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What Is a Missionary and What Do They Do?

June 5, 2024 |  By Rebecca Olsen

The Christian community is full of words that people frequently use but rarely stop to define. One of these words is the term “missionary.” If you want to learn what a missionary is and what they do, keep reading! We explore formal definitions from the Bible and dictionary, as well as real-life examples of missionary duties.

 

Missionaries According to the Bible

A Bible is open on a table with a bookmark in place. Most Important Verses in the Bible

Technically, the word missionary doesn’t appear in the Bible. However, the root word of missionary is mission, which comes from the Latin missio and has a Greek equivalent you’ll probably recognize: apostelló.

Apostelló, or apostle in English, appears throughout the Bible and frequently in the four Gospels. Based on the definition and usage of the word, we learn that an apostle, or a missionary, is someone who is sent to share the saving knowledge of Jesus with unbelievers.

Jesus Himself commissioned the original apostles (Matthew 28:16–20). To honor that distinction, many churches use the term “missionary” now instead of “apostle,” but the principle of sending someone out to share the saving knowledge of Jesus is still the same.

 

Modern Definition of a Missionary

The dictionary defines a missionary as:

A person sent on a religious mission, especially someone promoting Christianity in a foreign country.

Other definitions describe missionaries as cross-cultural Christians who leave their native area to serve in a new one, or someone dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Our name, Advancing Native Missions, could sound confusing when we compare it to these modern definitions. If a missionary is supposed to go to a foreign country or new area, how can there be native missions?

Native missions exists because there are Christians with the same or similar cultural identities sharing the Gospel with others in their area. Some of the people they reach may be like them, while others may come from nearby unreached people groups. Regardless of who they’re reaching, these native Christians are still missionaries because they are on a religious mission promoting Christianity in accordance with the Great Commission. Like the original apostles, they are sent to tell others about the saving knowledge of Jesus.

You may think this sounds more like an evangelist than a missionary. However, evangelists are focused on preaching, while many of the native missionaries we partner with share the Gospel through church planting, discipleship, and community aid.

 

Missionary Duties

The primary duty of a missionary is to share the Gospel of Jesus, especially with those who’ve never heard it. They can go about this project in various ways based on the skills, talents, and passions that God gave them.

For example, sometimes medical professionals become medical missionaries. They attend school to become a nurse, dentist, doctor, or other medical professional, and then they serve in a place that has little access to medical care. When people come to them for medical care, they provide that care and share the Gospel with them.

While their primary duty is to share the Gospel, they use medical care as a bridge to create relationships with people, so it’s easier to share the Gospel with them. We partner with a medical missionary in the Philippines named Linda, and you can learn more about her in our 7 Days of Prayer for Native Missionaries guide.

 

Missionary Work Around the World

a pastor on a bike

Just as missionary duties vary depending on the gifts of the missionary, missionary work is different around the world. It looks different in each region since they have their own unique history and culture.

Missionary Work in Asia

 

Use the 7 Days of Prayer for Native Missionaries guide to know how to pray.

Photo by Eric Vess (Nepal 2022)