This post is about what it means to be a missionary. At least as far as I understand it. The groundwork for this post has been laid in several discussions with friends and co-laborers who share a burden for the future of God’s Kingdom. I want to make sure that from the onset: I’m not just wondering where to draw the linguistic or semantic lines between “missionary” and “salesman.” Rather, I want to address what it means to be a missionary – and simply a missionary.
Perhaps a little background:
For six years I lived in Colorado. During that time (along with working through the haze of seminary), I worked as a bi-vocational faith-supported “missionary.” I worked as part of a church planting team, as well as a tent-maker of sorts. In my case, I worked alongside a local honey farmer in various capacities – among them as a sales representative. I soon learned that it was hard to juggle the demands of both sides of my life. I found myself frequently and rapidly switching gears between “… and that’s why you need this product” and “Jesus came to seek and save the lost.”
The lines became blurred. Techniques that I learned as a sales representative bled into my understanding of the gospel to an unhealthy level. I found myself arrogantly (albeit unconsciously) looking at myself as upwardly mobile in ministry. I had innovation. I talked about models and structures that were “groundbreaking.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was slowly moving away from both roles – seeking an awkward fusion of the two. But over time, I learned something that saved my sanity: I found that the ends of both were better served by keeping a clear distinction between the two.
Being a missionary means a form of bondage. Unlike the images of bondage that we might immediately jump to (slavery, punitive servitude, caste systems, etc.) – where one is in bondage to an outside, incidental ruler – the missionary’s bondage is a bondage to the essential – the irreducible – something to which he / she is inextricably linked.
When I worked as a sales representative, I couldn’t exist without the larger complex superstructure of business to support my initiatives: goals, strategies, sales pitches, relational dynamics, invoices, deliverables, follow-ups, etc. And anything evaluated by economic measurements is very complex. A missionary, however, needs only to sink him/herself more and more deeply into a few simple things that are incredibly important. When I read how Paul looked at himself (“bond-servant”), he always seemed to point to a few simple, obvious things (the cross, Christ and Him crucified, the proclamation of the gospel, the need for personal holiness). Maybe a helpful formula: The more complex your missiology (the more you’re “bonded to”), the less devoted you are to dying for it. A read through 1st Corinthians might bring greater clarity to what I’m getting at.
We’ve got tools. We’ve got innovation. And – in many Christian circles – we’re almost keeping pace with the culture. But no one that I know would honestly consider dying for the models their innovations produce. I think it was Henri Nouwen who said that “the Christian in this world is called to be completely irrelevant.” Exactly. Relevance is not our concern. Because the question is: “When the model fades and when innovation dies, will we have anything left to stand on (better: stand for)?”
In future posts, some of these issues might re-present themselves along related lines. But maybe next time, I’ll drop in some poetry. That’s always refreshing.