There seems to be considerable confusion today with regard to missionaries. Some say all Christians are missionaries. They say that we are all called to give our lives to Christ and to witness to our neighbors. But is that the only thing that makes you a missionary? What qualifies someone to be a missionary? Boundaries need to drawn around the term 'missionary'. If the word missionary means the same thing as the word Christian, one of the two words has lost its usefulness.
Sometimes two words have overlapping meanings, but one is broader than the other. All Christians are people but not all people are Christians. A Christian is a particular sort of person. A fireman is a person, but not all people are firemen. The term person is broader than fireman. Likewise, the term Christian is broader than missionary. A missionary is a particular sort of Christian.
So if a missionary is a particular sort of Christian, what makes them a missionary? In its basic meaning, a missionary is a person sent on a mission. In its Christian meaning, in addition to the intention to help people come to know Jesus, at least four things qualify one to be a missionary:
1. It is a vocation, not just an activity, hobby, or event.
2. It includes crossing barriers. Almost always cultural barriers but often also language, distance,
religion and worldview barriers.
3. It requires some special study and/or training, not only willingness.
4. It requires sending. A missionary must be sent or commissioned to go.
Being a missionary is more than wanting to travel and do good. It is about answering the call that God has placed in your heart.
So what about those who go on short term mission trips? Consider this; a doctor is a person who works at the hospital for their vocation. You can volunteer at the hospital 7 days a week but that doesn’t make you a doctor.
Christians who visit or volunteer on the mission field are not necessarily missionaries. They may be called to go and cross boarders to do the work of a missionary, but it isn’t a vocation. Short term missions also don't need special studies/training. Sometimes those who go are simply visitors or volunteers on the field.
Have you ever considered doing missionary work? Have you ever felt drawn to go on a short term missions trip, or felt a nudge to go serve overseas for a month or more? Is it something you are still considering? We would love to hear about your attraction to missions. Tell us about it in the comments section below!