How Do You Recognize A Missionary Call?


What compels a young woman such as Marilyn Laszlo of Wycliffe Bible Translators to leave her family and friends in America and move to a small aboriginal tribe where she does not understand the language? A place where she does not eat the same food or share the same culture, and almost dies from malaria and other diseases?

What motivates any person to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, or even to a nearby city, and live apart from family, friends and familiar surroundings?

“The notion that every Christian is a missionary, popular as it might be, misconstrues the fundamental nature of the missionary call, ” says C. Peter Wagner in On the Crest of the Wave. “To clarify this matter, the most important consideration is understanding the relationship between the missionary call and the biblical doctrine of spiritual gifts. ”

Wagner uses Paul, in contrast to Peter, to illustrate: “Paul’s spiritual gift enabled him to minister in another culture. The best statement of what this missionary gift does is in I Corinthians 9:22 where Paul says, ‘I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’ Not everyone can do it. Peter, for example, couldn’t. That’s why Paul says clearly, ‘The gospel for the uncircumcised (Gentiles) had been committed to me, as the gospel of the circumcised (Jews) was to Peter’ (Gal. 2:7). If we adopt the hypothesis of the missionary gift, all these pieces fall into place.

“Just having the missionary gift doesn’t guarantee that a person will be a good missionary, but it increases the probability considerably. It helps the person learn the new language and culture. It reduces (but never eliminates) the effects of culture shock. ”

Wagner defines the gift: “The missionary gift is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to minister whatever other spiritual gifts they have in a second culture. It is the specific gift of cross-cultural ministry. ”

The aim of all missionary endeavors should be a clear and persistent witness in the missionary’s words and actions to “Christian truth and life, and the building up of living Christian communities, trustfully leaving to God what He will do with the work of His servants,” says Hendrik Kraemer in The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World.

With this aim in mind, a missionary is free from anxious thinking and acting and will have a total spiritual outlook of lifting up his eyes to the Lord for his help.

The only valid purpose of missions is to call people to confront God’s acts of revelation and His salvation for man as the Bible presents them, and to establish a community of believers who will serve Jesus Christ, Kraemer concludes.

All other motives, such as transmitting Christian ideals into a village, people or civilization, or even instilling the blessings an enlightened spirit can give into an emerging world culture, should be secondary. The same motives that impelled the first apostles are the only valid, tenable motives and should therefore be primary.

The missionary needs an untiring and genuine interest in the ideas, sentiments, institutions-in short, in the total life of the people among whom he works, for the sake of Christ and the people.

If a man feels someone is interested in him out of intellectual curiosity or merely to see him converted, and not because he is a person, then there cannot arise a meaningful relationship, that indispensable basis for all spiritual contact between two people. Without this acceptance and relationship, the door to that person and to his world remains locked.

God’s love is remote and abstract. The missionary demonstrates God’s love by showing a genuine interest in the total life of the people to whom he goes.

What the people learn of Christ depends largely on what they see of Him in a missionary. Unfortunately, they often see arrogance or even ignorance in a missionary who does not accept or appreciate them in their environment or place in history.

God’s love motivates the missionary to reach out to a person in need and communicate God’s solutions to his needs. Even when rejected and humiliated, a missionary must continue to have and show a servant’s love, or at least be growing toward having that kind of love.

Pride and prejudice are other self-serving motives which have, along with ignorance, contaminated the missionary’s message.

Bring Glory to God

Our motivation for missionary work and evangelism has often been misdirected. Going out to seek a lost soul and bringing him into a saving knowledge of Christ seems like a worthy goal. But the missionary’s primary goal should be to glorify God.

As Juan Carlos Ortiz, pastor of a large congregation in Buenos Aires, wrote in A Call to Discipleship, “We are not going to save souls because of the souls. We are going to extend the kingdom of God because God says so and He is the Lord. Our motivations must be cleaned up.”

Reliance on the Spirit

In his book Christian Mission in the Modem World, John R. W. Stott says Christians must never try to bludgeon people into God’s kingdom but must humbly rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to convict and woo. Therefore, the missionary needs the kind of motivation that is truly guided by the Holy Spirit.

Johannes Blauw writes of this dependence on the Holy Spirit in The Missionary Nature of the Church. He says the primary motivation for preaching the gospel comes not from the outside, based on the “need of the world. ” Nor does it come from within, as in the “religious impulse. ” Instead it comes from above, as a “divine coercion, as a matter of life and death, not for the world, but for the church itself. ”

As the apostle Paul declared, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! … And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Cor. 9:16,23).

How does a missionary seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in motivation? Norman Grubb in Touching the Invisible describes the basic principles the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade has used in its administrative and field work.

Much of the group’s praying, although sincere, lacked confidence. So often they were not sure if their requests were according to God’s will. They prefaced most requests with a phrase such as, “If it is Thy will.” Often they rose from their knees as unsure of the answer as before they asked. If they had been asked whether a particular prayer would be granted, they could only have responded, “We hope so.”

They began to study the prayer lives of the men of the Bible. They found that these men first discovered whether their prayer was God’s will; then having received assurance on this point, they prayed, received by faith, persisted, declared things to come, with all the authority of God Himself.

The WEC staff saw this again and again in the Bible. “Elijah suddenly appears on the scene and announces, ‘As the Lord God of Israel liveth, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’ ” James called this “effectual praying.”

Another example the staff found in Scripture was that of Hezekiah, a “man of sincere, but unavailing prayer, and Isaiah, a man of effectual prayer. ” In a crisis Hezekiah cried out to God and sent a message to Isaiah, seeming to despair of the Lord’s hearing his prayer. But Isaiah answered, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Be not afraid……..

Guided Praying

The WEC staff became more and more impressed that “effectual praying must be guided praying.” They realized “the first essential was not to pray, but to know what to pray for, ” and that special and clear provision had been made for this knowledge in the Scriptures.

According to the apostle Paul in Romans 8:26,27, the Spirit is given expressly to guide our praying, for “true prayers are God’s prayers prayed through us-they issue from God’s mind, are taught us of His Spirit, are prayed in His faith, and are thus assured of answer. ”

Thus, Grubb notes, the WEC’s meetings took on new form, and those present kneeled to pray only after they had received directions from God. They met in groups not just to read the Bible or discuss a doctrine, but to seek practical answers to problems which confronted them.

They would outline and discuss a certain matter, inviting opinions and criticisms. Gradually they would become convinced that a certain outcome would glorify God-“a certain sum of money by a certain date; a move of the Spirit at a certain place; the granting of an official permit; a reconciliation. ”

They would examine the Scriptures for examples on which to base their faith, looking at such men as David, Daniel, Moses and Paul. “Were these men sure of their guidance?” they would ask. “Did they believe and declare it? Did it come to pass? Can we fairly compare our situation to theirs?”

If so, then and only then, the group members would pray, believe, receive, declare their faith and persist with all authority of the Master’s words, “Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removedand shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith” (Mark 11:23).

In a similar manner, the missionary must learn to depend on God and seek His will through immersing himself in prayer and God’s Word. Then God’s purposes, and not his own needs, will motivate him. A missionary can easily justify his actions when he fulfills his own motives. But when he seeks the Holy Spirit’s guidance in finding God’s will, in order to bring glory to Him, then God will reap the fruit of his missionary efforts.

As Wagner says, “If God gives you a missionary gift, He also calls you to use it for His glory. If He calls you to be a missionary, He will give you the gift you need for the job.”

What motivates a young woman to leave America and live with a small aboriginal tribe? What compels any missionary to go to the uttermost parts of the earth? It is that “divine coercion from above. ” That’s why he or she reaches out to others, demonstrates God’s love and seeks to bring Him glory.

C. W. Howard III is assistant director of Career Planning and Placement, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, and wass recently elected president of the Mental Health Association of Tidewater. He has pastored two churches, assisted in organizing another church, served interim pastorships in 13 churches and spent 25 years as a professor of psychology. Howard also has conducted leadership groups.