Thanks to Alan Knox from his blog The Assembling of the Church, I have been introduced to Miguel, a missionary from South America with Pathways International, who posts on their blog “God-Directed Deviations“. In a recent series of posts, Miguel has been questioning the ways in which we use the term missionary, whether or not our usage and understanding is in accordance with scripture.
Here are some salient quotes from his posts:
[The ramifications of how “missionary” is defined] falsely establishes a Missionary / Non-Missionary divide where designation and destination take precedent over being. A missionary, then, is something to become as opposed to something we should be. A “Missionary Journey,” becomes a time constrained event rather than a manner of life.
…there is only one version of bible that even uses the word “missionary” and that version has replaced the word evangelist with missionary on two occasions. Christendom, however has developed an entire doctrine about the word and has attached all sorts of connotations, expectations, and qualifications.
What about “Missionary-Apostles,” Missionary-Prophets,” “Missionary-Pastors/Teachers?” Are we purposefully denying those with the characteristics and giftings of these other ministries from being missionaries or being called missionaries? Are we trying to substitute the foundation of apostles and prophets with a weaker foundation of solely evangelists?
One has said that “if everything is mission, then nothing is mission.” I suppose it follows logically that if everyone is a missionary, then no one is a missionary. My goal is analyzing this term is not to restrict and separate, but to equip and liberate. 
Miguel is asking whether or not we have narrowed our definition of missionary and whether or not broadening the term will make is useless. These are good questions, since, as he states in his first post, missionary is not a biblical term. I look forward to the rest of his posts; [here is a link to part IV…I’m interested to see his discussion on broadening an understanding of mission.] In the meantime, here is my initial response. Note, its not a response in contradistinction but really a furthering of thought from my perspective.
I think you are addressing an important set of questions. We derive so much of our understanding of missions/missionaries from the reigning missional paradigm and not necessarily or directly from scripture.
For instance, I think we see Paul, as an Apostle wearing many “hats”, so to speak through scripture. (As an aside, personally I think the scripture distinguishes big “A” from little “a” apostles, think of the Twelve, then think of those like Timothy, Barnabas, etc). As a big “A” apostle, he had prophetic authority to write scripture, he was also set apart, and sent, as a little “a” apostle. While not being indicated as an elder of any given church, he certainly taught from place to place.
That being said, I wonder if the problem is not that we have defined the term missionary in terms of what individuals do or are. I don’t want to say individuals may not have specific ministries. Paul for instance had a unique vision directly from Christ that drove his lifelong mission. However, even Paul carried out his apostleship in relation to the church. He was set apart by the church at Antioch, he with Barnabas travelled from city to city to encourage churches. Wherever he went, he establish churches which remained in relationship to him, his coworkers, and the other churches.
When we look at Eph 4, the gifting of the 4 fold (I group pastors/teachers) ministry is for the unity, faith, and maturity of the church. Missionaries separated from the ministry of churches are not on mission.
I think that is one of the reason why missionaries are most commonly identified as evangelists. Since they are sent by local churches to establish local churches in unreached areas. However, there is a tacit assumption that church planting is only an evangelistic task. It is much more. In planting a church, the gospel is being sown to explode in Spirit-led fruitfulness through gifted people ministering both within and without the gathered body, and that in spiritual unity. Some might call this robust church planting.
I would argue though, that the missiones ecclesiae certainly cannot be accomplished without evangelism, so the primacy of evangelistic work in missions is properly placed, in my opinion. That is why we see Peter and the 12, the Seven, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Timothy (being told to), being active in proclaiming the good news of repentance and faith in the resurrected Lord and Messiah. Without evangelism, in its biblical fullness, there is no (participating in) mission. You cannot make disciples without verbal proclamation of the resurrection, nor without the gospel permeating everyday lives!
But missions is not only evangelism. Paul took up collections for those suffering through famine. Timothy, Epaphroditus, others, were sent as teachers, encouragers. Onesimus was sent as a servant. Peter was one of the few apostles also identified as an elder. John was also a prophet (see Revelation). There are certainly more examples.
Its in the life of local churches that the gospel permeates a community, through gifted members living the gospel and verbally proclaiming the gospel. Members live in their own communities missionally as extensions of the local church, ambassadors of the kingdom. Missionaries aid the life of churches by helping them become established and connected to the global church. Still, I think the scriptural model is that those sent from on location to another were emissaries of churches, not individuals on individualistic missions. Antioch didn’t wash their hands of Paul and Barnabas. Through them, Antioch was participating in the spread of the gospel and the maturity of other churches.
What I’m getting at is that we need to recover the fundamental interconnectedness between churches (or the Church). When we do, missionaries will cease to be conceived as adventurous individuals on a special mission and I think we will begin to see a more healthy ordering of evangelism within the total life of the whole church. Not only will this increase our passion for evangelism (I truly believe it will) but it will also increase our value and participation in all the other Spirit-gifted ministries.