the weblog of Alan Knox

Just for missionaries or for all followers of Jesus?

Posted by on Jul 30, 2012 in blog links | 30 comments

Just for missionaries or for all followers of Jesus?

I love reading the blog “God Directed Deviations” by Miguel. He asks great questions, and presents his posts in the context of the life of a servant of Jesus Christ who has traveled to another country in order to help others follow Jesus – both through proclaiming the gospel and through strengthening his brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of his latest posts is called “Short-Term Missions: It’s more than just Bug Repellent & Hand Sanitizer.” As a missionary, Miguel often hosts “short term” missions teams. In this post, he shares a list that was given to him by one of those short term missionaries.

Here’s the list:

1. I will give away all my rights, they belong to the Lord anyway.

2. I will not become bitter or discouraged if any of my rights, privileges, and responsibilities are taken away.

3. I will resist the temptation to have the answer for everything on any subject.

4. I will not play the role of the wealthy provider.

5. I will cheerfully adjust, change, or drop my planned program to meet the local needs and fit into the local context.

6. I will consult and support local leaders and believers.

7. I will seek to live and work in a way that reflects Christ living in me.

I know that some of my readers will bristle at one or two of the things on that list. But it’s not my point to step through and comment on or critique the lists.

Instead, I have a different question. Using the list above as a guide (and you can include other items if you want), is there a difference between the life of a missionary and the common, ordinary life of a follower of Jesus Christ (who is not a missionary)?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-30-2012

    If you aren’t a missionary, you aren’t a believer. If you are a believer by definition you are a missionary. Many items on his list are just as applicable for every Christian as they are for those on short term mission trips.

  2. 7-30-2012

    How fun! I was thinking of this topic recently, as I am pursuing Ephesians 4:11.

    Here’s my conundrum: Do we have missionaries today, or are they really nothing more than Christian tourists? Let’s be honest- when we go to Haiti as “missionaries”, there are already over 250 Christian organizations there, so it’s not as if we are bringing an unheard Gospel to Haiti. We are merely joining in with what is already established. I use Haiti as a quick example, but other countries apply, of course. I find missionaries a hard concept to wrap my head around.

    Now, are missionaries supposed to be apostles? Apostle meaning “sent out”. If a missionary is an apostle, bringing The Gospel to a people who have not heard it before, then I am all in. But I don’t see that as the norm these days. I see churches getting some money and a team together, booking flights, and going to an area where there already exists an expression of The Church, and they stay for a week or so and take copious amounts of photos to post on their blogs and Twitter to show their efforts, posing with the indigenous populace and smiles all around.

    Perhaps I am jaded.

  3. 7-30-2012

    Yes, there is a responsibility to do as our Father commands and to preach The Good News of His Kingdom, being ready in season and out of season, to give the reason for the hope that we have. This is daily and real evangelism. I can see how people would apply the term ‘missionary’ to such a truth. Ours is, and always shall be, a relational and generational story.

  4. 7-30-2012

    Donald presents this issue in a light in which it needs to be seen. Yes, there is some show-horsing in some of the trips. Some of the churches sending these teams have a lot of well-to-do patrons who are bored and these trips keep them interested and kicking in to the coffers. But many churches are ignoring Jerusalem while people that live a block from the church may be heading straight to hell…that is a lack of proper leadership.

  5. 7-30-2012

    I disagree with the notion that all believers are missionaries. Missionaries (like apostles) are those who are specifically sent out to a different location than their hometown. But that’s semantics. All believers are supposed to be sharing the good news of Christ Jesus and demonstrating his love to those around them wherever they are. And for the most part I think I agree with these seven points for all believers, though I can think of reasons for exceptions.

  6. 7-30-2012

    But to give an answer to the question – as it was asked.

    A missionary is a disciple and must be prepared to follow those things that Jesus requires. Not all disciples become missionaries in the sense we use the word – to refer to a specific aspect of the call to be a follower of Jesus. Even in the early church, there were distinctions made between offices – different gifts were given, etc. In short, we are all equipped by the Holy Spirit to do the work of ministry. Just do it, and let those who do not have such a calling debate the semantics. It gives them something to amuse them and perhaps keeps them out of our way.

  7. 7-30-2012


    I agree with Arthur! I would love to see all Christians, especially church leaders, grasp the truth of those seven points.

  8. 7-30-2012

    Is the idea of ‘mission’ to follow Jesus or to follow the Church?

    The ‘list’ sounds to me both patronizing and condescending. My question is – as a ‘missionary’ what are you doing there anyway? The reason countries like Haiti are like they are is because of the insatiable appetite of the West. Perhaps our ‘mission’ should be directed at our own society.

  9. 7-30-2012

    Chuck McKnight,

    The only problem with what you have said is that the Scripture never uses the term missionaries for a very simple reason – there were none! There were apostles as you have mentioned, but not missionaries. In Acts 8:4 it says that “those who were scattered went about preaching the word wherever they went.” It is clear from the previous verses that “those who were scattered” refers to the persecuted church in Jerusalem minus the apostles. So I do agree with you that all believers are to share the good news as we see it in Scripture.

    So what about missionaries? We’re all missionaries who work in different fields.


    To answer your question: Nope. No difference. However, most believers do not live like there is no difference (sadly, including me much of the time).

  10. 7-30-2012

    In light of this discussion and what the Scripture seems to teach and not teach, is it possible that using the term “missionary” is unhelpful at best and unbiblical at worst?

  11. 7-30-2012


    Hear, hear! Perhaps we should eliminate the term ‘missionary’ as a title, and leave it as a verb so as not to confuse the issue further. I have yet to find it in the Greek, anyways, unless I am merely missing it in my search due to ignorance.

    Disciples were indeed sent out from Jerusalem. I would call these men as apostles, not missionaries. But in today’s world, we call them as missionaries because it preaches and sells well from behind a pulpit for raising funds.

  12. 7-30-2012

    Scott Eaton,

    “Apostle” is a transliteration of the Greek. I would contend that “missionary” is the equivalent translation. So the New Testament does indeed talk about missionaries everywhere you see the word apostle.

  13. 7-30-2012

    Chuck McKnight,

    I learned that ‘missionary’ comes from the Latin Vulgate, with “missio” as the root. At least, according to the scribbled notes in my copy of The Scriptures. I could be wrong, of course!

    But is it a stretch to say that apostle and missionary are interchangeable? Not a loaded question; I am genuinely curious. I lean towards saying that perhaps apostles and missionaries might not be the same thanks to our understanding of the word ‘apostle’ to begin with and its ramifications according to Ephesians 4:11.

  14. 7-30-2012

    According to Merriam-Webster, a missionary is “a person undertaking a mission and especially a religious mission.”

    The definition at is a bit more specific, clarifying the part of being sent. It states that a missionary is “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.” The second definition is irrelevant to our context, and the third definition states that a missionary is “a person who is sent on a mission.”

    Donald is quite correct about missionary’s etymology coming from the Latin “missio,” although I am not sure if it is in the Vulgate as such. Missio is the act of sending or dispatching.

    So a missionary is one who is sent on a mission, often for religious purposes.

    The Greek “apostolos” from which we get “apostle” means, according to Thayer’s Greek Definition, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders,” and according to the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance it means “a messenger, one sent on a mission, an apostle.”

    Since the “apostolos” in the New Testament were all sent out by either Jesus or the church as messengers of the good news, “missionary” seems to me to be a near-perfect translation.

  15. 7-30-2012

    Wow… great discussion here everyone. I’ll add a few things instead of replying to everyone’s comment individually:

    1) The term apostle comes from the Greek term apostello which means “I send.” The term missionary comes from the Latin term missio which means “I send.” So, they originally started out with the same meaning. They’re not usually used with the same meaning today. So, it’s always helpful to define the terms used, which I did not do… for a specific reason.

    2) There are certainly different giftings, services, and opportunities given by God to his children. We should never expect people to serve God by serving others in the same way. So, one difference between different children of God is the way that they serve God by serving others.

    3) When it comes to “way of life,” though, we should not expect some to live a certain way (i.e., professional or super-spiritual Christians) while others are not expected to follow Jesus “as closely.” Instead, we should continuously help each other live in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of how we are or are not gifted.


  16. 7-30-2012


    Then in your opinion, how would you separate apostle and evangelist in Ephesians 4:11, since it sounds like you might be considering them the same thing. You called apostles as ‘messengers of the good news’, which to me would be an evangelist, and both of these are indeed equipping gifts, and I don’t think they are interchangeable.

    Not trying to split hairs. This is a good topic and I have questions about it.

    If I am not being clear enough, let me know. Dialoguing online is so weak compared to face-to-face and so much is lost without inflection.

  17. 7-31-2012


    I don’t know if the roles described in Ephesians 4:11 have to be mutually exclusive. There may well be some overlap. An evangelist is simply one who announces the good news. Therefore, an apostle/missionary is an evangelist who is sent to a different location. I.e., all missionaries are (should be) evangelists, but not all evangelists are missionaries.

    But I’ll confess that the exact distinction between the two is not something I’ve looked into much before.

  18. 7-31-2012


    You said:
    “But I’ll confess that the exact distinction between the two is not something I’ve looked into much before.”

    Me neither. But now I am digging deep into Ephesians 4:11-16 and I am finding that I have more questions than answers. But in a good way!

  19. 7-31-2012

    I’m not sure which of the items in the list wouldn’t apply to every Christian, or how one would escape those listed expectations before God.

    But in the expectations of the common ordinary church today, we might see some other items we could list that are different for laymen/missionary (or other professional Christian) that would define a faithful way of life for each:

    Life of a missionary/professional:
    Expected to go and serve
    Expected to ask for money
    Expected to take risks whenever needed

    Common, ordinary life of a follower of Jesus Christ (who is not a missionary)
    Expected to come and sit
    Expected to give money
    Expected to avoid risks wherever possible

  20. 7-31-2012

    Chuck, Donald,

    “Since the “apostolos” in the New Testament were all sent out by either Jesus or the church as messengers of the good news, “missionary” seems to me to be a near-perfect translation.”

    Just like a person doing the work of an elder (pastor) before being recognized as an example of being a servant that others may follow, it is likely that those who were recognized by the church as other Eph 4 folks (I call them collectively itinerants, largely because there isn’t enough of a distinction in what each did differently from the others besides being local or trans-local in their service) were recognized because they were already doing the work.

    This seems to be the case for Paul and Timothy, for example.

  21. 7-31-2012


    I would agree with that for Timothy (called an evangelist). However, Paul was specifically selected as an apostle and sent out by Jesus himself.

  22. 7-31-2012

    Here’s something to consider… and I’m working on a post about this topic, which is one of the reasons that I published this question:

    Many times in Scripture, Paul is called an apostle. We also see him doing the work of many of the other spiritual gifts. In fact, there are only a few items listed as spiritual gifts that I cannot find examples of Paul doing. Does this mean that “apostle” is a super gift which covers all gifts, or could there be another reason for this?


  23. 7-31-2012

    “Does this mean that “apostle” is a super gift which covers all gifts, or could there be another reason for this?”

    Oh, Alan….you just had to go and open that can of worms, did you? :)

    I would say Yes, simply due to the dynamic of the gift. An apostle would be the first contact, so to speak, between The World and The Kingdom, when sent out. Paul definitely flowed in spiritual gifts and I firmly believe he flowed as well in the fullness of the Five Fold Ministry. Do we still have such apostles among us today? Hmm. Not sure, but I am more than willing to jump in and talk it out.

  24. 7-31-2012

    Now that is an intriguing concept, Alan. I’m not sure, but I’m certainly interested to hear what else you have to say about it.

  25. 7-31-2012

    Donald and Chuck,

    Stay tuned for my post. Perhaps I’ll even try to rearrange things and publish it tomorrow morning. I’ll see what I can do.


  26. 7-31-2012


    Molto grazie!

  27. 8-16-2012

    As one who grew up as a “GA” in a Baptist church, hearing stories of missionaries, putting them on a pedestal, and praying for them, I understand the problems that can be caused when we make a big distinction between a “missionary” and a “believer.” I felt a little depressed when my dream of career missions didn’t happen as planned. I felt like a sell-out. And then I realized something. That we are all called to share Christ where we are, and if I’m doing that, then I’m being faithful. If God wants me to go overseas, He’ll open the doors. I’m thankful we serve a big GOD. :-) To join in more discussion surrounding this post, check out the Christian news aggregator, Athenians, here:

  28. 8-16-2012


    As followers of Jesus Christ, we all respond to the work of the Spirit in our lives by proclaiming the gospel and building up other believers. That may look different for each of us (and probably will), but it’s the same work – whether we are “missionaries” or not. So, I definitely agree with you!


  29. 7-4-2013

    Nice. The “difference” is that one TRAVELS to portray Christ to others in distant lands and the other chooses to stay at home and portray the christ life-style to people at home. There are challenges on both sides.

  30. 7-4-2013


    You said, “There are challenges on both sides.” Exactly.