“How do I know if God is calling me to missions?” This is by far one of the most frequently asked questions I hear while working in campus ministry. As someone who once wrestled with this same concern, today I find myself preparing to leave my home and family for a year-long missionary placement in Copenhagen.
How did I finally discern my calling to Denmark and how can you know if God is calling you to missions? The answer may surprise you.
Overstating “The Call”
I’m of the opinion that Christians have a tendency to overstate the nature of a divine “calling” to missions. In my experience, many Christians seem to be waiting for a combination of semi-miraculous “signs” that will clearly indicate to them that God wants them to go somewhere or do something. Admittedly, I used to think along these lines. I often prayed earnestly and thought deeply about whether God was calling me to missions for fear of stepping out in a direction that might be contrary to His will for my life. After my first short-term mission trip, however, my decision-making process changed radically.
Once I had the opportunity to participate in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship, I realized that I was approaching the question of calling backwards. Until that time I had assumed that God was not calling me to go on mission until I heard him saying “Go.” Now I assume that he is calling me to mission unless I hear him saying “No.”
You’re Already Called
While Christian books, blogs, and tweets are abuzz with clichés like “being missional” or “living life on mission,” we would do well to recognize the biblical truths behind these phrases. Discerning a particular call to missions starts with recognizing that every Christian has been called to participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world to himself. Each of us has been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and entrusted with “the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:17–21). While the mission of God is woven throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, consider some of Jesus’ key statements about our involvement in this mission.
Among Jesus’ final words to his disciples is the Great Commission, in which he announces that the mission of the Church is to make disciples of all nations:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
Immediately before his ascension Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit would be given to the church so that we have supernatural power to fulfill this mission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Earlier in his ministry Jesus promised that this mission was guaranteed to succeed: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
The Everyday, Everywhere Mission
Taking the commands and promises of Scripture seriously means recognizing that we are living an everyday, everywhere mission. Whether you’re a student, barista, plumber, business executive, stay-at-home mom, or graphic designer, you are called to make disciples of Jesus right where you are. Participating in God’s mission does not require you to get on a plane or cross an ocean. You can begin making disciples today in your home, school, workplace, and community.
But what about the emphasis on “the nations” and “the ends of the earth” in the passages above? While it’s true that participating in God’s mission does not require all of us to travel to distant places, finishing the mission means that some of us must. Today it is estimated that 6,000 people groups comprising some 2 billion men and women remain unreached by the gospel. Making disciples among these men and women demands that some of us leave the familiarity and comfort of life here to bring the message of reconciliation to those who will not otherwise hear it.
When it comes to discerning a call to missions that requires this kind of movement and change, prayerfully consider the following push and pull factors.
- A Personal Burden – Are you already burdened for a particular culture or region of the world? Do you find yourself regularly thinking and praying about the lostness of the people and the advance of the gospel in this area?
- The Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit – In relation to a personal burden, do you sense the Spirit directing you towards a particular place or to the work of cross-cultural missions in general? Do you have an internal conviction that God would have you give yourself to unique expression of missions?
- The Confirmation of the Body – As you discuss your own burden and the Spirit’s conviction with other Christians, have they affirmed your sense of calling? Have you involved the leaders of your local church in your discerning process and do they support direction you believe God to be leading you in?
- Awareness of a Need – Whereas a personal burden is likely to be a more emotional experience, not all of us are inclined to process things emotionally. In this case, simply learning of the need in a particular area may be enough to draw you to the mission field. Have you becoming aware and compelled by such a need?
- An Open Door – Has a practical an opportunity arisen for you to respond to a need and act on your personal burden, the conviction of the Spirit, and the confirmation of the body? Is your local church or a mission agency you know of working in the region you feel drawn to?
There is no formula for discerning a specific call to missions meaning not all of these push and pull factors will be present in every situation or all at once. With that in mind, when considerations such as these begin to align, all that remains is to step out in obedience and faith to go wherever God is calling you.
But let’s not forget whether we are called to the foreign mission field or the home front, together we are entrusted with the same mission, empowered by the same Spirit, and graced by the same promise that the mission will succeed. In light of these realities, the real question is “What are we waiting for?”