One Sunday many months ago, I walked into church, passed through the doors of the sanctuary, and felt a thin rectangular piece of paper slide into my hand from a greeter. I found my seat on a plush brown chair and watched as a pastor dressed in a nice plaid shirt meandered to the center of the stage and prepared the congregation for service. After working his way through announcements, he cordially lifted his gaze, readjusted his stance, and proudly informed the church that this Sunday, as a body of believers, we would be praying for our missionaries.
As the words fell upon my ears, my heart leapt, and my thoughts gathered in a mixture of surprise, hope, and joy, “They’re going to pray for me!”
As the pastor spoke, I was told to look at the thin rectangular paper in my hand and my eyes fell on the people pictured on the card. I was told that the photo showed me who we would actually be praying for.
My thoughts cascaded as understanding took root.
“We are praying for our missionaries today.”
Actually meaning, the people receiving prayer are the people printed on this card.
The people on this card are financially supported by the church.
The people on this card do not live in the topographical borders of the United States.
The people on this card are true missionaries.
I kept repeating his words to myself, “Today we are praying for our missionaries.”
Today we are praying for the people pictured on this card.
Finally, the reality hit me, today we are not praying for me.
I am not on this card.
I am not financially supported by the church.
I do not live beyond the topographical borders of the nation.
“Today we are praying for our missionaries.”
Today we are not praying for me.
I am not a missionary.
Now, donʼt fret. As my thoughts reached the conclusion that I must not be a missionary, my entire being seemed to utterly and immediately reject the lie.
In the past several months there have been many times where I have been talking with someone and they have said something like this:
“My parents used to be missionaries, but now they own a small business in Texas.”
“I’m supporting my friend who wants to be a missionary in Asia.”
“I think the Lord might be calling me to be a missionary somewhere.”
I am concerned every time I hear someone refer to a missionary strictly as a foreign identity and a calling that requires a drastic lifestyle change (including an overseas move), because the Christian identity and calling is to be a missionary right where you are. Most Christians know this– at least in theory– but there is a serious lack of a head to heart connection when it comes to this part of our identity.
When I only hear the word missionary described as someone who lives overseas and raises financial support in order to share the gospel and love the lost-- my mind automatically assigns that part of my daily responsibility to those who are the supposed “professionals." Now, this is an abhorrently ridiculous conclusion, but I believe that it is one that is extremely prevalent in our Christian culture.
It is vital that we continually remind ourselves that missionary is not a name only given to super Christians or to people whose lives are in other parts of the world. The title of missionary is the title to all Christians. It is part of our identity as followers of Christ. When we don’t identify as such, we begin to shirk the weighty responsibility of what it means to be like Christ. We begin to identify as Christians, but live as ones whose lives aren’t marked by evangelism or intentionality in relationships. We become content with solely maintaining significant friendships with other believers. We lose love for the lost.
And that is not okay.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-18
We must reclaim our identity as missionaries.
We must ask the Lord to renew our minds.
We must ask the Lord to make us like Him.
And then we must verbally and consciously identify as a missionary .
I have heard dozens of times that when you're struggling with self-hate, a good practice is to look in the mirror and say good things about yourself. It might sound funny or stupid, and you might not even believe it. But with time, the words become more and more acceptable and identifiable.
The manner and posture in which you speak of something will ultimately shape the way that you think of that thing.
I pray that the way the Church and Christian culture talk about missionaries will become inclusive of all Christians. I also pray that all who claim Christ, regardless of location or vocation, identify as missionaries. And lastly, I pray that the fruition of these things will result in the collective pushing back of darkness in our hearts, in our lives, and in our city.