Pastoral Perspectives

How do I know I am Called?

The missions committee brings to us our inaugural Missions in Conversation – “Missions in the Millennium: You Tell Us.” Over the last few weeks, we’ve received more than 200 questions from you concerning missions. It is our prayer that through this special Conversation, your voices are heard, queries on missions answered and any misconceptions corrected in accordance to God’s Word. In summary, all the questions point to our misconceptions about the call of God.

What constitutes a call? One of the most frequent questions asked is this: “How do I know that I am called?” There are many ways by which God leads and guides his people into world missions. The late singer Keith Green said: “You don’t need a call, you’re already called!” He was reacting against churches that emphasised a need for a special revelation or manifestation before one can go to the mission field. We’re already called. We’ve been called to love. Those who act in love look a little crazy. We do look a bit crazy as we are controlled, or compelled, by the love of Christ (2 Cor.5:14). It’s crazy love that compels us to go.

Between choosing a particular career and deciding whether we should become a missionary, why is it that for the latter, we need greater assurance from God that it is his will before we are willing to proceed? If men are to have special calls for missions, they ought also to have special calls to go about their own career/business. Is it not ironic to suggest that a special call is necessary for one to become a missionary when no call is required if one wants to pursue his personal ambitions?

It is incorrect to think that missionaries are to have a special calling that is so high and holy that unless God splits the sky and speaks to us directly, we can’t be a missionary. You don’t need clouds to form your name in the sky; you don’t need to hear a heavenly choir; you don’t need to have a special identification with a region of the world; you don’t need to be able to eat bugs; you don’t need to tread the burning sands; you don’t even need to feel goose bumps while reading any missionary biographies.

Think for a minute, what would the world look like today if every Christian literally embraces God’s command to ‘go’ and sincerely says to God: “I am going to the nations to preach the gospel… If it’s not your will for me to go, stop me!”  Missiologist Herbert Kane said: “The term ‘missionary call’ should never have been coined. It is not scriptural and therefore can be harmful. Thousands of youth desiring to serve the Lord have waited and waited for some mysterious ‘missionary call’ that never came. After a time they became weary of waiting and gave up on the idea of going to the mission field.” 

A missionary is someone who crosses a cultural divide with the gospel to make disciples as their vocation. There are many Christians today who happen to make a move cross-culturally because of work but they have no intention to make disciples. They are not missionaries. Put plainly, moving across a culture, or even living in another culture, does not make one a missionary. On the other hand, there are those who have jobs in a cross-cultural context looking nothing like the image of a traditional missionary yet they have devoted their lives to making disciples across cultures. They are missionaries. We call them “tentmakers” after Paul’s tent making trade which he used to support himself as he ministered the gospel to the unreached communities. I’m sure that Paul made very good tents, but his life calling, or vocation, was to preach the gospel to the nations.

Over the years, I’ve also heard many people say that they felt called to missions with nothing more than just a feeling. So much so that nowadays a flag goes up in the leaders’ mind when someone tells them they feel like God is calling them to be a missionary. That’s because over the years we’ve discovered that people go to the mission field for all kinds of bad reasons: escaping a bad relationship, a desire to see the world, they couldn’t get a job when they graduated from college, and so on. Their reasons can range from the trivial (“I just love Indian food!”) to the very, very sad (“I’m going to do the hardest thing I can so that God will love me”). All of them have a strong feeling that they are supposed to be somewhere out there. But a strong feeling does not make a call. Again, a sinful desire is just too easily mistaken for a call. I want you to consider missions work as your life work — your vocation. And if that desire is raised in your heart, or freshly confirmed, as you read this perspective, I am thrilled. I have been praying for years that a perspective like this would stir your hearts to go to places where people have never heard the good news of Jesus. But the stirring of heart is not enough, it’s not sufficient, there is much more that must be put in place.

If someone says, “I feel called to be a missionary,” I will say to him, “If you are a Christian, you are already called to missions. Your feelings can serve as a starting point but they must eventually be verified by the Word of God and the people of God.” Though our inspiration to go may start with our feelings, the far more important part of our calling is that we be inspired and convicted by the truth of what the Word of God says to us about missionary work. As you search the Scriptures, from creation, to the fall, to redemption, to consummation — the arc of the story of the Bible points to the missionary heart of God. Ultimately what gives us inspiration is to see the heart of God in his Word, as his own Son “leaves his home” in heaven and enters our world despite our broken sinfulness and the ultimate cost to him. From Genesis to Revelation, God shows us that he is on a mission to rescue a people for Himself and for His glory. He is a missionary God. And He calls us to partner Him in His mission.

We also want to ask: “What does the church have to say to us about our desire to go?” Are they supportive? Do they affirm the spiritual gifts that we have been given? There have been individuals who feel strongly that God has spoken to them that they should go into the mission field but the leaders do not see that they are ready so do they proceed or do they continue to wait on the Lord? It is important that the church can come alongside them to verify their call. So there it is: a missionary calling is inspired by God’s Word and confirmed by the church.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat

Non-resident Missionary to SQ

Rev Tan Cheng Huat

September 10, 2017