What is a Missionary?
By Walter J. Chantry
The great missionary movement—of preaching and teaching the gospel to
all Gentile nations had its beginning just after Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul said that it “pleased God to reveal his Son in me, in order that
I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16). Acts 13 records
the formal start of churches sending out missionaries (men the Lord
has called to preach, teach, and evangelize among the Gentile
nations). Paul and Barnabas were ordained and sent.
Through the centuries
since Jesus’ resurrection, multitudes of men have been called and sent
to be missionaries to follow in the footsteps of Paul and Barnabas.
Names like Brainerd, Carey and Judson are among early missionaries
from English-speaking nations. The movement continues sending such men
throughout the world.
However, confusion has
also arisen from this movement. It is not unusual for a local church
to have a bulletin board identifying their “missionaries;” it is
common to find among those called “missionaries” a secretary, a nurse,
a school teacher, a carpenter, an occupational trainer, or an
engineer. Few, if any, “missionaries” are men devoted to the central
task of preaching/teaching/evangelizing.
have thought it “effective” to call every Christian a “missionary.” Of
course every Christian should witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet,
if every witnessing Christian is “a missionary”, what were Paul and
Barnabas? Is there no distinction between them and all other
Christians? Well then, are all witnesses to be ordained and supported
financially by their churches?
In the U. S. this
confusion has caused major changes in church order. For years women
have been sent as “missionaries”. If they might preach and teach the
gospel overseas, why could they not do so at home? Thus arose a major
argument for women clergy which the Bible does not allow. Permitting
women to preach at home was a natural consequence to having them do so
Barnabas and Paul
assembled helpers for their missionary journeys. In the same way
churches at home hire secretaries, custodians and skilled technicians.
But they are not ministers of the gospel. There is a distinction
between “missionary” (preacher, teacher, evangelist), and support
congregations, associations of churches and denominations must be
careful that they are primarily supporting the central workers of
missions, men who preach and teach the gospel, and who evangelize the
unconverted, building congregations of believers. We must beware of
being overwhelmed with the support of medical and agricultural workers
so as to neglect the assistance of gospel ministers.
These men who are to take the gospel to unreached
millions should be expected to have made a serious, systematic study
of Scripture and of the Bible’s system of doctrine. Ordinarily (with
rare exceptions) this requires (especially in young men) a formal
course of instruction on the Bible, theology and church history.
There are many Bible schools, seminaries, and correspondence courses
available in our world. I believe that it is difficult to justify
sending prechers/teachers/evangelists who have not made this effort at
a systematic study of the Word. Even the world recognizes that after
years of self-teaching and experience, there are “general equivalency”
attainments. But these should be exceptions, not the pattern.
It is to be feared that what we often have, instead of equivalency
attainment, is much zeal and sincerity not systematic preparation in
the Word. Small churches with a biblical vision for missions must
carefully examine the formal preparations of candidates.