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Missionaries or Mercenaries?

Missionaries or Mercenaries?

Note: Originally posted October 2014.

Deputation is a word that strikes fear into the heart of many people looking at the missionary enterprise. Some have said, “I wouldn’t go around to churches and people begging for money.” Others look at missionaries as people who can’t make it anywhere else so they go looking for well-meaning churches to support them. While these are crass caricatures of what the majority thinks, it does strike at the heart of the struggle to define deputation. According to the online dictionary a deputy is a person appointed to represent others. Thus, deputation refers to the process of a local church identifying who they want to represent them in the missionary enterprise.

This brings us back to our question implied in the subject of this article: Who do you want representing your church on the mission field – missionaries or mercenaries? Let’s define our terms again – a missionary is a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.). A mercenary is a soldier who is paid by a foreign country to fight in its army; a soldier who will fight for any group or country that hires him. The definitions used here all came from the same online dictionary and are only representative of the most basic understanding of the words.

The definitions make the question becomes clearer. Are you as a church leader appointing missionaries or mercenaries to represent you on the mission fields of the world? Does the missionary see himself as a missionary or a mercenary? The simplest distinction for the person sent is: did they go because of the money or the ministry? For the church, the question should be: are we sending someone from our midst to represent our burden for the needs of the receiving people or are we simply sending some money to accomplish a vague sense of accomplishment?

Jesus made a similar distinction in John 10:11 & 12. There are several motivations for making this decision. The mercenary is typically much cheaper and there is no real obligation outside of the regular monthly stipend. A missionary is in effect an integral part of the church congregation who has been ‘deputized’ to fulfill the obligations of the congregation among the lost people of the world.

A person who sees himself as a missionary will attempt to maintain the relationship with his donor base churches and individuals. Unfortunately it is often a one way communication with little in the way of reciprocity beside the monthly check. This fosters a mercenary attitude on both sides of the continuum.

Reflect on this: How do you view those you have sent in response to the Great Commission: a missionary deputized by you to represent your interests or a mercenary paid to fight for you?