In the Bible, Jesus tells all Christians to share the gospel with the ends of the earth, yet the Bible never once uses the word missionary to describe these Christians. Now, churches all over the world use the word ‘missionary’ as a way of describing a specific job Christians have.
What is a Christian missionary? A Christian missionary is someone who has been called by Jesus to share the gospel with all peoples in every tribe, tongue, and nation. Their mission is to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) by making disciples and evangelizing to others so that everyone may come into a relationship with Jesus.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Matthew 28:19-20 NIV
A Missionary is a Servant
One of the most important characteristics of a missionary is that they are servants. They have surrendered their lives to God and followed His plan for them, even if that means giving up their pride and comfort to serve other people.
We know from the Bible that the only person to serve perfectly was Jesus, and He taught that the greatest in His kingdom would not be the strongest, the mightiest, or the smartest, but that they would be the ones who were willing to serve.
And while serving can come in many different shapes and forms for all Christians, missionaries make it as a way of living and dedicate their lives to fulfilling the Great Commission.
It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Matthew 20:26-28 CSB
Though all missionaries are called to serve through missions, they all have incredibly different stories of serving that span many different types of ministry.
From medical missionaries, to missionaries serving in orphanages, all the way to missionaries who share the gospel through business, they do it all for the gospel and for the glory of God.
A Missionary is Cross-cultural
Though all Christians are called to go and share the gospel, whether that’s with a neighbor across the street or with a co-worker, missionaries are called to serve all over the world and be cross-cultural.
What this means is that they cross over into a culture and integrate their lives and customs into the culture they have moved to. They do this so that they can reach the people there with relatability and with the same compassion Jesus would have.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.
To those under the law, I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.1 Corinthians 9:19-21 NIV
The people missionaries are trying to reach will not be receptive to the gospel without a way to relate their worldview and culture to the gospel. Because of this, missionaries take the gospel seriously by becoming a part of the culture, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they become what they need to be for the people they minister to.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NIV
A Missionary Pursues God’s Kingdom
A missionary is someone who pursues God’s Kingdom, not theirs. The whole point of being a missionary is to live on mission, or to parter with God in His Missio Dei (Mission of God) to save all people for a relationship with Jesus both now and for eternity in heaven.
The mission of the Kingdom of God is to share the good news of the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
This is not an idle wish that missionaries pray and work towards wondering if it will ever actually be fulfilled. No, missionaries work for the Kingdom God because they already know that the battle is won.
They already know that there will be a representative from every people group worshipping God in heaven, and they don’t want to miss out on pursuing this amazing purpose.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
Paul: A Biblical Example of A Missionary
In the Bible and in all of history, Paul is probably the best role model for a missionary. After his incredible conversion, he began to powerfully serve Jesus by relating to the people he served cross-culturally, working to support his missions, and sharing the gospel of the kingdom without shame.
As Christians, we can learn what it was like to be a true missionary through Paul and the work of the Holy Spirit in his writings in the Bible.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.Acts 17:22-23 CSB
After stating this in Acts, Paul proceeds to share the gospel with the Greeks in a way they can understand.
Paul saw the customs and culture of the Athens and what does he do? He doesn’t condemn them for their practices, but rather he walks them through something they already understand while simultaneously working the gospel into his message. This is what is looks like to be cross-cultural.
For you yourselves know how you should imitate us: We were not idle among you; we did not eat anyone’s food free of charge; instead, we labored and toiled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It is not that we don’t have the right to support, but we did it to make ourselves an example to you so that you would imitate us.2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 CSB
To be a missionary means that you will have to raise support or earn a living for the ability to live a lifestyle of missions. Raising support is perfectly fine and biblical, however, the apostle Paul models for a missionary what it means to work hard too.
Paul was a tentmaker and worked alongside other missionaries like Aquila and Pricilla to share the gospel not only through their missionary journeys but through their work as well.
Not all missionaries will choose to be tentmakers, but it’s a real alternative to having to raise support and it provides opportunities for missionaries to get to know their culture and the people they’re trying to reach in a completely different yet relational way.
Paul also demonstrates what it’s like to be bold as a missionary all for the sake of the gospel. A missionary is not ashamed of the Gospel but rather preaches it because they know it is the power of God and wants anyone and everyone to believe.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.Romans 1:16 CSB
Why Being a Missionary Matters
If you feel called to being a missionary and pursuing what was covered in this blog, know that God will be with you every step of the way and the Holy Spirit will guide you to what you need.
If you want to learn more about if you’re called to missions, I would encourage you to click here for an enrichment course about missions and missionaries.
Being a missionary matters because missionaries are people who are sold out for Jesus and dedicated to spreading the good news of the gospel to the whole world. Missionaries do this so that people of every nation can know the love of Jesus and have a relationship with Him both now, and for the rest of eternity.