I used to be of the mind that everyone is a missionary, wherever you are. Having served in missions for awhile, I’ve realized the absurdity of that claim. The problem I see with this mentality is not so much with the idea that we’re all witnesses (Acts 1:8) as much as it has to do with clarity in communication among believers.
To say that everyone’s a missionary waters down the term in the context of taking a simple task (the gospel) through an inherently complicated endeavor (to all nations). I’ve come to realize we need to delineate different tasks simply to best understand the task ourselves. If we say that everyone is a missionary, it becomes much more difficult to clearly share the needs that a missionary faces without qualifying the activity (i.e. short-term missionary, field missionary, etc.)
That said, I don’t exactly have a suggested glossary of terms to offer, particularly with respect to long-term missions. At e3 Partners, we’ve thought much more about church planting in the context of short term missions.
“Mission trip” has become the generic equivalent in the short-term realm that “missionary” has, well, other places. It would be so much easier for everyone involved if we distinguished between a service trip (construction or orphanage help) and a prayer walk or an evangelistic outreach. This isn’t to say that prayer and construction can’t be evangelistic but the simple fact is those trips aren’t geared to that end. I suppose doing this might be problematic to certain participants, who for whatever reason might feel less important if they were part of a “service trip” and not a “mission trip,” but, in my opinion, people with that mindset are approaching service from the wrong angle from the get-go.
Where does that leave you? What do you think?