Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Thanks for joining us in episode 92 of Missions on Point. This is a series on church-based missionary training, the fifth of 14 in the series. In this episode, we're going to talk about defining the missionary call. This elusive, often subjective thing that missionary candidates have when they say, "I think God has called me to missions or called me to be a missionary." I want to defuse or demystify this concept of missionary call because the scripture doesn't actually use a term missionary call in the way it's used in modern times. There is a generic sense of calling that is used in the same way of fulfilling their calling as an electrician or an engineer or a doctor or a teacher or a nurse or a fireman. That that sort of calling is an inclination and training and effort that someone puts out to follow a course of a particular vocation.

As such, a calling is not a significant radical change in direction, but a fulfillment of a continuing effort and inclination in a direction to fulfill a particular vocational goal. The scripture teaches of calling with respect to salvation. God calls people to salvation. After salvation, God calls people to Himself in a special way. That has to do with spiritual life and nurture pursuit of Christ and holiness. There are basically two components of a missionary call. The first is inner compulsion, and the second one is an external verification, and we get a little bit of a sense of this in Paul's record of his own call, if you will.

In Ephesians Chapter 3 in verse seven and following where he says, "Of this gospel, I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the Saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things so that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

It is notable that Paul includes the church even in this sense of call and the direction in which it's going. We see it in Acts Chapter 13, as Barnabas had gone to take Paul, then called Saul into the church in Antioch. His gifts of teaching and ministry were proven in the local church in Antioch before they sent him out. So this inner compulsion thing is this desire, it's a long-term thing. It's not just a flash in the pan. It's not just because you attended a conference and got all emotionally worked up.

It is a long-term compulsion of fire burning inside that says, "I really believe God wants me to go over there and do that kind of ministry." At this point, I think it's important to say that, even if a person has this compulsion for a long period of time, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have the skills and the gifts to actually go overseas, cross-culturally, and do the work of a missionary.

A person may feel like they have the inner compulsion and not be otherwise qualified. Samuel Zwemer reflects on this in his book Into All the World published in 1943. Samuel Zwemer is like the premier missionary for Muslim work, and he says, on what constitutes a call, "Perhaps we can best define an effectual call to service across the seas by modifying the Westminster Catechism definition of "effectual call" in the plan of salvation." It would then read, "It is the work of God's spirit whereby convincing us of the sin and misery of the non-Christian world enlightening our minds and the knowledge of Christ's command and loving purpose to save mankind. He so renews our wills that we offer ourselves unreservedly for His service wherever His providence may send us." The key elements here is this surrender our wills and giving ourselves unreservedly for His service wherever His providence may send us.

It doesn't mean that the individual necessarily independently gets to validate their call and choose where they're going to go and do whatever they want all paid for by the church. So the missionary call should not be thought of as some individualized, supernatural special revelation from God apart from scripture and the church and godly Christian observation of the person's life.

In fact, I like what Jim Elliot says. "We don't need a call. We need a kick in the pants." What he's trying to say is that the scripture gives us all the motivation we need already without some other special revelation to go into the world and preach the gospel. We're not looking for some special liver quiver inside. We're not looking for a defining rod or some astrological alignment of planets here. We're looking for a serious inner compulsion to do the work of proclaiming God's glory to all nations no matter how hard or what sacrifices may need to be received in order to accomplish that for God's glory.

I don't mean to diminish the importance of the individual feeling that God is really moving them and encouraging them to pursue it. On the other hand, I don't want them to think that if they never make it to the field, that somehow that was a huge mistake or that they doubt God's leading in their life or doubt God's calling on their life. God may have specific intentions in His providence to prepare a person or to guide a person in spiritual growth in such a way during that process of pursuit of missions that he couldn't have done otherwise.

And whether or not the person makes it to the field is not the point, especially if they don't put sort of all of their reputation on the line in saying it's all or nothing, that's it. And no other calling will do. And then if they don't make it, they feel like second class citizens, they feel like they're burnt out unusable, and that's not the case at all.

God's plan always includes those bumps and bruises and sometimes apparent misdirection in order to fulfill His perfect plan for our good and for His glory. And it ought to be received that way. Step by step, if God's calling you to missions, just take the next step, take the next step, see where it leads. It may very well lead you to the mission field. Praise God. If it doesn't, praise God, He still has you in the center of His will and wants you to please Him wherever His providence leads.

Then we move into this external verification or validation of the call of God on a person's life to become a missionary. And that is very much the role of the local church, to observe them, to see them, to examine their character, which we just spoke about in an earlier episode and step by step to walk them through the process of preparation.

Don't go too fast here. Taking your time and making sure that the foundations are solid before they get to the field will pay big dividends in longevity and fruitfulness as they're faithfully working for the Lord on the field. At the beginning, a person believes that God might just be directing them into mission service even if it's just on a short term basis, but they have a burden for the world, a desire to become more aware of the world situation and how God might use them. And for those kind of people, you give them reading, you give them counsel, you pray with them, you encourage them to meet with other missionaries or other missionary candidates.

You have some initial ministry experience and cross-cultural exposure as they move from information gathering to, "I'm really more seriously interested in world missions," kind of stage, then they've made a definite commitment to pursue Christ through His body to the mission field, and that kind of commitment results in a more conscious effort of everyone around them to discover and develop them, to mentor them in their commitment, in their spiritual life so that they are properly prepared.

It means that they'll be doing even more reading and meeting with other candidates or missionaries. They'll also be meeting with pastoral staff or elders and counselors in the church, mentors in the church to personally develop them and hopefully to avoid some of the major problems of missionary qualifications. Here's five just as an assortment here. First is moral purity. The missionary candidate must have a commitment to moral purity in every sense of the word. Secondly, a consistent devotional life or quiet time. They need to know how to feed from God's word independently on their own.

This is particularly important if they're going to a high security field and they may not have worship services with other believers available to them very often. They must have a consistent quiet time, consistent devotional life, Bible reading, discipline, so that they are feeding and intaking God's word and spiritual nurture for themselves.

Thirdly, they have to have good relational skills. Relationship skills are often the thing that are the Achilles heel of missionary relationships and teams. Relational skills are so important and it is significant to know that people can actually grow in their relational skills. It is not appropriate for a Christian to say, "I can't do that thing," or, "I can't change to be that way because God wired me the way I am. My personality is such that I just can't do that thing." That's not true. God's given us his word and his Holy Spirit, and if we are to become more like Christ, as the scripture calls us all to do, then that means we all must change and that God gives us both the grace and the means to change. So developing relationship skills is part of that. The fourth one is work ethic. Unfortunately, in our day and time, for whatever reasons, many young people do not grow up with a good work ethic.

They don't know how to have initiative. They don't know how to do work unless somebody is immediately and directly supervising them. They don't know how to do work or learn or train on their own. Therefore, they are dependents. They always are looking for direction. They may be willing if the direction is there, but what if the direction's not there? Their work ethic must be such that they are always looking for ways to do the next thing, whatever that is, and look around if they're finished with their assignment, to find out what other things are available for them to do and get doing that even without being told. I know that sounds like a parent, but it is really true. Missionaries need to have a good work ethic. That means missionary candidates must prove that they have a good work ethic in order to be validated to go to the field.

The last one has to do with financial stewardship. The biggest part of that, particularly for students is debt. They don't know how to handle finances and they find themselves in great debt. I remember counseling a particular student about ready to graduate, that the debt was so big that there's no way they should actually apply to be a missionary until they have reduced their debt. Missionaries need to be good stewards of the finances that they have, and it just gets more complicated overseas.

Just think about it, they have foreign exchange, they have currencies that are different, they have banking systems that are different, they have to manage projects and teams and ministry and personal accounts. All of a sudden, their whole financial management picture changes radically from being pretty simple as an individual in the US to being very complex and much more security conscious than at home.

So, financial stewardship and handling or eliminating debt is one of those very important aspects that can become a major problem for missionary qualifications. Getting back to basics on this validation of the missionary call, you want to have good private conversation with your missionary candidate over everything having to do with sexual health issues, medical health issues, mental, emotional, and psychological health issues, the issue of debt, and clear the deck. Just ask pointed direct questions and find out where they are, and as much as possible, validate that with other people around them to make sure that they're not trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

It's happened before. Walk through these stages. Don't hurry it. We haven't even gotten to the actual preparation part so much, but as the candidate starts, make sure that they have a good sense of the inner compulsion of God's call on their life to serve Him in a cross-cultural situation and validate that, over time, with the rest of the people that are around them in the church body, affirming that this person seems to have the gifts and calling of God on their life to do that particular ministry.

May God grant us many people that are highly qualified and called to missionary work to finish the great commission in our time. Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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