SilMiss 09-02-025

The Missionary Call

Find Your Place in God's Plan for the World


M. David Sills

Moody Publishers, 2008, 246 pp., ISBN 978-0-8024-5028-9



Sills is professor of missions and cultural anthropology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He previously served as a missionary in Ecuador and president of the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary.  In this book he gives a comprehensive perspective on the missionary call - what it is, how you get it, how you know, and how it works out in preparation and ministry.


"Is God calling me to missions?  It is not an easy question to answer and the life-changing consequences that could follow make it all the more important." (14)


Part I.  What is the Missionary Call?

1.  Understanding the Missionary Call

"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 affirmation, blessing and commissioning, a passionate desire, the Spirit's gifting, and an indescribable yearning that motivates beyond all understanding." (30)


2.  How Can I Know God's Will?

If God has a will for our lives, how specific is it?  When do we stop praying to know the details and use our own judgment?  (33)  "You find God's will by getting as close to Jesus as you can and staying there."  "God will fill your heart with desires to do what He wills for your life.  That is the only way to know His will." (34) 


As you study the Bible you will come to understand how God dealt with His people to guide them. (36)  There is also safety and great wisdom in Godly counsel. (39)  "Think about those who know you well and who have shown wisdom in the choices of their own lives." (39)  Listen well.  Look at your life experiences for patterns that provide clues that God has been preparing you for something.  (40)  God often uses our circumstances to guide us. (41)  Timing is crucial.  Open doors aren't always the last word. (42)  How is God guiding you by your desires?  What do you want to do?  God gives us desires in the directions he wants us to go. (43)  But be careful to guard your heart because it is deceitful (Jer. 17:9).  In sum, "…become so close to Him that your heartbeat resonates with His own." (45)


3.  Is There a Biblical Basis for the Missionary Call?

The biblical examples of a call are descriptive, not necessary prescriptive.  (48)  Examples of God's call in the Old Testament were both general and specific.  (51) God's call and God's guidance are two distinct aspects of his leading. (54)  "God has called every Christian to international missions, but He does not want everyone to go.  God calls some to be senders." (58)


4.  Historical Understandings of the Missionary Call

"An understanding of the missionary call has developed throughout the era of modern missions." (65)  Hudson Taylor's insistence on focusing on specific geographic areas influenced the way some understand a missionary call. (69)  Some have felt called to a particular ministry or mission organization.  Missionaries throughout history have described their missionary call in many ways. (77) 


"The Bible speaks about God's heartbeat for the nations from beginning to end.  God's Word is replete with examples of His people being led to impact the nations for God's glory.  Although the words missionary and missions do not occur, crossing cultural boundaries in order to share the gospel is clearly seen and taught." (77)


Part 2.  Understanding Your Missionary Call

5.  How Specific Does the Call Have to Be?

6.  Timing and the Missionary Call

"In one sense, the missionary call is a lifetime call.  However, the ways in which you may fulfill that call will vary throughout your life." (97)  The expression of God's calling on our lives changes throughout our lifetime.  "God's timing is everything." (98)  "God gives the missionary call and guides in understanding the how, when, and where of expressing it over time." (100)  He leads step-by-step along the way.


"Career missionaries are the ones who know the languages, cultures, and testimonies of local believers.  They are essential for the church to be able to reach and teach the unreached areas of the world." (105) 


While you are waiting for God's timing, explore missions opportunities where you are and live the call now.  Take "Perspectives."  Read missionary biographies.  Learn a language.  Get involved with internationals.  Teach ESL.  Take mission trips.  (108-111)


7.  What Should I Do if My Spouse Does Not Feel Called?

Every call is unique.  One may feel called before the other.  It may be more threatening to one than the other.  The Bible doesn't indicate that both spouses must feel called, although many mission agencies require it.  However, the Bible gives principles that apply to the matter, e.g., Amos 3:3, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 2 Corinthians 6:14.  Unity, peace, and harmony are important ingredients for a marriage.  When couples do not share a common call, the ministry suffers.


Part 3.  Fulfilling the Missionary Call

8.  Getting to the Field

The choice of mission agency may be more important than the location of ministry.  Most mission organizations require you to raise your financial support.  You will be living and working with a team of people much like family.  The stress of living with other missionaries is one of the greatest factors in missionary stress. Being a good fit for the team is important. 


You will need training, including theological, language, and culture training.  You may soon be going toe-to-toe with Muslim imams, skeptics, atheists, New Agers, Hindu priests and cult followers.  You will be of little use if you are unprepared.  No one would hire a lawyer or engineer who had not been trained.  And missionary training often confirms the call. 


9.  Hindrances to Getting to the Field

"Stephen Neill said, 'Christian missionary work is the most difficult thing in the world.'" (144)  You will need physical, emotional, and spiritual stamina.  "In many places of the world, the only thing that the church members know of Christ and the Bible is what the missionary is, says, and does." (149)  "The spiritual health of a missionary is more important than his or her physical health because a solid Christian testimony may give glory to Christ in ways that nothing else can." (150) 


"You cannot leave behind family baggage by waving good-bye at the airport and fleeing to a far country; these problems will follow you and hinder your effectiveness." (152) 


Financial considerations demand your attention.  Student loan and personal debt is one of the primary hindrances to missionary service.  A hindrance may not necessarily be insurmountable.  There may be a way.  Pay off debts; resolve issues; get training; request divine intervention.


10.  Challenges on the Field

"Being a missionary in another culture and language in some of the far-flung places of the world can be incredibly difficult, frustrating, dangerous, and lonely work.  To remain faithful in it requires a unique mix of talents, gifts, skills, and the enabling hand of God." (159)


Culture adjustment, language learning, family life, a lack of privacy, discouragement and doubts, and particular issues related to single missionaries all contribute to make life difficult. 


11.  Missionary Heroes and the Missionary Call

A glimpse into the life and writings of some famous missionaries illustrate their difficulties and commitment.


"I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with lights." (181, quoting Ion Keith-Falconer)


"The command has been to 'go,' but we have stayed--in body, gifts, prayer, and influence.  He has asked us to be witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth…but 99% of Christians have kept puttering around in the homeland." (181, quoting Robert Savage)


"If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him."  "God has called me to go, and I will go.  I will blaze the trail, though my grave may only be a stepping-stone that younger men may follow." (182, quoting C. T. Studd as he sailed to Africa in 1910, leaving behind his wife and four daughters.  He died in Africa in 1931.)


Some lessons from the life of David Brainerd:  "First, God's call is fluid, dynamic, and developing all throughout your life.  Second, you must walk by faith and not by sight, always seeking the open window when He closes a door.  Third, do not let the disappointments in your life plan make you bitter; use them to make yourself better.  Understand that while the plan He has for your life may be radically different from the one you imagined, or thought you would prefer, His plan is a path to peace and fruitful service.  Fourth, while He may direct you in ways you did not anticipate, learn to trust the Lord and His loving plan for you." (184-85)


12.  Understanding and Answering the Missionary Call

"The missionary call is God's method for moving His children to intercultural service and sustaining them in the work He designed for them before the creation of the world (Acts 17:26)." (197)


"It is a yearning to see all the nations fall before the throne to worship Christ, and a radical surrender of all one has and is for His glory.  It is a fervent desire to cross any and every barrier to share the saving gospel of God's grace….  …the beginning of a missionary call rarely includes all the details of timing, mission agency, location, language, or people group." (198) 


There are three basic understandings of the missionary call:

n  There is no missionary call.  Choosing to be a missionary is no different than choosing to be a teacher or a plumber.

n  There is a call.  It is the Great Commission and it is a call to all.  If you are not to cross cultures with the gospel the burden is on you to demonstrate that God has called you to stay at home.

n  No one should attempt to go without a clear and personal missionary call.

Each of these positions is partly right but wrong when taken to the extreme.  (199) 


"Hearing God's missionary call has a great deal to do with what you are listening for." (202)




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