Is There a Missionary Call?

Some point out that the word missionary does not appear in the Bible, so of course missionary call won’t be found either. When I was researching evangelical perspectives and positions for the book, The Missionary Call, I found that the pendulum of opinion has swung back and forth through the years. In some periods, evangelicals’ thinking was, “There is no missionary call, so do it if you want to.” That eventually gave way to, “Of course there is a missionary call, and everyone has one; it’s called the Great Commission.”

In more recent years, that has shifted to, “Oh yes, there is a specific missionary call, and in such a dangerous world, if you don’t have one, you’d better not try to go. But if you do have one, you’d better not try to stay home. Just ask Jonah how that turned out!” Shifting opinions represented in books and sermons throughout the years leave many confused.

Looking to the Scriptures, we see examples of different kinds of call: the call to salvation and subsequent service as when Jesus called the disciples, the call to simply follow wherever the LORD leads as in Abram’s call, the call to a specific task that became lifelong service as in Moses’ calling. In Acts 13:1-3, we learn that the Spirit of God called Barnabas and Paul to missions and then revealed it to the church when it was time for them to go.

Who called you into missions? When did it happen? How would you describe it? A confusing aspect of the missionary call is that many believe that another’s call is prescriptive of what all calls should be like, rather than simply descriptive. When a missionary testifies of a calling that claims to have included an audible voice or undeniable sign, a missionary candidate who has not had such an experience concludes that God must not be calling. Or when one who feels confident of a missionary call contacts a mission agency and is denied because of some agency rule, this often leads them to assume that they misunderstood God’s leading.

It’s important to remember that the Board is not the Lord. Rather than assume that another’s missionary call experience is normative, or that a set of circumstances dictate calling, it is more helpful to know what a missionary call actually is. We’ll explain that next time. Stay tuned.

Dr. David Sills

Dr. David Sills is the founder and president of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, a missions professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaker, and author.

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