There’s a misconception among many Christians that only those who travel away from home are “called” to be missionaries. In fact, this dichotomy is foreign to Scripture. Instead, all followers of Jesus Christ are “called” to be missionaries.
While the various “commission” passages in the Gospels and Acts indicate that God expects all of his children to “make disciples” and “be his witnesses”, there are other passages as well that show that this is exactly how the early church understood their purpose. In other words, the early church knew that they were to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ if the Spirit led them to travel away from home or if the Spirit led them to stay near their home.
For example, consider this passage from 1 Thessalonians:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8 ESV)
Paul says that he recognizes that they were changed by the power of Holy Spirit because of the way they responded to the gospel. God was now working through them (the Thessalonians) to both strengthen other believers in their regions (Macedonia and Achaia) and also to spread the “word of the Lord” through that region. In fact, Paul says that they were “imitators” of him and of those who were traveling with him.
This is very important: they were imitating Paul and other believers who were traveling away from home to spread the Gospel, but they were not traveling away from home to spread the Gospel. Instead, they were allowing God to use them in his work of reconciliation right in their home city and region. They were “missionaries” even though they did not travel away from home.
Unfortunately, when we use the term “missionary” today, we usually mean someone who travels away from home – either to another part of the world or another part of the country. There is certainly an indication in Scripture that the Spirit called some believers to travel from place to place. And, there is an indication in Scripture that the Spirit called some believers to stay in their home area.
But – and this is key – God worked through his “itinerant” servants and his “local” servants in much the same way! He used both to strengthen churches and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ – wherever they happened to be.
It is wonderful for us to recognize those believers who are following the Spirit of God to go to foreign lands to be used by him. We should recognize them, and pray for them, and send them, and encourage them!
We should also recognize that we are all “missionaries”, regardless of where God leads us to live, or whether or not God calls us to travel from place to place. Our “work” is the same: strengthen churches and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
So, are you a traveling missionary or a stay-at-home missionary? How’s the missionary work going for you? To be honest, it’s not going that great for me, and God is pointing that out.