What To Do With A Call To Missions

Here’s a common question (especially after a summer missions trip): what should I do if I feel God wants me to be a missionary? This is as important as it is common, too, because it is only a small percentage of people that commit to missions ever actually make it to the field. So it would seem that there’s quite a leap from desire to realization. Here’s some ideas that might help:

– Surrender, don’t just commit.
To be really honest, it’s just not that accurate when people talk about what they ‘know’ God has called them to do. God’s plan for your life falls into what is called the ‘secret will’ of God. So called because it’s a secret! You can be guided and led by him, but unless he adds a verse to the Bible telling you what country to go to, you might be wrong. Why so important? A lot of people freeze up waiting for this mystical confirmation they’ve heard so much about. It’s okay to not be sure. When the Holy Spirit closed the door on Paul, he didn’t repent or apologize. He just regrouped and headed in a new direction. So commitment is good, but surrender is far better. Commitment tells God you agree to a particular field, or time, or climate, etc. Surrender tells God that you’ll do whatever he brings your way. When I was 16, I told God I’d go anywhere he wanted me – I could not possibly have foreseen that he would send me to China. And, by the way, surrender (in warfare) is initiated by a declared intention to cease the pursuit of your own will. Might be a good place to start with you and God.

– Talk it over with the spiritual leaders in your life.
Get with two or three leaders (not your roommates) who know you, and tell them about how you believe God is leading you. Ask them to be brutally honest with you, and tell you what needs to change/improve/die in your life before you’d be ready to be in full-time service. Most of them won’t be honest with you unless they sense that you’re ready to listen. Leaders that will level with you are God’s greatest gifts to you in your preparation to fulfill his plan. The quickest path to God’s best usually leads in their direction. The closer you can get to them, the better. Get curious. Ask them a million questions about life, ministry, training, theology, family, and walking with God. When you’ve heard their answers, be grateful, humble, and proactive.

– Have a higher goal than ‘get out of America.’
When I first believed that God wanted me to serve him overseas, I started to leap at every opportunity to leave the States that came my way. I didn’t really give any thought to where I would work – the only qualifier was ‘not here.’ The reason stemmed from my own ignorance – I pictured the whole world in two big circles – America and Other (most Bible colleges arrange their majors in this way). I wasted a couple summers and a few thousand dollars learning this the hard way. Do yourself a favor – strive to understand the world. Study geography, demographics, world religions, key cities, and language groups. In doing this, you are likely to find a strategic place with a real need that you can prepare to meet. Not all missions endeavors are created equal. Some are inspired more by the shape of the nation or the flavor of the food than an actual plan to meet an actual need. Realize that missions is plugging into God’s plan for global-glorification, not just leaving your own country.

– Remember that you are what you train to be.
For a couple of years in college, I thought of missions as what I would hopefully get to do one day. Consequently, I didn’t take my training very seriously. Took a while to figure out that missions doesn’t start when you get off the plane in another country, it starts in your preparation today. In two important senses. First, if you’re an anemic Christian in the States, don’t expect that you’ll do better in another country. Living in Communist China, it’s surprising how much of what we do every day in ministry is the same as we would have to do in any other country! And secondly, it seems like missions is one of those strange occupations that people think requires no particular training. Probably goes back to the mystical ‘call of God’ – people have a tendency to believe that if God magically calls you, then he will magically prepare you. Jesus trained his disciples; Paul trained Timothy – you need someone to train you. If you get second-rate training for ministry, that’s exactly what your ministry will be. If your missionary training is an afterthought to some other education, your missionary career will feel the effects. Consider the call to missions as firstly a call to prepare.

– Have some passion, have some urgency.
Until you leave for another country, consider yourself a representative for world missions. Pray that you’ll be able to encourage some other people in the same direction. This won’t happen unless you’ve got some excitement about what God’s called you to do. If you act the same as someone who chose their career for a high income, you probably won’t do much pre-field glorifying. Also, get there as fast as possible. Don’t skip necessary steps, but act like you’re missing something. In some ways, a missionary is more like a battlefield medic than a hospital surgeon. Time is of the essence.

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