I sat in a room surrounded by young men and women who for the past one year have been learning and living their lives on mission. The conditions were a much better picture than what was Angaza mission school when I took the one year program a few years ago. I asked questions and responded to others, most of them about my experience doing ministry.
“What has your experience been like being a missionary and being married to a woman who is in the corporate?” one student asked. I knew the question aimed at the challenges such a marriage may experience. A missionary husband married to a ……..well, is my wife a missionary?
For a long time now the debate on whether every believer in Christ is a missionary or there are only a handful who are missionaries has raged on. For some, our mission fields are anywhere the Lord places us and so we are all missionaries regardless of where we serve and what we do. The lawyer is a missionary, and the engineer constructing roads, and the nurse, and the pastor. But not so to others who claim we can’t all be missionaries.
Why the conflict?
If there are fights and quarrels among us who believe, James tells us it must be because of conflicting desires within us – James 4:1. I think the debate has gone on as needlessly long as it has because deep in the recesses of our hearts we are self-seeking. Whichever position we hold there is some selfishness involved.
For many who claim that not all Christians are missionaries there is the prideful attitude that feels more deserving. Realistically they’ve made greater sacrifices; they’ve left homes, family, comfort, and to crown it thrown themselves headlong into the arms of persecution for the sake of Christ. It almost feels insulting comparing them to people who haven’t made the same sacrifices.
For the ones who contend for all Christians to be perceived as missionaries, their selfishness rides on a self-preserving attitude. The Spirit of God who indwells them obviously disturbs them when they choose comfort over sacrifice. To counter the guilt many will exonerate themselves with the excuse that they are missionaries in whatever fields they are in.
The Bible responds to both sinful attitudes. To the prideful attitude of the believer who sacrifices more Jesus gives the parable of workers in a vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. A landowner hired men to work in his vineyard at different hours of the day and paid them all the same wage; a denarius. The workers who were hired in the morning felt angered that they could be paid the same as those who were hired in the evening and worked only an hour.
The landowner’s response to the grievance was “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” – Matthew 20:13-15.
We can clearly see that when we think we are entitled to more because of the longer we’ve worked or the greater sacrifices we’ve made then first our hearts are sold to envy, and secondly we have made ourselves judge. The Master reserves the right to reward as He pleases, but we not only envy others who do less and receive the same reward as we; we also impose ourselves judges who can determine better who to reward than God can.
To the self-preserving believer Paul writes “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.
Even though we are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) our works will be rewarded anyway. We each can choose how to live our Christian lives, what to spend our lives for. We mustn’t forget that gold is preferred to hay or straw. We mustn’t settle for straw when we have a chance to build with gold.
The workers in the vineyard who worked only one hour must have been rewarded equally with those who worked all day because they served the same cause with equal diligence for however short time they had opportunity to.
The landowner did not invite them in the morning and they responded “Well, we’d rather not come now. We’ll wait till evening when there’s only an hour of work left.” Like those who went in the morning, they also went immediately they were offered the chance. They did not turn down a chance for more because they were contented with less like many who excuse themselves from greater involvement in mission work often do.
Who then is a missionary?
If a missionary means someone who crosses cultures to take the Gospel to those who haven’t heard, then not all Christians are missionaries. I am not even one myself. But if it means one who believes in Christ and bears the responsibility of taking the blessing of salvation to those in the darkness in one form or another, then all Christians should be missionaries.
Unfortunately, even with that second definition, not all Christians are missionaries yet. The 2.9 billion unreached (that is the population of Kenya multiplied by 64 – all without knowledge of Christ!) is evidence that not all who believe are faithful to the command to make disciples of all nations. Not all in the Church are missionaries yet!
Some like to think that we are all missionaries, and whichever places we live or work are our mission fields. Unfortunately many who make such a claim wouldn’t point to even a single soul they’ve deliberately shared the Gospel with at their workplace or residence if asked to do so. Even those supposed mission fields remain awash with wickedness despite their presence. They may not actively advance sin, but passively they stand by and never contend for righteousness.
The true missionary is the believer fully submitted to the lordship of Christ. He doesn’t choose how to conveniently serve his master. He obediently goes wherever the Master leads. That may be Somalia, and it may well be the marketplace. But how many believers would willingly give up their jobs and take the same position in a place that is harsher and with an organization that pays significantly less because they thought they would better spread the Gospel that way if opportunity were to present?
A missionary heart is not just a sacrificial one, but an obedient one. It has to ache for the lost and share in the passion of Christ to see God’s glory spread throughout the earth. It does not limit its mission field to some organization or locality. It embraces the whole global plan of God and makes strategic efforts to take His Kingdom to the ends of the earth; even from the office one sits in.
Think about it, if it is enough to share the Gospel with a few colleagues at work, why should anyone bother with praying for the unreligious in China or even give to the needs of a missionary serving among them? That’s not his mission field after all. But we know the Gospel will not get to the ends of the earth if believers think that way. And it hasn’t chiefly because many think that way.
It is a good thing that many in the market place have embraced the slogan “If you can’t go, let your money go for you.” I bet a few more people are giving because of that. But I will keep cautioning against sending finances where you wouldn’t be willing to go yourself. Giving money is not necessarily a mark of obedience. Obedience is yielding one’s heart to the cause, and those who do often give more and sacrificially.
A repentant response
What then should we do to be saved from our wretched hearts? For the missionary, you who has sacrificed more, how you speak of those who sacrifice less will reveal your attitude towards the work you are privileged to do. If you speak of them with bitterness then sad to say, you are serving the Lord begrudgingly. You don’t think of the mission calling as a great privilege worth joyfully serving. To you it’s a heavy responsibility unfairly dropped on your shoulders while others sit and watch.
You are no different from the grumbling workers in the vineyard who failed to realize that the great privilege was not so much the promised reward but being hired. They should have been thankful they worked longer. If truly mission calling is a thing of joy to you and the sacrifices you make every bit worth it then you shouldn’t be bitter towards others. You should be compassionate instead. You should be sorry that they are missing out and graciously invite them in.
For the one in the corporate, first acknowledge that God is about more than you’ve probably been about. The world is not someone else’s mission field. It is yours, just as your neighborhood and workplace are. Do not settle for little when God is inviting you to more. If you do, it betrays a poor attitude towards the missionary task; the attitude that doesn’t think of it as a privilege to gladly choose, but sadly as too sacrificial a task to happily stay away from.
My wife is both a missionary and not one
So what has the experience been being married to a missionary who is not a missionary? To be honest, better than any other combo my marriage would have been. My wife hasn’t been through even a fraction of the mission trainings I’ve been exposed to, but her willingness to follow Christ wherever He leads trumps the most missions knowledge anyone could have.
She faithfully lives out the little she knows. Her character and her heart yielded to the Lord were enough to convince me she would join me to whichever part of the world for the sake of Christ’s renown, however harsh. I wouldn’t be surprised if she someday asks me to prayerfully consider relocating our family to live among an unreached community she’s grown increasingly burdened for.
Only a prideful heart would say “I can’t get married to someone who is ‘not a missionary’”. Only a prideful man thinks what he does better. If I thought less of the jobs my friends in the corporate are doing, then I am a hypocrite when I take their money and live and serve on their generosity.
Looking condescendingly on their jobs is essentially despising a gift from God. They do not have those jobs or businesses because they worked so hard. Partly they do, but mainly because the very God who has called me into mission work has given them those jobs and businesses.
Even though many might not use these gifts to advance God’s cause, some do. We shouldn’t look down on those who don’t. We should instead lovingly help them appreciate what those jobs and businesses really are; gifts from God for the expansion of His global cause. When all Christians will become missionaries, I believe the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the seas – Habakkuk 2:14. But we are not there yet.