What Is A Missionary?


MissionaryWhat is a missionary?

The word, “missionary” is derived from missio, a Latin word that means "sending." A missionary is a Christian who is sent and obeys Jesus' command to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). In the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a missionary, as were Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Apollos and many others.

Supported vs. Tentmaker

A supported missionary is one who is financially supported by the sending Christians, either directly, through a church and/or a mission board. A vocational missionary, also known as a “tentmaker,” is a missionary who is financed by his or her labor, as the Apostle Paul was at times during his missionary journeys.*

Indigenous vs. Cross-Cultural

An indigenous missionary is one who goes to another region of his or her country to share the gospel of Jesus with non-Christians among his or her own people. A cross-cultural missionary is one who goes to a different country/culture to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with non-Christians. About two-thirds of all missionaries in the world are indigenous, and one-third are cross-cultural.

Who isn’t a (cross-cultural) missionary?

Anyone who does not share the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a missionary. For example, a Christian doctor who goes abroad to provide medical care to the locals for free but does not share the gospel with them is a humanitarian, not a missionary, while a Christian teacher who goes abroad to teach the children of missionaries at a Christian school and draws a salary is a Christian expatriate, neither a missionary nor a humanitarian.

The discussion below focuses on supported cross-cultural missionaries (“missionaries”) but many of the issues raised apply to tentmakers as well.

10 Key Weaknesses Of Missions And Missionaries Today

1. There are too few missionaries

The world's 800 million Protestants field only about 150,000 missionaries (see above). The 140 million Protestants in the United States field 63,000 of them. Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination, and the Mormons number 15.2 million members and 15.9 million members, respectively. The Southern Baptists field 3,500 missionaries while the Mormons field 71,000 (see International Mission Board and Mormon Missionaries).

2. Too few missionaries are going to the frontlines

Of the world’s 16,562 people groups, 6,741 people groups have yet to be "reached" (evangelical Christians are under 2%, the percentage considered to be the threshold for reaching their own people) with the Gospel. Only 10% of the missionaries work among unreached people groups today while 90% work among the already reached people groups (Winter and Koch, 543).

3. Not enough money is being given for missions

American Christians spend 96% of their offerings in America, mostly within their own churches, and 4% on foreign missions. For every $1 it spends on missions of any kind, both domestic and foreign, one large Protestant denomination spends $5 to pay the interest on their church building mortgages. According to World Evangelization Research Center, annual church embezzlements by top custodians exceed the cost of all foreign missions worldwide.

4. The money given for missions isn't reaching the frontlines

Of the money given for foreign missions, 87% is spent on those who are already Christian, 12% is spent on work among the already-evangelized but non-Christians, and 1% on work among the unevangelized and unreached people (source: Baxter 2007, 12). Ninety percent of all foreign mission funds is used by cross-cultural (Western) missionaries, who do 10% of the pioneer mission work, while 10% of foreign mission funds is used by indigenous missionaries, who do 90% of the pioneer mission work (Finley 2004, 178 & 244)

5. The supposedly most-fit Christian soldiers avoid the frontlines

Armies send young men into battle. Mormon missionaries are 18-24 year old. Ninety-seven percent of Christian college graduates end up in secular jobs. Three percent eventually end up in full time ministry and very few of them in the mission field. The aspiration of most seminarians is to pastor a (mega) church at home. The few who go to the mission field return after one tour and leverage their rounded out resumes toward their aspiration (see Master of Divinity).

6. Too many missionaries are unqualified

Many go not to serve but to escape labor or poverty, for the adventure or prestige, or to restart after divorce or broken relationships. Some have zeal but are spiritually and mentally unprepared, emotionally and socially immature, or physically or culturally unable to adapt. Many are unsaved.

7. Too many missionaries do little or nothing

Most missionaries stay in large cities with Western amenities and schools for children. Some missionaries just live on support while doing absolutely nothing to serve God. Others minister to each other in expatriate churches teeming with missionaries, hosting Bible studies on different nights for each other, counseling each other, teaching each others' children, etc.

Only 1/4 of the missionaries from North America do missions work (e.g., preaching, Bible translation, church planting, teaching), while 3/4 do administration and support work (e.g., agricultural, community or literacy development, medical or relief efforts, aviation). The average Western missionary spends only 3% of his or her time sharing the gospel (source: Yohannan, Come Let's Reach the World, 35, 63).

8. Too many missionaries who do something do more damage than good.

Most of those who do preach and teach, preach and teach the prosperity false gospel, which leaves them hell-bound and resistant to the True Gospel when exposed to it later. Eager to report success and/or draw more support, many missionaries who do preach and teach also fill their churches and Bible schools with unsaved "rice Christians" who attend for the free food, education, shelter or other material benefits, and fade away when they cease.

9. Too many rely on money and fundraising instead of faith and prayer

As mentioned above, the Apostle Paul worked at times to provide for his own needs, as well as those of others.* At other times, God led churches to send him support.** Paul raised funds for the Christians in Judea who were suffering through a famine,*** but never for himself. Nor did any other missionary or disciple of Jesus in the Bible. Everyone simply did the work that God assigned them to do and trusted God to provide for them as He saw fit.

Today, money flows to those who beg the loudest. Missionaries spend more time, energy and money on fundraising than on sharing the gospel, while mission boards hire professional salespeople and even incentivize them with commissions.

10. Prevalence of hypocrisy and deceit

The less the missionaries do in the field, the more they lie, including through photos and numbers, to raise funds. Mission boards also lie, including through photos, exaggerated figures and obsolete facts, to raise funds. According to World Evangelization Research Center, some 250 of the 300 largest international Christian organizations regularly mislead the Christian public by publishing demonstrably incorrect or falsified progress statistics.

Supporting churches are often party to the hypocrisy. Many see missions and the dubious reports from the mission field as means to prying more offerings from their church members. Some even invite missionaries to speak during service, collect a love offering for the missionary, and keep a part or even the bulk of it for themselves.

All parties above should remember that God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying and keeping back a part of their own money.**** What awaits those who lie and take or keep back a part of others' money?

* After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1-4)

* "Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:34-35)

** "Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." (Philippians 4:15-17)

*** "Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints... For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack - that there may be equality." (2 Corinthians 1-4, 13-14)

**** But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (Acts 5:3-5)