Missions Vocabulary 101

Missionary vocabulary 101
Learn the language of missions with this quick reference glossary.

If you’re just beginning to explore what it means to be a missionary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by words and phrases in the “language” of missions. Some terms are used the same way across various missions agencies and audiences, while others are specific to a given mission organization. So what does it all mean? Here’s a quick and easy guide to “Missions Vocabulary 101” to bring you right up to speed with the latest in missions lingo. 


Key Terms in the “World” of Missions 

Of course, we can’t speak for every partner in the international missions community, but here is a  general glossary of terms and definitions for commonly used terms when discussing international Christian missions… 

global Church – the body of believers in Jesus Christ around the world. As it says in Ephesians 4:4-6, we have unity in Christ – “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” God raises up gifted leaders and organizations around the world who are dedicated to making disciples. TEAM has the privilege of serving and following global leaders with whom we can link arms as we serve Christ together.  

global worker/missionary – a believer in Jesus who is called by God to fulfill the Great Commission – to reach others with the Gospel, to share the love of Jesus in a variety of ways, and to help build His Church around the world. TEAM and many others involved in international missions use the term “global worker,” which is synonymous with “missionary” in most contexts. 

globalization – the process that is occurring within the world of missions in which local churches around the world are taking the lead in reaching their own cultures and communities with the Gospel of Christ, with global workers assisting and supporting those efforts. “This shift is something God is doing,” says TEAM’s International Director, Dave Hall. “TEAM’s 21st century vision to support and serve the expanding global Church is no less exciting or timely than TEAM founder Fredrik Franson’s call for faithful witnesses in China over 130 years ago.” 

polycentric sending – the mobilization of global workers into missions from all over the globe; not just North America. Traditionally, the majority of global workers originated in the United States or Canada, where they were trained and then “sent” into the rest of the world. Increasingly, the Great Commission is being fulfilled by global workers who are called from many different places! 



nationals/national believers – believers who are indigenous to the region and culture where they are living and following Jesus. The terms “nationals” or “national believers” are preferred over the more traditional term “natives” which can have negative connotations. 

cross-cultural ministry – ministry that takes place when people who are indigenous to one culture or community serve and minister to people in another culture. Cross-cultural ministry can take place even within localities that are not the original or home country those being served. In fact, if you’re considering cross-cultural missions, it’s a great idea to find ways to interact with and serve people from another culture in your own local area first.  

intracultural ministry – ministry that takes place when people who are native to one culture or community serve and minister to others within that same culture. Believers engaging in intracultural ministry have the advantage of understanding the worldview and background of their culture and can more easily avoid being seen as outsiders.  

missions organization / missions agency – TEAM and other organizations train and equip global workers to serve, support them each step of the way, and provide an infrastructure that will maximize their effectiveness in missions and their partnership with local, indigenous churches. No single organization is right for everyone. TEAM is pleased to collaborate with several other missions organizations as a part of the Therefore Alliance, working together to share Christ with the world.


TEAM has created “A Guide to Becoming a Missionary” to walk you through questions to consider before stepping into missions. Get yours free!

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missiology –
GotQuestions.org defines missiology as “the science of the cross-cultural communication of the Christian faith.” Essentially, it means studying the way we fulfill the Great Commission. Missiology generally involves biblical theology (what does the Bible teach), anthropology (how do humans live) and history. 

sending church – TEAM works closely with local churches on both ends of the “equation” – what may be referred to as sending churches and receiving churches. Sending churches are those who support and pray for believers from their congregation who undertake mission work.  

receiving church – Receiving churches are those who seek to do or are already doing the work of missions in their own community. They “receive” global workers to come alongside them and assist in the ministry. Both sending and receiving churches need a heart to be a “missional church.” 

missional church – churches with a vision and heart for holistic ministries outside their local assemblies. They are marked by the God-given desire to proclaim and embody the Gospel in spiritually dark places. This mandate has been given to His Church, and TEAM seeks to multiply churches with that expansive vision for the nations within their context. 

Missionary Kid (MK)/Third-Culture Kid (TCK) – Children growing up primarily on the mission field or as a part of an overseas missionary family are often called missionary kids or “MK’s.” Another term that is increasingly used is “third-culture kid” or “TCK.” 

Girl pulling a horse in Mexico.

Missionary kids or “MK’s” often serve alongside their parents in ministry.

home assignment –
Temporary furloughs or sabbaticals taken by global workers during which they return “home” to their country of origin for a time of rest and reconnection with family, friends, and sending/supporting churches.  

host country – the receiving country where a global worker is living and serving. 


Key Terms Used in the “World” of TEAM 

That’s not to say that we use these terms exclusively – some are used by other organizations in the same way, while others may be used but have a different meaning.  

TEAM – Our name is an acronym standing for The Evangelical Alliance Mission. TEAM has been preparing and deploying global workers for over 130 years. Read our history here 

Mobilization – At TEAM, our Mobilization Department connects with individuals and families interested in missions, answers your questions and helps you see if TEAM is a good fit to help you fulfill your calling! If you’re interested in missions, but aren’t sure what that journey might look like, TEAM’s Mobilization team would love to answer all your questions. You can connect with a missions coach here. 

Learning & Development – TEAM’s Department of Learning and Development equips well-prepared workers and life-long learners for ongoing effectiveness, joyfulness, and fulfillment in life and ministry as they carry out TEAM’s mission and values. In other words, “L & D” helps make sure TEAM missionaries are equipped and trained every step of their missions journey! 

Member Care – TEAM’s Member Care Department offers a variety of services to our global workers in all seasons and walks of life. Member Care provides support and resources for raising children as well as during times of transition or difficulties. Services through Member Care begin as soon as you begin your missions journey all the way through the exiting/retirement process and beyond.  

Advancement – As a Christ-centered nonprofit organization, TEAM is called to the highest standards of biblical stewardship and financial accountability. TEAM’s Advancement Department oversees fundraising and donor relations, ensuring the effective stewardship of God’s provision for the advancement of the Gospel.


Now that you’ve got the missionary terminology down, dive deeper with our other blog posts! And make sure to subscribe to our blog so you can get Christian missions insight in your inbox every week!

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About the author

Suzanne Pearson

Suzanne has been a writer and storyteller for as long as she can remember. Before joining TEAM as Communications Manager, Suzanne worked for 17 years in marketing and communications in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Besides writing, Suzanne’s other passions include travel, sports and serving alongside her husband in youth ministry.

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