Why We Don’t Use the Word “Missionary”

The History of Missionaries

Great missionaries like Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael have left a legacy that has impacted countless lives in such positive ways. While being a missionary has brought the gospel into many unreached communities, today it also carries harmful associations with Western colonization and white saviorism that has accompanied sharing the gospel in times past… and in some places, until today.

We’ve lost what a missionary actually is.

We think of a job description carried by a few as they travel to an exotic location and preach in a church they planted. But the great commission, the command to “go into all the world and make disciples” is for all followers of Jesus, in all jobs, to bring peace into their communities.

Christian Missionaries Today

In the past, missionaries were able to get a religious visa in order to live and work in almost any country. Today nearly 40% of the countries in the world reject missionaries and no longer grant religious visas. In many of the least-reached areas of the world, being called a missionary will create sharp barriers to effectively sharing the gospel in a community.

Is “missionary” a dirty word? For many, when they think of missionaries, they think of a (rich) western person going to plant a church (usually meaning a building) in a (poor) mission field. The missionary creates a gathering that draws people in, setting themselves and their church up to be the source of answers and direction. Historically, many people groups have been told that their traditions and cultures around religion are wrong and they must adapt to western church models.

The problem with this model is two-fold: First, it doesn’t honor existing cultures, practices, and experiences. It often misses how God is already at work in that place in favor of believing that God must work there as he has in our home countries. Today, we need a more culturally sensitive, respectful, and engaged way of spreading the gospel. 

Second, it puts enormous pressure on the missionary. With their success often measured in the number of conversions or baptisms, and pressure put on individuals to reach certain milestones in the first 6, 12, or 18 months of their local church, the pressure to produce impossible results by carrying the community on their backs burns many out before they can see long term fruit.

Our free guide to what a life of cross-cultural missions could look like. Download now.


What is a Missionary?

If you see missionary work as a job only a few can do, you are missing out on the most important part of the life that Jesus has given each of us. When Jesus said to “go into all the world and make disciples,” He was calling all of us!  Every believer is to play a part in being and taking the Good News to all the earth. 

So with so many cultural and political barriers to the word missionary, should we stop sending people overseas altogether? We don’t believe so. 

There is transformation that occurs in our own lives and in the lives of others when we are outside our comfort zones. Existing outside of what we are familiar with, learning a new language, living in a cross-cultural setting, all allow us to see God and seek God and what He is doing with humility. 

Further, God gave us unique cultures and experiences that come together in beautiful ways. When we live with humility, there is so much about the gospel to learn from each other that we will miss if we fail to do life together… especially cross-culturally.

A New Vision for Missionary Work    

In some contexts, it is possible that “missionary” is a bit of a dirty word. But we love being on mission. We want to be missional people: making disciples and building community. We want to be people who choose a missional way of life that goes out to reach others. The missional way of life is not measured by milestones or gathering sizes. Instead, it’s about choosing to build relationships with our neighbors, our coworkers, and our families, being and bringing the Good News of Peace.

Church planting is about raising up communities of faith, not building platforms around ourselves. A new vision for missionary life is one where people embed themselves in a community, know their neighborhood, and create communities of faith through deep relationships.

How We Equip You To Do Missions

We believe that missional living is a directive for all believers, which means that a missionary is someone who is actively engaged in creating communities of faith–either across the street, or across the world. That’s what we’re about: equipping you with your unique gifting and calling and unleashing you to create communities of faith around the world!

Rewriting what a “missionary” is involves looking at character first. We invest heavily in developing true, servant leaders who model humility, ask good questions, and listen well. We believe in entering into communities with respectful curiosity which builds, over time, a right to be heard. 

And we don’t measure the same way many mission agencies measure. Our team members aren’t benchmarked by the number of baptisms, church members, conversions, or financial support. We are on a missional journey with you… and will be there, each step of the way. The life of a disciple cannot be hurried. Therefore, neither can this work. 

If you believe God is calling you to a life of deeply engaged, cross-cultural mission work, we want to help you embrace a lifestyle that brings joy to you and the community you are called to. Whether you join an existing team or are an entrepreneurial team leader, we’ll come alongside you in discerning the dreams you’ve been given by the Holy Spirit, give you access to our missionary training program, and help you through the support raising process. 
To see if Communitas is a good fit for you, fill out this form to get in touch with us, or explore some current open opportunities on our teams.

Written in partnership with Reach The Lost.

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