Christianity is essentially a missionary religion.
It has been about seven years since I stepped outside of the ranks of “missionary” after more than 23 years of active ministry on three continents. It was a big step at the time and a difficult one for me and my wife AND our four children.
The original compulsion for this move came one day in Tajikistan in the early 2000’s while reading through the book of Galatians. I did not get any further than the first verse:
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)” Gal 1:1 (NASB)
It was as if scales fell off my eyes and I saw — and felt the weight of — a faulty system of “doing missions” that was centered on being “sent from men” and “through the agency of man”! This revelation led me on a path that is only now becoming clearer.
I must give most of the credit since then to the writings of Roland Allen. Many missionaries list him as one of the greatest theologians of missions to the modern world. Ironically, some of his major writings (Non-Professional Missionaries and Voluntary Clergy) spoke completely against the work of missions-as-we-know-it and church-as-we-know-it!
Here is an example of that taken from Donald McGavran’s classic book on missions: The Bridges of God, written in 1955 —
“The Church in its entirety is a missionary body of which every member is a missionary. There is no ground for the existence of a body of professional missionaries in the New Testament.” (Roland Allen, quoted in The Bridges of God)
This statement is not so much a slam against mission agencies and missionaries – the likes of which include, in our day, OM, YWAM, IMB, Frontiers, CRU, etc. – as it was a plea for the recognition of the incredible army that waited to express their missionary zeal outside of the traditional scope of paid, professional missionaries. Roland called them “non-professional missionaries”; missionaries who would be self-supporting or unofficial missionaries and not sent out as a member of an organization or missionary agency.
His belief was tied to the conviction that the Holy Spirit was a “missionary Spirit” and if one had the Spirit he had the impulse to be a missionary:
“Christianity is essentially a missionary religion. Therefore it is impossible for men to receive Christ into their souls and not to receive that Spirit. That Spirit is a world-wide all-embracing Spirit. To Christ there are no bounds… If Christ does not save the whole world He can save none.” (Roland Allen, Missionary Principles)
Roland saw the world covered with an incredible number of men and women who had left their homelands and went as laborers to foreign fields for the sake of Christ and preach by that example “a lesson which all men can follow.”
“The missionary work of the unofficial missionary is not the same work which a paid professional missionary does. The paid professional missionary leaves the ordinary work of the world and devotes himself to what he calls ‘religious work’; the non-professional missionary realizes that the ordinary work of the world ought to be done religiously, and does it religiously, and calls it ‘religious work.’
The professional missionary secularizes all the work which he does not recognize as religious work; the non-professional missionary consecrates all work. The professional missionary exhorts others to consecrate their lives in the common work — which he forsakes in order to consecrate his own; the non-professional missionary sets an example of the consecrated life by refusing to forsake work… The one preaches by example a lesson which all men can follow; the other a lesson which few men can, or ought to, follow… It is such missionary work, done consciously and deliberately as missionary, that the world needs today.” (Roland Allen, Non- Professional Missionary)
The works, Non-Professional Missionaries and Voluntary Clergy, are now out of print but can be read in part in Roland Allen, The Ministry of the Spirit, Selected Writings