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What is a Missionary?

Is everyone a missionary now? What counts as mission anyway?  Lots of people have an opinion, but here we’ll explain what we mean when we use these words as OMF.

What is a “missionary”?

We know this can be a tricky topic. Some say that all Christians are missionaries wherever they are. Others say that only those in full-time ministry who have crossed geographical and cultural boundaries to proclaim the Good News to people who otherwise would not hear about Jesus are eligible for this title. Some say missionaries are simply “sent ones.” Others say they’re identified by their need to raise prayer and financial support.

Instead of putting one more definition along the spectrum, we want to take a step back and look at the meaning of mission before identifying who does it.

What do we mean by “mission”?

We like to think of it as the generosity challenge.

Many of us naturally feel a burden to share the good news about Jesus with people who are like us. We know what that kind of transformation looks like in our own life and it seems natural to share that with others who have the same language, culture, economic status, education levels, and so on. We feel a very natural obligation to share with “our people” who haven’t heard yet.

However, it’s a different thing to intentionally step outside of that comfort zone and try to figure out how to share the good news with someone who is very different than us. That may not necessarily involve travel, but it always involves being stretched, learning, and wrestling with how the gospel speaks differently to differently people, and confronting our own preconceptions. For some, that may be reaching across some socio-economic gaps, language, and culture gaps in our home area. For others that may mean moving their whole family far away to launch into a language and culture they’ve never experienced before.

This is the generosity challenge—to be so generous in sharing with those who aren’t like you that it influences your decisions about where you live, what you do with your resources, and with whom you spend time. This is what we mean by “mission”.

So what do we mean by “missionary” then?

A short answer would be: those who are sent by God to do his mission. For us, our vision, passion, and focus is to share the gospel with East Asia’s peoples. So you will see how many of our missionaries tend to embody a more traditional missionary narrative—fly overseas, learn a new language and culture—but we don’t think those are the only missionaries in the world today!

If you yourself are taking on the generosity challenge, we think that you will find that you have much in common with missionaries who had to take a plane. We encourage you to read about their experiences so you can be encouraged, affirmed, and inspired to pray for others who are on mission with you.

Why do mission abroad when it can be done at home? Why send missionaries overseas at all?

With international migration at a historical high and accessibility to the Internet increasing year by year, sending missionaries overseas can appear at times to be an unnecessary endeavour. After all, why go to them when they’re coming to you?

But what about those who don’t leave, and still live in a community where there are few to no Christians and no Bible in their language? How can they hear the beautiful, life-transforming good news of Jesus unless someone comes from outside of their community to share with them? Even with powerful Internet search engines available, there’s a problem: how can someone type in a search term they don’t know?

You see, the gospel is not distributed evenly across the world. Some of us are incredibly blessed to live in societies that celebrate Christian holidays, have dozens of churches in one city, can choose from thousands of titles on spiritual formation, or even just have Christian friends. For nearly half of the world’s population, this is not their reality. This is why we still facilitate the sending of missionaries to East Asia’s peoples, and especially in East Asia, where there are still 667 million people without access to the gospel.

What do others think?

Evangelicals and Missions: Podcast discussing a study about how evangelicals engage with mission. Listen

Is Every Christian a Missionary?: Podcast discussing biblical understanding of missions. Listen

We are not all Missionaries: Message excerpt by John Piper on Listen

Could God be calling you to mission?

Going on a short or medium-term mission placement can often help people discern whether God is calling them into long-term mission. Click here to explore the wide range of opportunities available with OMF in East Asia.


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