Today, it is confusing as to what a “missionary” is, because so many people call themselves missionaries. Consider the following “missionaries”: Some people classified as “missionaries” are businessmen? Does your church support businessmen in America? Probably not. Why? Because successful business make money. Businesses don’t ask for donations, they give them! So why do you support a “businessman” in another country and call him a “missionary”? How many people come to Christ. How many churches started through this “business”? How many people who have never heard about Jesus have heard a clear gospel presentation in their language? Probably very few, if any. So why do you support them as “missionaries”? If it is a business, give them a loan which they need to payback. Better yet, let the bank do it!
Others who are called “missionaries” are really Pastors of local churches. Is a Pastor a “missionary” just because he lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and not Chicago? No, still a pastor. So who’s responsibility is it to support pastors? A USA based church mission committee or the local church in Jakarta, Indonesia? I would say a local church should be responsible. But a Pastor is not a “missionary” either. Certainly not according to what Paul was describing.
Some missionaries are social workers. Their job is often with an organization and involves many different kinds of social projects. It could include agriculture, feeding programs, orphanages or village medical programs. These of course are good things, but they may not all be “missionaries”. Many who go are simply administrators in an office or program managers. Many of these programs may be funded by government or foundations and not even require church support (but I never met anyone who turned down donations!) The key to these programs is not if they are making a difference physically, but are they making spiritual differences also. Are people outside of the payroll coming to Christ? Do they hide the fact that they are Christian, or do they evangelize and disciple new believers as well. Most real missionaries do a considerable amount of social work, however, their primary task is still building the body of Christ.
What about weekend warriors who jump over to Mexico for a short trip? They some sing songs, drill some wells, and build some basketball courts or buildings for congregations. They don’t speak a lick of Spanish, don’t understand the culture and complain about most things especially the food, toilet facilities and lack of hot water for showers. Are they “missionaries”? Certainly not. Call them students or call them tourists, or short-term volunteers, but please don’t call them missionaries. Some think that short-term trips are an essential part of helping a person to commit to be a long-term missionary. However, we just have way too many short-term volunteers and very few are going into long-term missions.
There are many kinds of missionaries, but one of the most modern of inventions is the missionary strategist. I sometimes call them “virtual missionaries”. These guys are tricky. They may not even live in a foreign country. Most are professional fund-raisers and they love to write strategy papers about how to reach whole nations. . . which they never actually do themselves. They only write “ideas” on paper and try to get some poor local pastors to “buy into their vision” and then the fundraising from the West begins. Those might be better called “promoters” than missionaries. They are tricky to identify because they know how to make a good mission presentation, yet the big problem is that they are not “incarnational”. “Incarnational” means they “live among the people”, like Jesus came and lived with us. They don’t speak the local language, nor do they live among the people whom they are promoting. They are permanent outsiders. But that is how they make their income, off the work of others. Be careful of these “virtual missionaries”.
All of these people may be quite deserving to support, the legitimate ones anyway, but church mission committees need to make sure they are supporting real missionaries too, not just all the people who wanted to be included under the title “missionary”.
All this is why I say, “The missing component in modern missions is MISSIONARIES!”
What we need are good old fashioned missionaries who are committed to take the gospel to the deepest jungle, off the main roads where no one has gone, and to the darkest non-believing and Christian hating place in the world. We need people to go where there are no McDonalds, no international standard Christian schools, and no paved roads or electricity, to share about Jesus. We need them to go there, live among the people, and learn their language and culture. Not for a week or month, but until the job is done. They need to love the people in every way they can in order to lead them to Christ and form them into new groups of believers. We don’t need more people willing to give up their annual vacation time, but we need people willing to give up their lives. 10-20 years minimum. And we need churches to get behind them and support these real missionaries.
The central word to what defines a real missionary is “commitment”. Maybe you should adjust your support of “missionaries” according to their commitment to missions. A short-term commitment like a few weeks or few months mission trip is the lowest commitment level, while a full-time career missionary living and ministering among non-Christians is the highest level of commitment. Honor commitment. Honor real missionaries. Encourage everyone; but I would recommend churches adjusting their support according to commitment levels of their missionaries. The focus of church mission strategies needs to be more on reaching the lost and developing expressions of the Kingdom of God in places which are just opening their hearts to Christ.
Most of all, we need more missionaries, otherwise you and your children better just starting learning to speak Arabic, Hindi or Chinese, because the non-Christian world is growing faster than the Christians and they are coming to you.