You Don’t Need a Calling To Be a Missionary – part 1

If you are waiting on a call or a calling from God to be a missionary, you might be waiting a long time. But what is a calling? Do you feel a calling? Do you receive a calling? If you look closely at how God speaks directly to individuals in the Bible you will be surprised.

This is the first part in a series on the missiology of Christ. To better understand the series, please read your Gospels two hours per day and highlight these verses in red: Matthew: 3:19 y 22; 8:19-22; 9:35-38; : 10:1; 10:7-9; 10:12-16; 10:21-23; 10:34-39; 11:4-6; 12:47-48; 19:21; 19:27-30; 24:14; 26:34-35; 28:19-20 Mark 1:15-20; 1:38; 3:14-15; 3:31-35; 6:6-13; 8:34-35; 10:20-21; 10:28-31; 13:10; 13:12-13; 16:15-18 Luke 5:10-11; 5:27-28; 8:19-21; 9:1-6; 9:23-24; 9:57-62; 10:1-4; 10:5-8; 10:9-11; 10:19; 12:32-33; 12:49-53; 14:25-27; 14:33; 18:21-22; 18:28-30; 21:16-17; 22:35-37; 24:45-49 John 12:23-26; 15:18-27; 16:1-4; 16:8-11; 17:10-26; Acts 1:6-8 where Jesus is speaking. This is the Bible Reading Plan located on this blog.

Example of highlighting the verses, (New International Version)

Use a red ink pen (not gel) and use a little ruler to make the lines straight.

When God spoke, he made it very clear what he wanted. In fact, God usually spoke to people directly through an audible voice. He also sent angels that announced who they were. The angels called the individual by name, and then they gave direction. Angels are God’s messengers speaking in audible voices. Most visions and dreams were powerful, and normally an angel appeared in that vision or dream, speaking directly to the individual. Even in visions and dreams, it was made very clear what God wanted. It was also usually very specific and was to bring about God’s overall plan for humanity. God was getting things done; he was not necessarily concerned about the individual he used to bring about his plan. In the case of Paul and Macedonia, we need to be very careful not to attribute a call to this situation. Read Acts 16 and look at verse 10.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.

(NIV Acts 16:6-10)

After Paul had seen the vision, they got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the Gospel there. Apparently, there were no direct words from an angel or Jesus or an audible voice from God in the vision. They had already been preaching as was commanded by Christ. They were being guided where to preach after they ALREADY obeyed by going. The Holy Spirit kept them from preaching the word in one place, and the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them into another. Guidance came after they obeyed the mandate of Christ to go. Guidance comes after you go, not before. Here is the important part: because they ALREADY knew that they were commanded to go everywhere into all the world, the vision was specific guidance. Had this vision been a calling of God to be missionaries, they would not have had to conclude that they needed to go specifically into Macedonia. They already knew that it was the will of God for the Gospel to be preached everywhere, in all the world. They did not have to conclude that part. It seemed to be the specific will of God for them to go to Macedonia, during the task of going into all the world. They could have gone anywhere the Gospel had not been preached and in doing so would have been fulfilling the overall general command to all Christians to do the great commission. Read the whole chapter. They had already entered different places, and the doors were closed to them. The word “concluding,” is the key. In the original language, to conclude is to seek, endeavor, and inquire after God. They wanted to know if God was telling them to go somewhere specific, somewhere in particular. God makes himself very clear that you are to go through Christ’s command. You will not doubt if God has spoken to you when he talks directly to you. You should already know what God wants by the overall general teaching of Christ to all Christians. If he speaks to you, it will be to guide you specifically.

Here is the catch: He will not specifically guide you when you are waiting around on a calling. Remember the diagram on how people perceive the Bible? You are supposed to already know that you are called. The general overall call or commission has already been given to you. If God were to give you a vision to go to India, how would he do it? Do you know that there are unreached peoples in India? Yes, you do. Do you know that it is God’s will that someone go there to make disciples? Yes, you do. Do you need an angel, or an audible voice, or any major conformation or calling to know that all Christians everywhere should do something about the unreached people groups in India?

If you are already decided to go as a missionary somewhere, you might possibly get a vision of Bihar (a state in India), which would be specific guidance. But specific guidance will only come because you have ALREADY decided to go somewhere in India. The vision of Bihar would be only for specific guidance to you. Recently, I was in my office with a young man who wants to go to India as a missionary. I asked him how he came to choose India. He said that he did not know, but he just knew that there was much need there. We started to look over a list of unreached people groups and maps, and he picked out about fifteen peoples in the area where he ALREADY had planned to arrive. He will go to India and start to travel among these remote people groups. A door will close here, and another will close there, and eventually, a door will open. As he is going, God might give him specific guidance if needed. This young man doesn’t need a call or calling. He knows that someone needs to go out of obedience to Christ and to help fulfill the global plan of God to bring the message to all ethnos, thus ushering in Christ’s return and the end.

There are times in history that God needs to be VERY CLEAR about what he wants someone to do in order for HIS DIVINE PLAN to be fulfilled. Many people who read about these instances in the Bible mistake them for a calling. God is making sure that events happen the way HE needs them to in order to bring about HIS ends, but in all other cases, we ALREADY know what needs to be done. If we have a dream or vision, we too will have to conclude (just like Paul did) if it is really specific guidance from God or not. The main point here is this: had God spoken directly to Paul (audible voice, angel), there would have been no need to inquire or seek Him for further confirmation (no need to conclude). Furthermore, had they not been obeying the overall general command and teaching of Christ to go into all ethnos, they would not have received a specific guidance vision. Guidance is for people who are already going or who have made up their minds that they will go. You cannot guide a static object. Here is another way to look at missionary calling: a missionary calling is simply a deep conviction to obey the written Word of God when one actually acts upon that conviction. If you don’t actually act upon it, the conviction wasn’t deep enough.

The problem with calling, is that hardly anyone feels called

Many people believe the Word of God, but not enough to act on it. Their level of conviction is not enough to move them to act. This is one definition of conviction: a strong persuasion or belief. Do you really believe Jesus? If you did, you would do something about it. The erroneous modern missionary model, “receiving a calling,” has hindered millions of people from simply being obedient to the word of God. What does all this mean to you? You do not need to “receive a calling,” from God to be a missionary. You already have one. Consider yourself called. The call is the command written down in the New Testament for you to read or hear, respond to, and obey. Once you believe this fact and get on your way, God can then divinely direct you as to exactly where he wants you to go, if he needs to. He may or may not divinely directly you with visions or appearances by angels. He may just close doors and give you a dream like he did with Paul. Go out of obedience and a conviction to do what is right. It is right and moral to take the only message of salvation to people in Bihar, India, who don’t have access to it. You may never have any miraculous experiences. You will just be obeying the written word of God. Once you have information about a remote unreached people group in your plan, you may not need any further guidance or direction.

Paul was simply going with the command from Jesus and the Holy Spirit prevented them from entering into certain places. They kept going until finally, a door opened. They were already being obedient to the great commission and later were guided specifically. It doesn’t mean that this is going to happen to every missionary, nor is it any proof that you have a specific calling as an individual to be a missionary. The command of Christ is confirmation enough. You are officially obligated to obey the command once you have read it. It is up to you to open your eyes and look for the ripe harvest fields. God wants you to open YOUR eyes and use YOUR brain for that part. It is his part to give you a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. He will ask you to exert great effort to achieve or obtain something through Christ, who is in you. Had God not wanted Paul and his team to go to Macedonia, he could have closed that door somehow. Obedience with forward-moving self-denying action gets you further guidance if it is needed. You may know it is happening, and you may not. It takes faith to go, and then God guides. He will never guide you if you are sitting in a chair waiting for the missionary call. Read the Bible then choose a remote unreached people group and go. Open your eyes and look to see where the harvest is. Going is simply the obeying part.

Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

(NIV John 4:35)

Jesus is telling you to pay attention and investigate for yourself where the harvest is. Don’t say that there isn’t any harvest. Saying that there isn’t any harvest is convincing yourself that you can stay static. You cannot steer a parked car. If you are staying put, don’t expect God to “call” you or send an angel or a vision telling you to go to a specific mission field. Going is the purpose of Christianity. A well-known missiologist once called this, “being a world Christian.” Once you make the decision and are moving forward then he may direct you specifically to China or India or Bihar through circumstances. If you are fortunate, he will tell you directly through a vision or dream or better yet a personal visitation with an audible voice! It can happen. But it will never happen to you if in your heart you have not even made the decision to obey the command of Christ to go. Jesus was already resurrected when he gave the command to go. He may have waited until then so that they would take him more seriously.

You need to believe the resurrected Jesus Christ and take him seriously. You will think of a better reason to not obey if you have already determined (not denied self) never leave your hometown, family, friends, or church. Once you decide to go and are moving forward with action, God might not really care which place you go to. Both India and China are vast harvest fields where very few missionaries are going into remote unreached people groups. His heart is definitely in India and China. They are two of the most unreached countries in the world. It is possible that in those two countries alone more than two thousand remote unreached people groups exist.

There are some individuals who have a powerful encounter with God where he calls them to do something specific about the mission field. You could look at missionary calling as the SPECIFIC part of going (once you have made the decision to go). These powerful encounters are similar to those in the Bible and include audible voices, visitations by angels, talking donkeys, and burning bushes. On occasion, you will hear about them, and then there are the rest of us: the regular everyday Christians who simply go because Jesus Christ told us to.

Missionaries go based on a convection to obey the Word of God

I like to refer to missionary calling, as a deep conviction to do what is reasonable. I have a deep conviction to take the great commission personally and to respond to it by being a Christian where there is no light. Missionaries, or cross-cultural missionaries, are simply ordinary people who are extending God’s light in the dark places.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

(NIV John 1:5-9)

I have a deep convection to personally do something about the dark places. If I enter a room and there is no light, I turn the light on. If I enter a room and see chairs all out of place, and I am the only one around, I have a conviction to do something about it. It is not a deep conviction, but it is enough for me to take action. The chairs need organizing. If I see information making me aware that 80% of people groups in India are still without the Gospel, this should create in me a moral obligation to do something about it. Why? Because God created me this way and put Jesus in me, and he created the people in the unreached people groups in India, and Jesus told me to do something about it.

They are in total darkness with absolutely no access to any Christians, and I have the light. It’s perfectly reasonable that I believe what Jesus said, AND it is obvious that I then do something about it. The fact that God created me as a moral being, moves me, compels me to respond to his overarching command to all followers of Christ to do something about this immoral situation: lost souls in remote unreached people groups. Once I hear about unreached people groups, I go. We have complicated the mission of God by adding the need for a missionary call or calling to go. The other articles in this series will talk about many things we have added to the mission in order to be able to go. The call is just one more thing we do not need in order to go.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

(NIV 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

They do not live for themselves, because they have denied themselves. We are compelled by love from a loving God who created us with the mandate to love and disciple the lost. Another definition of conviction: strong persuasion or belief; especially, the state of being convicted of sin, or by one’s conscience. My conscience is telling me I should go because it is the loving and moral thing to do. It would be a sin to not do anything at all. Praying for unreached people groups is not going. I don’t count praying as being part of the solution. Praying is the absolute easiest thing one can do. And I don’t believe God honors empty prayers. Definition of empty prayers: prayers about that which we have absolutely no intention of doing anything about. Millions of hours of prayer have not gotten the people groups reached. Jesus did not command us to just pray, he commanded us to go. So, if you obey the great commission, it would be because of your convection or strong persuasion of that which you believe to be morally right and reasonable. It also would be because you have the love of Christ in your heart for those who have no access to that same love. You see, once we add the need for a call to be a missionary, we don’t have to go because we are not called.

More people consider themselves not called than those who consider themselves called Those who can convince themselves that they are not called, obviously do not go. They convince themselves not to go. Or it is because a belief system has conveniently been taught that a call is a necessary requirement to be a missionary. We teach it because we do not want to go either. It is about convenience. One missiologist calls this “The Great Omission.” It is the thing we do not do. A modern missiology that requires a calling to be a missionary is hindering the great commission because most people are claiming they have no call.

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

(NIV James 4:17)

An expanded definition of missionary: Missionaries are ordinary Christian people who have a deep conviction to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not have any access to him. The lost person in the remote unreached people group in China who has not heard of Jesus is just as lost as the drug addict in Chicago who has not heard. The big difference between them is that the person in Chicago has all kinds of access to hear the Gospel, and the person in the unreached people in China does not have access. It may be that the drug addict has never actually heard the Gospel, but thousands and thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters living in Chicago are there to tell him. He also has a free copy of the Bible available to him, if he can read. He also has the message all around him. He has also heard of Jesus. The brothers and sisters in Chicago should be out on the streets looking for him, and some are. In order for the lost person in the remote unreached people group in China to hear, it will require at least one person to go to him and learn his language. You can use the term missionary for that person if you want. The word doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the misconception of the word that is being taught and misconstrued. Our teachers are at fault. The propagators of modern missiology are to blame in most cases. Missionary means too many things nowadays. It should mean one who goes where there is no access to the Gospel. It would have been much better had we never invented the term. The fact that it is not a New Testament term is proof that it has been added by men. The term sets the missionary apart from other normal Christians.

In the days of the New Testament, many needed to be light in the immediate vicinity because there was not as much light. They stayed. Today, too many are staying where there is light. In most people’s minds, there are normal Christians, and there are missionaries. The term makes the distinction. Normal Christians stay home while missionaries go to the mission field. According to the New Testament, there is no distinction. Some people will say that the office of an apostle is the missionary. This is incorrect missiology. The entire team works together—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers—preparing the normal people for works of service. What are works of service? They build up the body into maturity so that they can put on the armor and battle the darkness.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

(NIV Ephesians 4:11-13)

We have set apart the missionary from the normal Christian, just as we have with all clergy. The clergy are special and above the normal people of God. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are put on pedestals and are considered more important. You can read 1st Corinthians 12:23ff and it should be enough. This incorrect theology of placing men above one another is just one more reason we have not discipled all the ethnos. We have incorrectly considered missionaries special clergy who go into other cultures and learn other languages. It matters little to God that we have to learn another language or go to different culture or geography in order to finish his commission. Commission is a term mentioned a few times in the New Testament (Colossians 1:25; Acts 26:12). It means: a formal written warrant granting the power to perform various acts or duties, an authorization or command to act in a prescribed manner or to perform prescribed acts or charge: authority to act for, in behalf of, or in place of another. Jesus left the earth and gave us a formal written warrant granting us the power to perform various acts or duties.

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–

(NIV Colossians 1:24-25)

You are light; go where it is dark. Every unreached people group must have the Gospel preached to them. Disciples have to be made among every single one. In summary: a missionary goes to those who have no light, no access to the Gospel. A missionary is just another Christian who is fulfilling their part in the plan of God to bring back Christ so that the end comes to all sin, suffering, and the loss of souls in the world.