Definitions of the Missionary Call

To discern whether God is calling you to missions, it is helpful to know what a missionary actually is. One definition is “someone who never gets used to the sound of pagan footsteps on their way to a Christless eternity.” But if that’s true, then hopefully everyone is a missionary. Surely, we are all burdened to rescue the perishing. The problem with such definitions is confusion. B.B. Warfield lamented the casual use of terms in his day, “If everything that is called Christianity in these days is Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity. A name applied indiscriminately to everything designates nothing.” The same truth applies to missions.

For this reason, some wince at the quote from C.H. Spurgeon that every Christian is a missionary or an impostor, and they argue that this fuels the confusion that all of us are missionaries in the same way. But read the fuller context of that Spurgeon quote,

“If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself. You will be whispering it into your child’s ear. You will be telling it to your husband. You will be earnestly imparting it to your friend. Without the charms of eloquence, you will be more than eloquent: your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of His sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love Him at all.”

That is certainly the heartbeat of every believer, and increasingly so as we grow in our walk with Him, but we need more precision in our definition of a missionary call.

In the book, The Missionary Call, I give the following short definition, “The missionary call includes an awareness of the needs of a lost world, the commands of Christ, a concern for the lost, a radical commitment to God, your church’s blessing and commissioning, a fervent desire, the Spirit’s gifting, your passion, and an indescribable yearning that motivates beyond all understanding.” Still, many have a passion for missions, but wonder about where, with whom, and when to go and serve.

Some reason that if they were truly called, the answers to these questions would have been made clear in the call. Confusion about a missionary call keeps many from the mission field. It is not a mysterious secret knowledge that only the super spiritual can receive. Yet, neither is it a simple choice that excludes the sovereignty of God in guiding us. The psalmist teaches us that all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be.

He has a plan and a will for your life, your sanctification. It goes beyond that general will. He guides you down the pathway for your life as well. How can you know the difference between calling and guidance? 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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