Is Every Christian A "Missionary?"

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” – Charles Spurgeon

The above quote by Charles Spurgeon has been making the rounds on Twitter and facebook recently. I have benefited from Spurgeon’s sermons and writings and life story for a number of years. But at the risk of killing a sacred cow here, I must say, “I disagree.”

Let me start by saying, I am fine with saying every Christian is to be salt and light where they find themselves. And I agree that our speech should be appropriately seasoned with words which betray our faith sooner or later. And contrary to popular opinion on what I have previously written, I am not against missions or evangelism.

If it is true, that every christian is a missionary, then the word really has no meaning beyond what a Christian should be doing, missions. There is no point in calling missionaries to Eritrea, “missionaries” because accountants in Meridian are doing the same thing. The word becomes nearly meaningless. And while most missionaries, who have have cast off the comforts of ours for foreign lands, would be too gracious to be bothered by the idea, it would be understandable if they were just a little put-off by such an idea. Of course, then we would criticize them for pride. “Oh you are a Nurse! Me too! I just told my sister to take some Ibuprofen.”

Nursing your children back to health does not make you a Nurse.

My guess is people love the quote because they are still mired in the paradigm of elevating misionary work as the height of spirituality. Ordinary work that is not vocational ministry is not valuable enough in the kingdom if we are not using it as a vehicle for witnessing to people. It is not dignified by itself as kingdom work, something more is needed. So we call ourselves missionaries to justify our taking up of spiritual space.

However, I think most people mean well. Their thinking about Christianity is primarily defined by evangelism and missions. This is not merely part of the Christian experience, it defines it.

All of this seems to support a paradigm of thinking foreign to the New Testament writers. In other words, the quote demands we see ourselves as missionaries. If we do not, then we are impostors. Also, we must see others the same way. “Are they living like missionaries? Well they are impostors, if not.” The problem with this is that the writers of the NT do not ever talk like this. No one is ever called out for the sin of not being a missionary or witnessing or evangelizing. No one’s salvation is ever questioned for anything of the sort.

So while I understand the need for all Christians to be salt and light I disagree with Spurgeon on this. It confuses the difference between those who go and those who stay. And also it evaluates someone’s faith based on a variable of the christian life which almost goes entirely unmentioned in the New Testament letters to the churches.

10 thoughts on “Is Every Christian A "Missionary?"

  1. Ed Eubanks August 30, 2010 / 12:48 pm

    Matt said: "My guess is people love the quote because they are still mired in the paradigm of elevating misionary work as the height of spirituality."Interesting. My thought when I first began reading your post was exactly the opposite: they are too consumed with the popular notion that there's nothing distinctive or special about the pastor (or missionary, such as it is), because "he's just another guy like us." It's the same idea that leads to the misconception that just anyone can preach, that the sacraments can be administered by anyone anywhere, and so on.There are probably vestiges of both…

  2. C-Dub Collins August 30, 2010 / 2:39 pm

    I just want to know what you were doing up at 4:21 am.

  3. brianmetz August 30, 2010 / 4:12 pm

    I disagree with your thoughts on this. Your take is the equivalent of saying Mormons call themselves Christians so we should not use that word to describe evangelicals. We are missionaries. I think the better way of using this word is as a noun not an adjective. So then you may use an adjective like "foreign" or "native" or "local" in front of missionary. We, as a called out people, are on mission. We've all been given the "Great Commission" and so "as we are going" we are on mission -we are missionaries. Why do we need to place a special title on those who leave comfort and family and go to a far away country? Their reward is Jesus. And they are not "special" they are just like the other laborers. We need to be obedient where we are and to what God has called us to. We think just because someone has laminated card stock with there smiling faces on them and they are going to a country we can't find on a map – that they are somehow holier and special. What about the guy that wakes up every morning, loves his wife, trains his kids, holds down a job, reads his bible, gives money so that foreign missionaries can be in country, shares Jesus with his co-workers and neighbors and serves his local church? He is on mission. Yet, with this kind of talk he thinks, "I need to do more, maybe go to Africa and then I will be recognized as being a "missionary" because they are truly obedient radical Christians." We are all in this together and our lives should represent that, otherwise we are impostors. " 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."Last time I checked there wasn't a perimeter drawn around the harvest and only those in the perimeter were laborers. I haven't done enough research to speak of what the NT does or doesn't say about calling someone out on their "mission work" so I will not comment on that.

  4. Amy Wimpee August 30, 2010 / 4:55 pm

    We are not created to be cookie cutter Christians. Think of the list of the gifts, the roles in the church. We naturally want to put it all in a neat box with "this is right and this is wrong." I want to eat from the tree of Life, not the tree of black and white; right and wrong. We also want to list the rules on how we all are supposed to do it, but look at the way Jesus did each miracle differently. We are one, but we are each unique. Jesus pointed to the inside of the cup, and we want to focus on the outside. When we dwell in the Kingdom & the King which are on the inside, the outer will show that. Regarding our thoughts on how others live out their faith, it's all about love and real relationship. That's what I see in Jesus' life, and that's what I see as the greatest light that attracts others to truth & a deeper spiritual life

  5. Garrett August 30, 2010 / 5:42 pm

    Question. As I was reading this, I first read the quote as "every christian is either a missionary or an impostor", thinking it was a typo. Was it meant to be "mission", as in a safe haven, or "missionary", as in one who spreads the gospel? Because, which ever word is use, definitely changes how you examine the quote.

  6. Matt Redmond August 30, 2010 / 6:29 pm

    Garrett, The post has been edited. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. Chris/ C. Okereke June 4, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    if the word missionary implies the one sent to spread the message of a given religion, then anyone who is aChristian is a missionary. If a Christian is not a missionary, it suggests that one does not know the purpose of his salvation in Christ. i agree with Spurgeon that every Christian is a missionary.it depends on where and how one does his missionary activities.One may be a full/part time missionay in a foreign country.One may decide to do so in his locality.

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