Current definitions of this key word give negative guidance.

Missionary” is a venerable and respected word in search of identity. If you think I exaggerate, try this quiz:

Which of the following could be called a “missionary”?

1. Billy Graham

2. Jimmy Carter

3. Carl F. H. Henry

4. Francis Schaeffer

5. All of the above

6. None of the above

Number five is true if “every person is a missionary or a mission field” (though some Republicans might take exception at one point). Number one is true if “missionary” means full-time evangelism. Number four is true if “missionary” means going to some culture other than one’s own to do religious work. Number six is true if “missionary” means the vocation of pioneer church-starting evangelism.

Then again, what difference does it make? Consider what happens when fuzzy definitions of this key word lead to troublesome things like the acute frustration many young adults have over a missionary “call,” the confusion of missionary and national church leaders about the missionary role, and the sharp contention over whether or not the church has entered the postmissionary era. Then it would make a difference.

But, some might say, the definition is not in doubt. It’s to them that I pose the following remarks. My aim is not to come up with a definition, but simply to argue that we badly need one.

The catchy slogan, “Every Christian is a missionary,” is intended to jolt God’s people into responsible obedience to Christ’s intention that all be witnesses and proclaim the good news. It is based on the idea that the word “missionary” simply means “sent one” and that all Christians fall into that category. If that is true, what then becomes of a specific “call” or vocation?

“Oh, but,” some would respond, “just as there ...

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