Words have tremendous importance in the technical work of missions. The more ambiguous we get with our words the more ambiguous we get with our work. My friend in China gives a great explanation of why we should not call everyone a “missionary”. Yes, we are all on mission! No, we do not all fit the given and proper use of the word missionary.
This case demonstrates the growing semantic range of the word ‘missionary’ and, consequently, its increasing uselessness. Here we have two people doing radically different jobs but calling themselves the same thing! (similar to when someone tells you that they’re a ‘painter’ – you mean like Van Gogh or Sherwin Williams?) Missionary A wants to function in a non-preaching, non-leading, non-training capacity overseas. Missionary B isn’t ready to give up any of those things. Somebody better start calling themselves something else. B’s could call themselves church-planters, I guess. I don’t know what else to call A’s – anything that they’d probably like, anyway.
If you ask Missionary A what they’re doing if they’re not planting churches or training national leadership or teaching publicly or even attending a house church, the answer you will get is likely to be something like, ‘we’re using our lifestyle to be a little bit of light in a dark place,’ or ‘we’re helping the Chinese body of Christ become stronger.’ That’s all great. But understand that if there’s a hundred Missionary A’s in a city – there’s still a need for a Missionary B. And that’s the last little lesson to be learned from this whole Three-Self business. A hundred Painter A’s can’t paint the Sistine Chapel. It’s not that there’s not enough of them. It’s just a different job. It takes Painter B’s. So in your future missionary endeavors (both going and sending, both in China and elsewhere), it might be wise to make sure you differentiate your A’s and B’s. Full article at GospelinChina.wordpress.com
Challenge to Pioneer Senders: I challenge you to not be ambiguos when you speak about missions. Think through your definition of some of the words we use (unreached people groups, missionary, church).