Lately, I have been giving a bit of thought into the whole subject of the “missionary call.”
On the IMB web-site, it says that applicants for career, missionary apprentice, and missionary associate positions should be “called and gifted by God, with a high sense of God’s leading to use their gifts in missionary service in cross-cultural situations.”
When it comes to Masters, ISC and Journeyman workers, however, the wording for this requirement is reduced to “a sense of God’s leadership.”
As far as potential members of mission volunteer teams are concerned, the advice they are given is: "Search our projects to find the overseas project that fits best with how God is calling you."
Several missionary colleagues, on their blogs, have had some insightful comments regarding “missionary call” in the past several weeks. Ken Sorrell, in a post entitled “As the Father has sent me…” Part One made the following statement:
To interpret Scripture in such a way to arrive at the position that every Christian is to fulfill the apostolic calling seems to me to be somewhat of a stretch. While agreeing that every Christian should be involved in activities that are normally associated with missionaries, this is not the same as the call to the apostolic task as seen and described in the New Testament. In fact, in this verse written by John, the word for “sent” is apostello, “as the Father has sent me, and the word for “send”, pempo, so send I you are two very different words and images. However, while meditating on this verse and seeking to understand those who are just as confident in their interpretation as I am in mine, I found myself asking the question, if Jesus is sending us out as God sent Him, as is stated in John’s Gospel, how did God send Jesus out? If everyone is a missionary, what does this really mean for all believers? And, are all believers prepared to embrace the implications of such a position?
In the comment string of the same post, Tim Patterson (a.k.a. “mr. t”), made the following observation:
I agree there are those with a specific apostolic gift... set apart and sent by the Holy Spirit through the church for the work He has called them to do.
However, all believers are commanded to be salt and light in the world. I still believe the Great Commission is for all, not just for the professionals. All can be a part of making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey. What we tend to forget is that God does not call us to do the apostolic task alone. It takes all kinds in the body of Christ to carry out His commission. As apostles we need to take the church along with us, the mission is for the whole church. We run ahead and hope they will catch up later... when we should be going together. True, not all will go, not all will have the same degree of sacrifice and commitment... but Christ will use them just the same. We all have to take baby steps before we can take longer strides.
An apostle is a ‘sent one.’ He is given a specific task for breaking down barriers and he carries a ministry across the barricades that the enemy has erected to spread the light of the Kingdom in a previously dark place. The key difference for the apostle from the other ministries is the concept of barriers. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. This was cross cultural ministry. He went (physically) from where he was to a different place and culture with the Good News. Peter was an Apostle to the Jews. He was a Jew. He did not in one sense cross a barrier in that he was who he was sent to reach. But in another sense he crossed an important barrier. The Jews had rejected Jesus. Peter was ethnically a Jew but he became a citizen of the Kingdom and then was sent back to the Jews. He was in a sense re-crossing the barrier he had come across. Crossing barriers is important to apostles.
Another characteristic is the ministry. A preacher can preach anywhere. An evangelist evangelizes everywhere he goes. But they are not apostles. An apostle brings a ministry with him. He is not just a team leader. He is a team empowerer. Because he is called to cross the barrier he is given the authority to do the job that the King has called him to. As with all gifts in the Kingdom it only has meaning as it is given away. An apostle gives his authority to others that they may expand the ministry.
In recent reading, I have also come across the following thoughts that have stimulated my thinking regarding “missionary call” and, to some extent, challenged my ideas:
“Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Beware of refusing to hear the call of God. Everyone who is saved is called to testify to the fact of his salvation. That, however, is not the same as the call to preach, but is merely an illustration which can be used in preaching. In this verse, Paul was referring to the stinging pains produced in him by the compelling force of the call to preach the gospel. Never try to apply what Paul said regarding the call to preach to those souls who are being called to God for salvation...
To be “separated to the gospel” means being able to hear the call of God (Romans 1:1). Once someone begins to hear that call, a suffering worthy of the name of Christ is produced. Suddenly, every ambition, every desire of life, and every outlook is completely blotted out and extinguished. Only one thing remains—“…separated to the gospel...” Woe be to the soul who tries to head in any other direction once that call has come to him. The
exists so that each of you may know whether or not God has a man or woman here who truly cares about proclaiming His gospel and to see if God grips you for this purpose. Beware of competing calls once the call of God grips you. Bible Training College
The first principle to note in the work of God is that all His workers are sent ones. If there is no divine commission, there can be no divine work...
Scripture has a special name for a sent one, namely, an apostle...
Who then are apostles? Apostles are God’s workmen, sent out by the Holy Spirit to do the work to which He has called them. The responsibility of the work is in their hands. Broadly speaking, all believers are responsible for the work of God, but apostles are a group of people specially set apart and bear a peculiar responsibility for its conduct...
The apostles were gifted men, but their apostleship was not based upon their gifts; it was based upon their commission. Of course, God will not send anyone who is unequipped, but equipment does not constitute apostleship. It is futile for anyone to assume the office of an apostle simply because he thinks he has the needed gifts or ability. It takes more than mere gift and ability to constitute men apostles; it takes God Himself, His will and His call. No man can attain to apostleship through natural or other qualifications: God must make him an apostle if he is ever to be one. “A man sent from God” should be the main characteristic of our entering upon His service and of all our subsequent movements...
Today those who have been sent out by the Lord to preach the Gospel and to establish churches call themselves missionaries, not apostles, but the word “missionary” means the very same thing as “apostle,” i.e. “the sent one.” It is the Latin form of the Greek equivalent, “apostolos.” Since the meaning of the two words is exactly the same, I fail to see the reason why the true sent ones of today prefer to call themselves “missionaries” rather than “apostles”...
If God has called a man to be an apostle, it will be manifest in the fruit of his labours. Wherever you have the commission of God, there you have the authority of God; wherever your have the authority of God, there you have the power of God; and wherever you have the power of God, there you have spiritual fruits. The fruit of our labours proves the validity of our commission. And yet it must be noted that Paul’s thought is not that apostleship implies numerous converts but that it represents spiritual values for the Lord, for He could never send anyone for a lesser purpose...
There was abundant evidence of Paul’s apostolic commission and the signs of an apostle will never be lacking where there is truly an apostolic call … Endurance is the greatest proof of spiritual power, and it is one of the signs of an apostle. It is the ability to endure steadfastly under continuous pressure that tests the reality of an apostolic call… But the reality of Paul’s apostleship was not only attested by his patient endurance under intense and prolonged pressure, it was evidenced also by the miraculous power he possessed. Miraculous power to change situations in the physical world is a necessary manifestation of our knowledge of God in the spiritual realm, and this applies not to heathen lands only but to every land. To profess to be sent ones of the omnipotent God, and yet stand helpless before situations that challenge His power, is a sad contradiction. Not all who can work wonders are apostles, for the gifts of healing and of miracle-working are given to members of the body (1 Cor. 12:28) who have no special commission, but miraculous as well as spiritual power is part of the equipment of all who have a true apostolic commission...
I, personally, tend to think that all of us, as believers, are “called” to participate, to the best of our ability, in the fulfilment of the Great Commission. The specific way in which each one participates will depend on various factors. I do not deny that God sometimes causes people to have a strong sense of His leading in regard to specific types of ministry, in particular places, and particular circumstances. I believe, however, that God’s “call” in our lives is perceived both through the “left side” of our brain and the “right side” of our brain. I believe that many have made out the “missionary call” and the “call to ministry” in general to be essentially a “mystical” experience. I do not deny the reality of this type of “call” experience in many people’s lives. I myself, on various occasions, have had a deep sense that God was “pricking my heart” in a special way, whenever the topic of world missions was discussed. On various occasions, I have not been able to hold back my tears, as I sensed God speaking to my heart about the need of the world, and His plan to reconcile to Himself those He was calling out from among all the nations and people groups of the world. Upon responding positively to that sense of “call,” I felt a peace inside, or a sense of “oughtness,” that I was doing the right thing.
At the same time, though, I have seen what I believe to be some dangers in over-subjectivity and dogmatism related to a “missionary call.” I have seen some very zealous workers arrive on the mission field, convinced that God had called them to a specific place and ministry, when, at the same time, the majority of their colleagues and national ministry partners could not affirm their effectiveness in the particular ministry to which they were supposedly “called.” I have seen this type of situation end up bringing quite a bit of anguish and heartache to various people, including, but not limited to, the family members of the supposedly “called” workers.
Without discounting the validity of all “right-brain,” subjective, and/or mystical type of “call” experiences, I believe that every one of us, as believers, need to honestly ask ourselves on a regular basis the following question:
Given the particular personality, talents, spiritual gifts, experiences, and life situations that God has placed in my life right now, exactly where and doing what do I believe I can make the most strategic contribution towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission?Of course, that is a very deep question, which will no doubt require some serious reflection and soul-searching.
*Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life, has an interesting section about more or less this same basic concept, that he calls “God-given S.H.A.P.E.” (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences).
For some, this may mean one thing at one stage in our life, and something totally different, at another stage in our life. A change of ministry focus does not necessarily mean one has abandoned God’s “call” on his/her life, though. What is not an option, for any true disciple of Jesus, is looking for the “easy way out” or completely “throwing in the towel.”
I would be interested to hear what any of you have to say regarding the “missionary call.” I myself am very open to any new insights God may have to give me on this important subject.