Glossary of Missions Terms

Terms you'll want to know as you investigate your involvement in missions.

Appropriate Technology

Help for developing countries based on both needs and resources. For example, a hand irrigation pump works better than an electric one if you don’t have electric power.

Authoritarianism

An illegitimate system of rule by fear and arbitrary violence, usually in the hands of one power-hungry individual.

Business as Mission

A Christian-led business venture possessing two essential characteristics: that it is built on a commercially viable, for-profit business; that it is highly intentional about being used as an instrument of God’s mission to the world (Missio Dei). These business ventures are often operated in a cross-cultural environment either domestically or internationally. See also For-profit Missions

Call

An urging from God that shouldn’t be transferred, put on hold or disconnected. And even if it sounds like there’s static on the line, remember that whether we are called to a place, a people or a task, we all are called to use our gifts to serve the King.

Candidate

Someone who has applied to a mission agency. The candidate secretary is the one who corresponds with people who apply to a mission. Some agencies gather candidates interested in career service at a week or two of candidate school to orient them to the agency and to evaluate each candidate for acceptance. Once accepted by the mission board the candidate is called an appointee.

Church planting

Starting new churches.

Closed Country

A country in which the public proclamation of the gospel is restricted. Evangelistic efforts in these countries can pose dangers to one’s life, well-being or freedom. See also Creative Access Country, Restricted Access Country

Contextualization

Putting the truths of God into the context of the local culture. This involves seeing how one’s own culture distorts your understanding of biblical truths, and then taking the universal truths and applying them in another culture.

Creative Access Country

A country in which the public proclamation of the gospel is restricted. Evangelistic efforts in these countries can pose dangers to one’s life, well-being or freedom. See also Closed Country, Restricted Access Country

Developing World

The community of people living in non-Western nations. The peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa contain the majority of people, the majority races and the majority of Christians. Like the similar terms Third World and Global South, this term has derogatory connotations. See instead Majority World

Development

A process enabling a community to provide for its own needs, beyond former levels, with dignity and justice.

Be careful! This word has been abused in the context of colonialism, and many people think of development as: “We’ll give you this money, if you throw away your ancient culture and become Westerners.”

Diaspora

The community of people who are living outside of their country of origin. The migration of people groups from place to place throughout the world is ongoing and is one of the greatest factors in global mission work. See also International

Ethnocentrism

Seeing the world through the lenses of your own people or culture such that your culture always looks best and becomes the pattern everyone else should fit into. Sometimes what we think of as the gospel truth is merely the gospel contextualized into our culture.

By no means is ethnocentrism restricted to the majority culture in a country, but it is a nearly universal tendency among humans.

Ethnodoxology

The theological and anthropological study of how different cultures worship God. Ethnodoxologists are those who study the worship of God within particular cultures and seek to empower cultural groups to appropriately use their unique and diverse artistic expressions to worship God.

Expatriate

Someone who has left his or her home country to live and work in another country. When we visit another country, we call ourselves expatriates or expats for short.

Sometimes Christians can be considered expatriates everywhere in the world, because our true home is in Jesus, so we are strangers in the world.

First Nations

Indigenous peoples of several ethnic groups within Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis yet have distinct languages, cultures, societal structures, territories, and histories.

For-profit Missions

A growing movement in which for-profit businesses seek to provide ministry opportunities, local economic development and financial support for missions and discipleship. See also Business as Mission

Fund Development

The process of asking others to donate funds for the missions work you’re doing or are planning to do. The term Partnership Development can more accurately reflect this process since most missions workers want to develop a group of people who plan to support their missions work in a holistic sense through prayer, finances, etc.

Global South

A term for the community of people living in non-Western nations which may have derogatory connotations. The peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa contain the majority of people, the majority races and the majority of Christians. See also Majority World

IFES

International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. A global fellowship of indigenous national student movements formed in 1947 with the aim of starting and sustaining student witness in every university in the world. Today, there are IFES movements in more than 150 countries. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA is a founding member of IFES.

Incarnational Ministry

The gospel embodied in real people, not just theory. God became human; he did not drop a message from the sky. In the same way, we identify with the culture in order to understand, appreciate and communicate.

Indigenous

Organization characterized by self-leadership, self-funding and self-propagation. An organization is indigenous when positive elements of its culture are used to determine its nature.

International

What we call a national when he or she comes to our country.

Majority World

The accepted term for the community of people living in non-Western nations. The peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa contain the majority of people, the majority races and the majority of Christians. See also Global South, Third World or Two-Thirds World, Developing World

Missio Dei

Literally, either the "mission of God," or the "sending of God." The term is used to emphasize that God is the initiator of his mission and that his mission is derived from his very nature.

Missiology

The study of missions and mission strategies; the theology of missions; how and why we do mission.

Mission agency

A Christian organization helping to further God’s work in the world. Mission board and sending agency are virtually the same thing.

Missional Church

A group of believers individually and corporately devoted to reconciling people to God in their immediate circumstances and geography often out of a deep commitment to proclaiming the gospel through word and deed. See also New Monasticism, New Friars

Missionary Method

Analysis of and identification with the host culture (including language acquisition) plus communication of the gospel, in a way that challenges individuals to commitment.

National

Any person who is from the country to which you are going. The nationals on your short-term mission trip are those who call the country you visit their home. The national leaders are local people who are leading the church or mission. A national church is one that is led by national leaders. This term is seen as derogatory by some local leaders.

Nationalism

A Nation is a distinct group of people, usually demarcated by a common language, religion or culture.

Nationalism is 1.the belief in the extension of the boundaries of the nation from soft lines (cultural) to physical lines (geographical). Example: In the United States, the push to designate English as the official language across the entire physical territory of the State. 2.The process of imagining a nation into existence. Example: In Indonesia, hundreds of distinct ethnic groups view themselves as Indonesians, a relatively new entity.

New Friars

New Friars plant witnessing communities of Christian men and women who attempt to live the Christian ideal among their neighbors, drawing the lost, poor and broken to themselves. Sharing much in common with the New Monasticism, New Friars differ in that they tend to migrate away from their birthplaces and go to those parts of the world where little is known about Jesus.

New Monasticism

Similar to a cloistered order, the New Monasticism often consists of households of Christian men and women attempting to live the Christian ideal among their neighbors, drawing the lost, poor and broken to themselves. Often these households are planted in dying inner city communities within their members’ home country. See also New Friars

New Normal

The term given to the current state of missions that recognizes how the dramatic changes in global realities are not just temporary anomalies, but will instead alter global Christianity and global missions for the long term.

Para-church

Refers to a Christian organization independent of any church denominational structures.

Partnership Development

The process of building a team of people who will surround your ministry with prayer, spiritual and financial support.  Rather than simply being about giving, this kind fund development should be built on a biblical model of partnership (Philippians 1:4-6) anchored in a two-way relationship of both “giving and receiving” (Philippians 4:15). See also Fund Development

Re-entry

A process of cultural re-adjustment for missionaries returning to their home countries, often characterized by a catatonic state induced by large grocery stores and shopping malls.

Relief

The urgent provision of resources to reduce suffering resulting from a natural or man-made disaster.

Restricted Access Country

A country in which the public proclamation of the gospel is restricted. Evangelistic efforts in these countries can pose dangers to one’s life, well-being or freedom. See also Closed Country, Creative Access Country

Scripture Engagement

The collective practices of creating a climate of openness to the Bible, providing access to the Bible, and facilitating life-changing encounters with God through His Word, the Bible.

Secund

Simply speaking, this means to be paid through one organization while operating under the authority of another. Sometimes, missions work is accomplished best through this kind of relationship.

Support

The finances and prayer you will need to ask others to give for your mission trip. A supporter is one who gives and prays. A support team is the group of people who supports you. They may or may not know each other.

Syncretism

Developing your world view by taking a few verses from the Bible, a couple of Zen koans, some sections from the Upanishads, key lines from Calvin and Hobbes, and any other words of wisdom you find, throwing them all in a blender, and adding enough sugar till it tastes just right for you.

Ten-Forty or 10/40 Window

Not a new computer program for doing your taxes, but rather a geographic region extending from the 10th to 40th parallel that encompasses most of North Africa, parts of the Middle East, Korea and Japan. This window represents the largest unreached part of the world.

Tentmaker

A cross-cultural witness who works at a paying, usually secular, job. Often they are able to gain entry into “closed” countries which restrict traditional mission efforts. Tentmakers rarely make tents for a living, like the apostle Paul did, but they all should have the intention to further God’s work.

Term

Can refer to the length of a missionary’s time commitment to a mission organization. Many career missionaries serve successive terms of two to five years. Often they spend a period of months in their home countries between terms, usually called a furlough. A short-term can be as short as two weeks or as long as three years.

The Field

Short for the mission field. A field is anywhere that missionaries do their work. Regrettably, field sounds like it’s out in the country or on a farm. Most mission situations are not farms, and are usually urbanized to some extent. A field director is one who oversees those who are working together in a particular country, people group, or location.

Third World or Two-Thirds World

Terms for the community of people living in non-Western nations which may have derogatory connotations. The peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa contain the majority of people, the majority races and the majority of Christians. See also Majority World

Totalitarianism

A special version of authoritarian control — political or cultural — that invades the individual’s private sphere in all aspects of life, and operates by the willing participation of the people in their own oppression. Totalitarianism is often confused with regular tyranny, and shouldn’t be: totalitarianism is far more rational, systematic, and invisible than little-fish dictators.

Along these lines, totalitarianism could only emerge in the twentieth century, thanks to information technology. There were three in the past hundred years: Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, and Mao’s People’s Republic. Many thinkers see today’s global economy and entertainment-based soothing of outrage as the foundations of the next totalitarian system, McWorld.

Triple Bottom Line

Holistically assessing the success of an endeavor or plan by considering results in three areas: social (or spiritual), ecological and economic.

Unengaged People Group

A people group among which there is no active evangelization work underway. These groups may have heard about Jesus and may have Christian believers as members, however, there is no one able or willing to visibly or vocally witness to the gospel.

Unreached People Group

A people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians or where that community is too small or has inadequate resources to spread the Good News within that people group.

Visa

Don’t leave home without it, since it’s what gives you written permission to travel in someone else’s country.

Xenophobia

Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.