also means “to send” in the sense of sending an envoy with a special commission.

The Greek word implies that there is an authority beyond the sent one – a sender.
The messenger himself is not the authority. The messenger simply represents an authority. By simplest definition then, a missionary is a sent one. A missionary is a messenger or an envoy who is sent out on a special mission.

A missionary is not so much one who goes out but one who is sent out.

Jesus – a Sent One

Jesus often used this word in reference to His own ministry. For example, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus constantly affirmed that the Father had sent him, as the following references show:

  • He said, “He who receives me, receives Him who sent me.” (John 13:20)
  • “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” (John 4:34)
  • “I came down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of Him who sent me.” (John 6:38)
  • “This is life eternal, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
  • He prayed, “that the world might believe that the Father has sent me.” (John 17:21)

Jesus was the “sent one”, the special envoy or messenger sent from the Father above.

The Disciples – the Sent Ones

His disciples too were sent ones. We read for example:

  • “He appointed twelve, so that they might be with him, so that he might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14)
  • And in Matthew’s Gospel, “These twelve Jesus sent out…I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:5,16)
  • And in John’s Gospel, “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

Just as Jesus Himself was sent out by the Father, so too the twelve were sent out by the Son. They were sent out as messengers and envoys with all the power and the authority of the Son to back them.

Jesus Himself said,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all the nations …. And remember that I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Mark records that, ‘They went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them … ” (Mark 16:20)

The sending agent had become their closest companion. They were sent out not only to work for Christ, but to work with Christ – the Lord working with them.
A missionary, then, is one who is sent out by Christ, to work together with Christ, in all the power and authority of Christ.

Sent Ones and the Early Church

bangkok-postbox-THMoving on into the book of Acts we note how that various messengers and envoys continued to be sent. The ultimate sender of course, was still the risen Christ, the glorified Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, but it is interesting to note that from the period of Acts onwards, this sending out was delegated to, and expressed through, the local church.
The very first cross-cultural missionaries were sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4). The ultimate sender of course was the Holy Spirit acting on behalf of the Risen Christ. But the Holy Spirit never works in isolation to the church. He works through the church and sends through the church. The Holy Spirit uses the church as His sending agent.
A missionary then is a sent one – not so much one who goes out but one who is sent out, not so much one who is sent to, but one who is sent by. He or she is one who is sent by the risen Lord, and by the local church, working together in cooperation and fellowship.

Taken from YOUR CHURCH CAN MAKE A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE, By Allan Webb Pages 125-126

About Allan Webb

Allan is a pastor, preacher and missions leader. Allan served for 25 years as Senior Pastor of Swanson Street Church, Melbourne and was able to send out 70 members as missionaries during that time.
In 1995, Allan and Val were invited to serve as National Director of OMF in Ausralia.
Allan continues to serve as Minister at Large in OMF.