What is a Missionary? As I quoted in the last article, “Fivefold Ministry; Is That All?” the God’s Word Translation replaces the word evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 with the word missionary, “He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts [to his church].” (Emphasis mine.) However, many Christians equate apostles to missionaries . Craig Ott (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) says that the “term apostle is used in various ways in the New Testament, most prominently in reference to the twelve apostles,” but it is used more generally with “Paul’s coworkers who were part of his itinerant missionary band, including Barnabas (Acts 14:3, 14), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6, 9), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Titus (2 Cor. 823), Silavanus (Silas), and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6; cf. 1:1)” . Ott concludes that the rough equivalent to the term apostle is missionary .
But what does it mean? Sometimes the definition of a term, title, or office doesn’t really shed light on the subject. But equating the term Missionary with Paul allows us to look at life of Paul, what he did, and how he did it in order to enlighten us as to the biblical perspective of the word.
Paul, church planter, missionary
Paul was essentially a church planter. The term “church planter” has within the last ten years, taken on a revival of its own, and become a “buzz word” within denominational circles and conferences. This is not a bad thing; to the contrary I think it is very good. I simply find it a little fascinating that when I put “church planting” into an Amazon search I can find a list of twenty-five books all with a combination of the those two words in the title, twenty-two of which have been published after 2005. (If you are a minister and you haven’t read one of these, you should.) This is fascinating because church planting has long been the ministry of a missionary, for hundreds of years, but it is only recently that the phrase “church planter” has been on the lips of ministries in the United States. Even my own denomination, in 2012, began offering a “grant” for new “church plants,” something they hadn’t done in the past.
Twenty to thirty years ago, mega churches were the dream of pastors in the United States, but the church has been transitioning to a vision of church planting. While staying in Chicago to take care of my ill mother in 2013, I started attending a church on the south side of the city called, New Life. I was familiar with the church because my mother attended many years ago. It is a large church, although not large enough to be called a mega church. But the church wasn’t interested in growing its own numbers, it was interested in planting more churches throughout the city “to take the city for Jesus.” It didn’t have any churches outside of the Chicago area, but it had already planted fifteen different churches in different neighborhoods, and four or five centers to aid in education, jobs and health. New Life employs what Ott calls the “catalytic” method of planting churches . There is a central “mother” church that recognizes and mentors leaders within that they send out to plant and grow a new church. The “mother” church retains authority and oversight and provides aid when necessary, usually at the beginning, until the new plant can become self sufficient.
There are other forms of church planting outside the scope of this article that we will focus on in the near future, but suffice it to say that the above method works well in the United States, even though it is not the method Paul used to plant churches.
Paul was on what I like to call a “star trek mission.” He wanted to go where no man had gone before. He said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” Romans 15:20 ESV. In Acts he said that the Lord had commanded him, saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Acts 13:47. This vision was Paul’s specific calling.
So, Paul went to the cities, preaching first in the synagogues and then to the Gentiles, acting with a team. Paul did not pastor, but worked with local followers, mentored them, and empowered them to carry on the work after he was gone. Paul acted as more of a facilitator, trainer and consultant in his missionary role, but carried the very authority of the church.
Today, there are many varieties of missionaries. Some are church planters, but others do other things with the end goal of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and redeemer for all who believe.
I often like to say that a missionary is a “jack of all trades” and master of none, and there is some truth in that. As a missionary, my wife (very much an equal partner) and I must be administrators of the missionary organization that we oversee; we write grants, generate support, provide reports and file taxes and other governmental reports that are required, maintain a website and a board of directors. But that is only a fraction of what we do and it is only where it starts. We are evangelists, preaching the gospel and telling bible stories to many of whom have never heard of Jesus. We use drama, skits, drawings, preaching, storytelling and music. We often pastor many people, pray for them and encourage them, attend their celebrations and perform weddings and funerals. We are church planters, bringing together communities for Christ when the Holy Spirit leads and we are educators, training leaders to become pastors in their own communities, well studied and well able to minister to their own congregations. In short, we do what we can to make disciples who make disciples.
But you don’t have to do all of that to be a missionary. There are many facets to the calling and for now, I am simply going to list some of those which we will visit again in part two when we describe: Missionaries as Pastors, friendship evangelists, special short-term missionaries, missionaries as ministers of social justice.
 Ott, Craig and Wilson, Gene; Global Church Planting: Biblical Prinicples and Best Practics for Multiplication, Baker Academic, 2011p.89.
 Id. At 90.