Charity Reeb and two professors at Missouri State University published the results of a study on the missiological thought of pastors and missionary leadership in IBMR 40.3 2016.
It confirmed my own personal experience in talking with pastors, that there is a much broader way in which “mission” and “missionary” is used versus the way cross cultural workers think about these terms.
Two questions were set up as agree/disagree, and they highlighted the difference in the way pastors and missionary leadership thinks about mission and the work of the missionary.
“When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “As Christians, we are all
missionaries,” missionary leadership unanimously disagreed. In contrast, 81 percent
of pastors agreed. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “A
local outreach endeavor conducted by a church such as a ‘Reach out to Your Neighbor’
campaign is a missionary activity,” more than 90 percent of missionary leadership
disagreed. Pastors differed, with more than 85 percent strongly agreeing with the statement” (222).
One of the reasons that I have heard offered by pastors is that the term “missionary” gives them some traction in terms of making it important and critical that they cannot get if they use the term “evangelism” for instance. Once when teaching at a seminary in Africa we had some very vigorous discussion on the broad and narrow sense of mission. I concluded by telling them that it was completely their choice on how they wanted to appropriate the terms, but that at the very least they needed to find some way terminologically to make a distinction between the work of a pastor among his own people group in evangelism and pastoral care, the work of a cross-cultural missionary who works in partnership with local Christians and church movements to strengthen them across dimensions like evangelism and discipleship, church planting, leadership training and compassion ministry, and those cross-cultural workers who are going where the church does not exist or is very small and whose primary work is to proclaim Christ and plant the church.
I reminded them that if you do not have distinct terms for these activities, churches and Christians will always gravitate towards the easier tasks and that means the people who lose are those who have no access to the Gospel.