This is something I have wrestled with for some time. As a short-term overseas missionary and friend of many long-term overseas missionaries, I have struggled in labeling all my missional buddies in the U.S. as “missionaries.” Perhaps this is a pride-infused hold over from Christendom models of mission or perhaps it springs from a deep respect for those who cross cultural and linguistic barriers that rise much higher than those of domestic “missionary” activity. Let’s face it, church planting in the U.S. is hard but very often it is not cross-cultural or cross-linguistic. In fact, it is very often close-cultural and close-linguistic. The men and women who surrender such cultural and linguistic comforts for the sake of the gospel are missionaries of a different stripe. Very often, they are those who risk and give their lives for the sake of the gospel, and are given special honor in Scripture (Rev 6; 3 John 1.6-7).
Ross Appleton, missionary in preparation to the Middle East, has claimed that “missionaries get too much press” and that they should not be treated as a “spiritual elite.” Ross has some good, God-centered thoughts on the whole enterprise and motivation for mission. I have debated this larger issue of missionary nomenclature for domestic disciples at greater length based on Chris Wright’s definitions of “mission” and “missionary” here. Though I have embraced being a missional disciple, a missionary in Austin, I still retain a deep respect for those who have sacrificed much more than I have.