Is missionary service God's will for you?

A calling to make disciples at the ends of the earth

Discovering if you have a missions calling
1. Immerse yourself in the Word
All of it! Not just a few favorite phrases

2. Listen to the Holy Spirit
The inner witness

3. Look to God as sovereign
He often leads by opening and closing doors

4. Seek the counsel of mature Christians
Church elders, pastor, a mentor, close Christian friends

--Joe Mattox, HEART Institute, Lake Wales, FL

"If you listen to me and do what I tell you . . ." -- Jeremiah 7:23, Common English Version

When does God call people to long-term missionary service?

   -- Terry Read, missionary and missions professor

How to become a missionary

"How can they hear without someone preaching to them?" -- Romans 10:14

How can you discover if God is calling you to be a missionary?

  1. Read everything about missions and missionaries that you can get your hands on.
  2. Get involved in the missions mobilization and education program of your local church
  3. Go hear every missionary speaker that you can. God sometimes chooses that time to clarify His calling to young people.
  4. Talk to your pastor.
  5. Throw yourself into active ministry through your local church.
  6. Go on a short-term missions trip. A cross-cultural mission trip will give you a taste of life on the mission field and a good opportunity to sense God's leadership.
  7. Contact a missionary sending agency.
  8. Consider giving a year of volunteer service overseas before deciding whether you should offer the rest of your life. Help for going on a one-year missions experience
  9. Persevere.

"I may not end up being a goer, but I can still play a role in reaching the world for Christ by being a sender."
    -- Heather H., Nazarene Bible College student

God's leadership -- Key elements of a divine calling

In reflecting on a case study used in Theology of Missions class, student Kimberly Jayne noted that some common elements of a call into long-term or career ministry were:

  1. A metaphysical encounter with God that establishes a sense of calling (This may be as dramatic as the burning bush episode Moses had in Exodus 3 or it may be a gentle whisper like the still small voice Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19).
  2. A time of reflection or doubting of the calling
  3. An affirmation of the call through the Body of Christ (the Church)
  4. A willingness to obey that puts no conditions on where you are willing to go or on what God may ask you to do

Pure heart, ready feet — Hearing God's will

"Then Samuel said, 'Speak for your servant is listening.'" -- 1 Samuel 3:10

Missiologist J. Herbert Kane wrote that a person will enhance the possibility of hearing God's calling to some form of Christian ministry if he or she has:

  1. An open mind
  2. Attentive ear
  3. Pure heart
  4. Busy hands
  5. Ready feet

An exam in SNU's Introduction to Missions course included Kane's list. One student drew this cartoon stick figure as a memory aid.

stick figure of a person with labels
saying open mind, attentive ear, pure heart, busy hands, and ready feet

How to keep your sense of call clear and passionate
Self-discipline questions

1. Is my calling sure?
2. Is my vision clear?
3. Is my passion burning hot?
4. Is my character fully submitted to Christ?
5. Are my fears at bay?
6. Is my psychological baggage surrendered?
7. Are my ears open to the Spirit?
8. Is my pace sustainable?

-- Self-Discipline questions from The 360-Degree Leader by John Maxwell

"The longer I live, the more I believe that one of the most profound subjects in the Christian life is the will of God. The deeper we dig into it, the more we realize how little we know. . . Doing the will of God is rarely easy and uncomplicated. Instead, it is often difficult and convoluted. It is mysterious. . . . In fact, more often than not, God's will is downright humanly illogical." -- Charles Swindoll in The Mystery of God's Will: What Does He Want for Me?

Susan Fitkin's call

What characteristics should a missionary possess?

Career missionaries needed

"Who will go?" -- Isaiah 6:8

Thousands of immediate openings. Candidates must have passion, knowledge, sensitivity, partnering skills, commitment, and flexibility.

  1. Passion for evangelistic, church-planting ministry
  2. Missiological knowledge and skills
  3. Appreciation of the need for cross-cultural sensitivity
  4. Awareness of and appreciation for national church/mission partnership
  5. Commitment level equaling that of 19th-century missionaries, who traveled overseas resolved to pay the ultimate price, if necessary, to see the church planted in new areas
  6. Flexible commitment to a world region or to a group of people, with a willingness to move and adjust to changing political situations

Adapted from Marching to a Different Drummer by Jim Raymo, Christian Literature Crusade

drawing of world globe with Help
Wanted sign stuck into it

The MAWL cycle

As cross-cultural missionaries today do pioneer work and then get a church-planting movement started, they often follow the MAWL leadership cycle:

  1. Model
  2. Assist
  3. Watch
  4. Leave

"If everyone is called to be a missionary, I wish some more would come to West Africa" -- the reaction of missionary Linda Seaman to the oft-spoken affirmation, "Well, we all are missionaries!"

Should obedience to God's call be thought of as "surrender" or as "acceptance"?

"I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit that will last." - - John 15:16

Maybe I've been saying it wrong

On the other side of the dusty high school stadium parking lot from my church's facilities, there was a small Baptist church building. That Baptist congregation had three or four young men planning to be pastors or evangelists. As they talked to me about their experiences of feeling a divine call to vocational ministry, they would often say, " I surrendered to preach."

For me, that was unusual language. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. Our standard terminology was "accepted a call to preach" or even "answered a call to the ministry." I'd heard scores of people use the terminology " accepted," and I said it often myself.

I didn't know there was any other way to express the affirmative response to God's call until I ran into these Baptists. So I marked the use of "surrender" down as a Baptist idiosyncrasy. Besides that, I told myself smugly, their pastor didn't have any college training. His use of the English language was atrocious. And to top it all off, people in his congregation thought a seminary was where you buried people. So it was no wonder they didn't use the right jargon to express God's call to vocational ministry.

Still, those words "I surrendered to the call to preach" keep running through my mind. Those Baptist boys said it with conviction and ,meaning. They really had surrendered to God's call.

Over time, I've wondered if their terminology is more correct than mine. For I've been thinking about other " acceptances" and other "surrenders" in my life.

I remember the last time I "accepted" something. A couple of weeks ago, a new bedroom dresser arrived for our missionary home. It had a chip in the veneer on one side. We could have sent it back. However, with a sigh of resignation, we "accepted" it anyway. It was also with a sign of resignation that I long ago "accepted" the fact I'd never be the towering basketball hero I'd dreamed of being (I'm still only five feet seven). Then, over the past few years, I have "accepted" writing assignments from several editors. And some of my freelance writing has been "accepted" by editors.

In all of these cases, the action to accept was purely optional. I didn't even have to accept my short stature. I could have gone on believing I'd someday grow to seven feet. None of those situations was a "do or die" event. There weren't even any penalties for non-acceptance. An offer or fact was tendered but could have been rejected without recriminations.

Now is this what I'm trying to say when I talk about God's call and my response? I think not. For in my life, God's call to preach was not an offer but a command. He did not list several options for my life and allow me to pick the most desirable one.

When a command is given, you either obey or disobey. Those are the possible responses. And obedience seems, in this case, to be more closely related to the idea of " surrender" than "acceptance."

There have been some "surrenders" in my life. The first one I remember came in the fifth grade. I was about to be pulverized into dust by the playground bully towering over me, and I surrendered. The most important surrender in my life came when I yielded control of myself to the Holy Spirit. In both cases, I surrendered my will to that of a superior power. That's not a bad description of my response to God's call to preach.

The Bible itself records a few of God's calls to people and their responses. One of the most well-known struggles was that of Jonah -- a man called to preach a specific sermon in a specific place. His was certainly more of a surrender than an acceptance. Then there was unwilling Moses who had a list of excuses for not fulfilling God's leadership role. But he finally surrendered and obeyed.

I also remember the fishermen Peter, James, and John, and the businessman Matthew. When Jesus called them, Scripture says they left all. Wasn't that a " surrender"? At this point in our use of the words "accepting" and " answering," I wonder if I smell a faint order of that carnal pride we holiness preachers inveigh against. It's quite possible to say, "All right, I accept," with a tinge of condescension.

Surrender. Does it convey the idea of a harder struggle than what actually takes place in some people's lives? On the other hand, it is a word that can emphasize the urgency, definiteness, and completeness of God's claim on my life.

Surrender. It may have more value as a description than I originally thought.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

"[Jesus] commissioned them to preach the news of God's kingdom." -- Luke 9:2 (The Message).

These thoughts were published in The Preacher's Magazine while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy.

How to know that you are called
from Evangelical Missions Quarterly . . .
  1. God delights in calling His children in unique and personal ways. He doesn't use a cookie-cutter template or a 10-step formula.
  2. Before revealing his unique callings, God always provides more general callings to His people -- callings to salvation, holiness, and obedience. If we miss these, we will never hear God's more personal and peculiar callings.
  3. Hearing a call to ministry is not a measure of spiritual commitment.
  4. A calling is not a status to wear. Responding to a call always requires doing.
  5. Being called is not a reflection of giftedness. Calling is more than the sum of our gifts. It is individually sculpted to incorporate both God's purposes and our passions
    -- Gary Corwin, editorial "Calling and Character," published in EMQ


"Wherever He leads, I'll go"

Southern Baptist songwriter B.B. McKinney was leading the music at the Alabama Sunday School Convention in Clanton. The featured speaker was R.S. Jones, McKinney's friend of many years who, because of ill health, had recently returned from missionary service in Brazil.

Prior to one evening service, the two men were visiting over dinner when Jones revealed to McKinney that his physicians were not going to allow him to return to South America. Asked about his future plans, the missionary said, "I don't know, but wherever He leads I'll go."

The words stuck in McKinney's mind. Before the convention's evening session, he had written both the words and music of this song. At the close of Rev. Jones' message, McKinney related this story and then the just-written sang "Wherever He leads I'll go" for the congregation.

   recounted by Billy Graham in Crusade Hymn Stories, Hope Publishing Company.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit." -- John 15:16

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