In preparation to write this blog, I spent time listening to many different Christian leaders talk about the topic of missionary calling. I listened to pastors from the Cross Conference including David Platt, John Piper, and Kevin DeYoung. I listened to David Sills, missions professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and leader of Reaching and Teaching Intl Ministries. And I listened to some actual missionaries. And you know what I found? None of them agreed!
In the Cross Con discussion , David Platt pretended to be a college student who was interested in becoming a missionary. He wanted to know whether or not he was called. The four Christian leaders assigned to help him couldn’t agree on how David should decide that. The time ended with him more confused than when they began. While some of the disagreement was comical to listen to, an actual student in David’s position wouldn’t be laughing. They would really want to know if God had called them to the mission field or not.
What should we conclude about this idea of a missionary’s calling, if pastors and missionaries don’t agree on it?
I conclude that it must not be clearly taught in Scripture. They are all trying to define something that is not defined in the Bible. I am aware that God can and has called people in special and unique ways. He gave Paul a vision to call him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). The Holy Spirit spoke to the church and called Paul and Barnabas to a specific work (Acts 13:2). God can do similar things today, but we are never told to expect such a call and to not go until he calls us. Paul was called to go to Macedonia but once there he didn’t wait for a calling to go to the next place. Instead, he made a decision and went (Acts 17:1).
You will search in vain for a verse that says before we set out to fulfill the mission of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8), we should wait for an individual calling to do so. Rather, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we have already been commanded to do so. If you have been called to Christ, then you have been called to participate in completing his mission.
Does that mean anyone and everyone should be a missionary? By missionary I mean someone who leaves their own people group to go and make disciples of Christ among another people group. No, everyone should not be a missionary. Paul didn’t seek to compel everyone to leave their homes and join him on his missionary journeys. He did want the whole church to help him on his way though (1 Corinthians 16:6). Therefore, we can conclude that everyone Christian should be involved in the mission of Christ, whether by going to the ends of the earth or by staying and supporting those who do.
If Scripture doesn’t tell us to expect God to uniquely call persons to go, how do we know who should go and who should stay?
These decisions should always be made in the context of a local church. While useful and good at what they do, missionary organizations and sending agencies are not churches. Being sent by a missionary organization without the support of a local church does not align with the emphasis placed on the local church in Scripture. Paul and Barnabas left on their missionary journey after the church in Antioch prayed for them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3).
After being a vital part of a local church for sometime, a person who has a desire to be a missionary should make that known to the church. They should speak with their church’s elders, since they have been given authority by God to shepherd and guide the people under their oversight (1 Peter 5:2). The elders should be asking themselves whether this person is mature in their faith and known for godly character. The person should expect the elders will ask them various questions, as they seek to make a wise decision. Once all the questions have been answered and the person has left the room, the elders will decide whether this person should be considered further for future missionary service.
If there’s approval from the elders to continue moving forward, the missionary candidate’s more formal preparation will begin. That process could take many different paths. Getting the elders’ initial approval is no guarantee that the person will make it to the mission field, but it is an important first step that will hopefully lead to higher quality preparation and longer missionary service.
I want to encourage you if you desire to be a missionary to be involved with your local church. Trust God to use your church to get you to the mission field. The entire process may take a lot more time than you would like it to. It might not go as smoothly as you would like it to. That sounds like realistic missionary life to me. Your patience and steadfastness can grow during this time of preparation. If your church hasn’t sent out a missionary before, they might not know what to do to help you. Doing it this way won’t be easier, but since when is the easier way the path of a missionary?
I believe it will be worth it, for you and your church. You might inspire others within your church to join you on the mission field. You will likely have more people praying for you and the people you are wanting God to save. The people in your church will have the opportunity to receive the blessing of giving to support Christ’s mission financially. Lastly, you might not be qualified to be a missionary. Although it will be hard to hear, your elders telling you that upfront would be loving of them. They could save you from going to the mission field when you shouldn’t and having it result in failure.
There are multitudes perishing without ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There should be an urgency motivated by love to get to the mission field. But just as you’d consider it foolish to have sent poorly equipped soldiers who didn’t graduate boot-camp onto the beaches of Normandy, it would be foolish to go behind enemy lines, where demons have been roaming unhindered for years, without proper air support (prayer support), supplies (financial support), weaponry (Bible knowledge and application), and tactics (missiology). Let your officers (elders) guide you through training into the battle, striving to complete the General’s (Jesus’s) mission in his timing.