I had the good fortune to grow up in a church where missions was an emphasis. I had the not-so-good fortune to grow up in a church where missions was an emphasis. First the good part. Across the top of the platform (or chancel) was a wooden beam inscribed with these words: Go into all the world. One week annually was set aside for a conference where missionaries from around the world told their personal stories as well as stories from their fields of ministry. At the end of the conference came a call for commitment to missions service. I remember as though it were yesterday when such a call became personal for me, even though I was barely a teenager. I don’t recall overwhelming emotion, but a definite stirring in the core of my being.
Now for the not-so-good part. Imbedded into my mind was a very narrow view of missions. Because most of the speakers at those annual conferences worked in far-flung corners of the world, I naively assumed that a “real” missionary would go to one of those places. Most likely an African country since most of the pictures, stories and “souvenirs” were from there.
Several years ago I heard the Reverend Charles Swindoll say that Christian leaders have mistakenly given the impression that missions is only for the select few who believe they have been specially called and therefore, the “person in the pew” is not only off the hook, but is often considered to be a second class Christian.
So did I hear mishear my “call”? Since I have not lived in a remote African village (only worked there for and with nationals on short term projects), have I been disobedient to that call? (Let me be honest, after fifteen years ministering to the diplomatic and business community in a sophisticated West European capital city, where “native dress” included a three-piece suit for my husband and a modest black dress for myself, some still wondered if that was “real” missionary service!)
The word missionary is a legitimate (though not necessarily a biblical) one. C. Gordon Olson writes, “In the traditional sense the term missionary has been reserved for those who have been called by God to a full-time ministry of the Word and prayer and who have crossed geographical and/or cultural boundaries to preach the gospel in those areas of the world where Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown… All Christians are to be missionary-minded in obedience to the Great Commission, but not all Christians can be missionaries in the proper biblical sense of the word.”
I cannot disagree with Olson in the broad theological sense. But could not God call a woman educated in the field of economics or physics or medicine to cross the “cultural boundary” of those somewhat secularized fields to be a missionary? And does not God call all followers of Jesus to be global Christians, with our eyes and ears turned to the needs of the world and the whispers of the Spirit as to how He wants us to be personally involved? Using local newspapers as prayer lists for people in our own neighborhoods and cities. Searching the internet for how we can pray for peace in the Ukraine or Iraq or Pakistan. Sharing our goods with those who have far less.
Perhaps if we first and passionately taught that all Jesus’ followers are to be global Christians, we would find more fertile ground for the Spirit to call some to the “full-time ministry of the Word and prayer,” willingly following Christ to those areas where “Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown.”