One of the results of living in a post-modern age is that the concept of truth has become, to say the least, fuzzy. In fact, the proposition that there exists anything approaching absolute truth is questioned if not completely dismissed. This unwillingness to accept certain concepts as truth has also lead to an unwillingness to agree on the meaning of certain terms and concepts. In their book When Everything is Missions, Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison write, “we are concerned that an uncritical use of words, and in particular a lack of shared definition for the words mission, missions, missionary, and missional, has led to a distortion of Jesus’ biblical mandate, ushered in an everything-is-missions paradigm.”[1]

As a result, the church often confuses evangelism and missions and in doing so weakens the Great Commission.  While evangelism and missions are very closely related, you cannot truly do missions without doing evangelism, they are not the same.  Evangelism lies at the very heart of the Christian experience.  Indeed, without evangelism the church would cease to exist in one generation.

The word evangelism comes from the Greek word, euangelion meaning gospel or good news.  The Holman Bible Dictionary defines evangelism as “the Spirit-led communication of the gospel of the kingdom in such a way or ways that the recipients have a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and become responsible members of His church.”[2] Evangelism is to be practiced by every believer (Acts 1:8) and can be practiced in every cultural context.

In the New Testament missions carries a much narrower meaning. Historically, missions have been defined as “the deliberate crossing of cultural, religious, ethnic and geographic barriers to advance the work of making disciples of all nations.”[3] If one accepts this definition for missions, and I do, it means that within the church’s work of fulfilling the Great Commission there are distinct roles and assignments. While every believer is commanded to be an evangelist not every believer is called to be a missionary (Acts 13).

Therefore, to call sharing the gospel with my neighbor in Powell who speaks English, looks like me, and comes for the USA, missions is simple incorrect.  To refer to teaching an English Bible study in my church, home, or Christian school as missions is not correct.  It is evangelism and as such is an act that obeys the Great Commission, but it is not missions.

So, what is the big deal? To quoted Spitters and Ellison again, “we assert that while evangelism is central to making disciples, and making disciples the core of the commission, missions is not the same as evangelism, and the choice to call all Christians missionaries comes with a cost. It deprives us of language to describe those who are uniquely set apart to pioneer the gospel across the binderies it has yet to cross.”[4]

I celebrate and am grateful for each time the gospel is shared, whether it be in our church, school, homes, neighborhoods, or on the other side of the world. However, it is not all the same. Those who commit their lives to crossing barriers with the gospel are called by God and His church to a unique role. They are evangelists, but they are more, they are missionaries. So, for the record, I am not a missionary.  But if I am obedient to Christ I will be an evangelist. May God remind us all of His command to “be My witnesses” and may many answer the call to carry that witness across many barriers as missionaries.

[1] Denny Spitters, When Everything is Missions (Pioneers-USA, 2017), 22.

[2] G. William Schweer, “Evangelism,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 519.

[3] Spitters, 37.

[4] Ibid, 68.