In this post and the previous
one, the uniqueness of a missionary call is being discussed.
HOW DO YOU DISCERN THE CALL?
What separates a missionary from the common Christian? What does it mean to be called? So many young people have wondered,
“What exactly is a missionary call and how can I know I have that call?” J. Herbert Kane says that some people
claim the missionary has to have a “Macedonian call” like Paul as seen in Acts
16:9-10. Kane goes on to say that
such a call is often connected to visions, dreams, voices, and the like.
According to this viewpoint, without the existential experience it is
impossible to receive a missionary call.
Thus, every Christian should seek out such an experience and wait until
The second common viewpoint, according to Kane, is similar
to what has already been mentioned in yesterday's post.
It says that all Christians are missionaries, so no call of any kind is
required. Missionary work is no
different from any other Christian service. However, both of these positions are inaccurate. An adherent to the first position may
wait around too long, waiting for a vision. An adherent to the second position may go overseas and then
return home frustrated and thus feel like a failure.
A BIBLICAL MODEL
The New Testament model is often overlooked. In Acts 11:22,
the church in Jerusalem sent out Barnabas when they heard that certain men in
Cyprus and Cyrene were evangelizing Greeks in Syrian Antioch. Nothing is said of calls for volunteers,
nothing of Barnabas’ own personal subjective call. It does not mean he did have one; but it should be noted
that the church sent him. He was a
Cypriot Jewish Christian and therefore known to the Antioch evangelists (Acts
11:20), many of whom were Cypriots.
He was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was a good man. He was named “Son of Encouragement”
(Acts 4:36). He was a great
encourager and probably a soul-mender.
He appears to have been selected according to his suitability. He was sent by the church as the best
man for the job.
A year later Paul and Barnabas set out on their first
missionary endeavor, which was not an individualistic decision. Acts 13:1-3 clearly says that the Lord
spoke to the whole group of leaders in the Antioch church. It was a group decision. Later Paul chooses Silas (Acts 15:40)
who was a leader among the brethren (Acts 15:22), a prophet himself (15:32),
and he was therefore qualified to aid Paul on his mission.
When they return to Galatia, they meet Timothy, “well spoken
of by the bretheren in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). The text says Paul wanted to take
him. It does not say what Timothy
felt or wanted, but it does say that Paul took the initiative and called
In all three examples, (sending of Barnabas, Silas, and
Timothy) the Bible neither emphasizes the individual initiative, nor the
subjective sense of a call.
Rather, it always shows the initiative of others, either of a
congregation or of other Christians already active in such work. This does not eliminate the value of a
personal subjective call altogether.
But it at least demonstrates the biblical priority for how to discern
who should be sent.
So, how in the world do we know if what we are feeling is a
true call? Is it only an
invitation by a second party, or is it the individual’s initiative? I propose that the missionary call is
both an individual, subjective conviction and a corporate, objective
confirmation. A potential
missionary must have a subjective call—an unwavering, resolute conviction that
is truly from God Himself.
However, at the same time the individual must be careful not to confuse
the “quiver in his liver” with the voice of God. The solution to this uncertainty is objective confirmation
of one’s own genuine subjective call.
Michael Griffiths outlines two steps in hearing this objective call. First, he says that the congregation
which knows the candidate best must make an objective recognition of his
strengths. Such people know his
gifts and usefulness. Secondly,
the call may also be confirmed by the invitation of those involved already in
some distant work of cross-cultural ministry, who, on recommendation of the
church, see here a potential fellow worker. Therefore, with the subjective sense of the call of God (“I
feel the Lord wants me”), there is the objective confirmation of the sending
church (“We feel the Lord has set you apart to go and he wants us to send
you”), and of the receiving missionary (“We know there is a need and we believe
that you are the kind of person the Lord want to be with us”). This model from Acts is not only
individual, but it is also corporate.
This is how God so often works with us. He uses the Body of Christ to accomplish His tasks.
 J. Herbert
Kane, Life and Work on the Mission Field
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 1.
Griffiths, Give Up Your Small Ambitions
(Nashville: Accelerated Christian Education, 1993), 17.