Reflections on My New Mission Agency

One thing that I learned last month about the new group with whom we are privileged to minister, Alongside International Ministries, is that they prefer to call their associates “Alongsiders” instead of “Missionaries.”  Why this subtle shift?

First, “Alongsider” is great biblical language. Barnabas, one of the first ministers sent cross-culturally in the Bible, was called “the son of encouragement.”  In Greek this word paraclesis has a few meanings and is related to the Greek word you may know paraclete, which how Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit in John.  Perhaps Barnabas was called the son of paraclesis because the apostles thought he had a family resemblance to the character of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, and one who “helps us in our weakness” and empowers others to do Jesus’ work.  Barnabas was, after all, a man full of the Spirit (Acts 11:24). One of the ways I learned to translate paraclete is someone called alongside to help.  Hence, we can properly speak of Barnabas, the world’s first Alongsider!  That’s not bad.  It is the very vision which has attracted me Europe in the first place and to this group of cross-cultural missionaries many years later.  Coming alongside seemed like the wisest strategy to adopt when appropriately concerned about the state of the gospel in Europe.  So many missionaries plant churches in Europe as if they are Europe’s first evangelists.

But the reason that I was told that Alongside does not use the word “missionary” is because the word has picked up some connotations along the way which aren’t true to Jesus’ vision for the church.  And this is why I’ll rarely be called a missionary by my bosses.  One very, very common connotation is that missionaries and missionary churches are 100% devoted to direct evangelism.  This is the picture of the overseas missionary who lays awake at night wondering where he can buy sawdust for the tent revival he is hosting on the weekend.  Or, to give a more modern example, the overseas missionary who lays awake thinking of how to market his new church plant to unbelievers.  But this connotation is misleading because it presents Jesus as a one-trick pony.  It presents Jesus as one who is merely in the conversion business with everything else as just icing on the cake.  Read the New Testament again and ask the Holy Spirit, (the divine Alongsider) if that’s true.

Well, I, at least, am not that kind of missionary.  I’m the kind that has seen the situation in Europe and knows that what is really absent from European churches is discipleship which arrives at people who are genuinely godly.  Hence, my life is a gift to Europe.  Like Barnabas I’ll work alongside every pastor and church which intends (even if they might be failing) to include that kind of discipleship.