Missionaries are dedicated people with a rock-solid faith, a calling and convictions that compel them to go to the lost in foreign lands. Many of them have difficulty wrapping their minds around the fact that more of God’s people don’t “Go.” To many missionaries, their focus is on a command, not a calling.
When they adamantly admonish people in sermons to heed the call and go, they are sometimes challenged with the axiom that the need of a lost population, as real as it is, still does not translate into a calling for all believers to become missionaries. A director of a missionary enterprise recently related his retort to those who would say this to him. Here is his rejoinder in his own words.
“I’m sometimes told that a ‘need’ does not constitute a ‘call’ to go. Neither does a love for affluence constitute a ‘call’ to stay.”
I didn’t think that statement should be allowed to stand, so I framed my challenge to his quip in the form of a question: “So everyone who stays does so because of a love of affluence?”
At this, someone else tried to speak up in his defense, saying, “Nah, just those who don’t send or go.”
Again, I wasn’t comfortable just letting this go. I followed up with a statement that showed that I disagreed with the statement, while at the same time trying to clarify the intent of Henry’s [not his real name] pithy but somewhat terse statement.
“I don’t believe you intended to paint everyone that doesn’t go to the mission field with the same judgmental brush. But your one-liner reply to the ‘need/call’ question, although witty and concise, is inadequate. In fact, it doesn’t actually address the question.”
That’s the problem with pithy sayings: they roll off the tongue well, and they’re memorable. But they rarely adequately address the issue at hand. Though Henry reduced the axiom with which he disagreed to a mere one-liner, the challenge yet remains valid. Without denying the reality of the lost in foreign lands and their need of a savior, that need does not mean that all Christians are called to go to the mission field. And to say that those who don’t go choose to stay because of their love of wealth is not only judgmental, but it evades the question entirely.
I’m not writing an in-depth article here; this is a blog. So, I’m not going to present a detailed analysis, complete with the exegesis of relevant Scripture references. For the time being, suffice it to say that there is Biblical precedent for a missionary call. Of course, the apostle Paul leaps to mind as an example of this.
Furthermore, such a call comes with a missionary gift. The apostle Paul tells us that some are appointed to be, are given by Christ to be apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). And he even asks “Not all are apostles, are they?” (1 Corinthians 12:29) The terminology and grammatical construction of this verse expects a negative reply. In other words, “No, not all are apostles.”
Now I’m emphasizing this gift and calling of apostleship because of what the word means. The Greek word rendered “apostle” in these verses (and in the New Testament in general) is apostolos [ἀπόστολος], which means “one sent forth,” in other words, a messenger, an envoy. And the English word “missionary” comes from the Latin term missionarius, one “sent on a mission.”
There is, then, an apostolic or missionary gift and calling, and not every Christian has it. The need for evangelism is real, and believers have a mandate to be witnesses where they are, to be able to share the good news, and to be ready to give a reason for the hope that they have.
So yes, the need for evangelism is real, and all believers have a part to play. But that fact does not equate to a kind of “fruit-basket-turnover” mandate, a command for all of God’s people to uproot and go to foreign mission fields.
There is a New Testament passage that clarifies this whole “going” thing. But I’ll save that discussion for my next blog.