How do you know if you are called to missions?
“Is not the commission of our Lord still binding upon us? Can we not do more than now we are doing?” — William Carey
Because you are reading a blog on reachingandteaching.org, you are probably aware that there is great need for missions. You likely already believe that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is still binding on us today. But you may be curious if you have a role to play in global missions. Are you called to go? How can you know?
The Real Issues with Calling
The Bible uses calling in different ways. First, we are called to believe or to follow Jesus (see Mark 2:13-17). Another is the calling we see Paul and the other apostles receive to lead in the church (see Paul’s call in Acts 9). The church was built on the teaching of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:18-22). After seeing the calling of Paul, it is harder to see how calling works in the early church. Leaders seems to rise up without many details about how they got there. In 1 Tim 3:1, Paul says if a man desires the office of overseer, he desires a good thing. Does that indicate an internal call or just the plain desire to do that task? We know from Eph. 4:8-11 that Jesus gives various kinds of people to the church for the equipping (discipling) of the church. Traditionally, in discussions about pastoral ministry, there has been the idea of an internal and external call–the person senses they are called and the church affirms the gifting and calling. With missions, the discussion is often about a question about whether or not everyone is called or if you need a special internal call.
I believe we do better when we follow the same discussion we have when considering pastoral calling. There is a danger that needs to be avoided. Do not confuse a person’s desire to go as a true call to missions. But, if you and others examine your life and see gifts, opportunity, and spiritual maturity, then you may see the beginnings of the call to missions.
A person’s interest in missions or even the desire to go is not enough to say that person is called to missions. An immature person might like the thrill of travel or leadership opportunity. A perverse person might like the anonymity. An uncooperative person might like chance to be free from oversight. Perhaps most dangerous of all would be a naive person who might have their faith shipwrecked by hardness of the human heart. Our view of calling must therefore include the same kind of guidelines as Paul’s qualifications of an elder and deacon in 1 Timothy 3. The spiritual requirements of being above reproach and a mature believer are most definitely in place. A temperate and self-controlled believer that is able to give a clear expression of their faith is essential. The call to go to the mission field should be tied to the spiritual qualifications of the believer. Making disciples abroad necessitates a person be well discipled before heading off to do that work. To be called, you have to be mature spiritually.
Ready to Go
Another essential element of call to go is found in whether or not that person is ready to go. Crushing debt, aging and ill parents, and other special considerations ought not brushed away by the desire to go. If you try to live as a missionary with extreme stressors from “back home,” you will struggle to serve well. Alongside the life situation readiness, there is the readiness to do the tasks of a missionary. Being able to demonstrate an ability to fulfill the task they are setting out to do is vital. If teaching is the ministry, then the missionary candidate has to be able to teach. If evangelism is the ministry, then he or she needs to be able to share their faith with clarity. If other skills are necessary in the work, then the candidate needs to be able to demonstrate skills in the area in which they will work. Notice here that the standard of ready-to-go is not a fixed standard. There is not a seminary trained men only standard. There is not a single or married people only standard. The standard is, “Can you do what you have been sent out to do?” and implied here is the ability to improve in those areas as you get accustomed to the task.
Flexible under Stress
There are stress tests available that assign a number to stress. Missionaries routinely score in the dangerous zone for stress. Ministry is a stressful job and most pastors could score very high on the stress test. Yet crossing cultures is another thing altogether. The significant amount of change from the normal routine of daily life means that missionaries cannot escape stress. The missionary candidate must be able to learn a new everything: culture, communication, money, customs, traditions, and more. It is not an easy adjustment. The desire to go is not enough to surmount the huge barrier of culture adjustment and language learning. Calling to the task means a person who is able to make that transition. The test for this is to see if a person understands and empathizes with different perspectives, as well as deals with stressors in a healthy way. No one can avoid stress on the mission field, but knowing what to do with it is essential.
Are You Called?
Calling is a difficult thing to nail down. For me, it is not an immutable thing. You may have the desire but not be able to go. That desire to go is not the call. The desire to go is part of the call. The readiness and spiritual qualifications fill out some more of the picture of a person called to the ministry. Maybe you don’t have the readiness right now. Maybe one day you will, perhaps not.
What does that all mean? It means that we should be ready to listen to others and pay close attention to our situation in life. It means that we can pray for the work in any event. It means we can evaluate that nagging reminder that the world has not heard the gospel and many have no way to grow in their faith with new insight. Maybe you are the kind of person that could be a good missionary, you just haven’t received a “call from God to go.” If you have the desire and are ready and spiritually qualified, you should pray about the call Jesus gave to His disciples to make disciples of all nations and seek His direction regarding your next steps.