The Missionary Call
Find Your Place in God’s Plan For the World
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
For a child whose parents did not actively encourage faith in God nor a love for the gospel, I attended a decent amount of church activities. One year, I even received a Bible as a reward for perfect attendance (my teacher picked me up every week). My fondest memories involve Mission Friends and Girls In Action. At least a full decade before I ever understood the gospel, I remember memorizing John 3:16. I distinctly recall praying for specific men and women on their birthdays, writing letters and drawing pictures to encourage missionaries to share a message I could not comprehend. I did not know Jesus, but these programs and activities birthed in me a life-long love and admiration for The Missionary, an extraordinary person who left the comforts of America to live in jungles and far-away places searching for men and women, boys and girls, who had never heard John 3:16.
After God opened my heart and mind to understand and believe the gospel, I wanted very much to share it with others. Throughout my college years I participated in various evangelism training seminars, served on week-long mission trips, and local camps. I day-dreamed of sharing the gospel with men and women from different nations. I wondered whether or not I, too, was called to be a missionary. With several years of foreign language study under my belt, I thought I was a perfect candidate. I prayed for an opportunity to go. But the door never opened. To be honest, I’ve wondered about that exciting time of my life. Did I miss something? After reading M. David Sills’ book, The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World, I understand so much better what God was doing in my heart all those years ago. I’ll finish my story after I share a few details about this book.
The Missionary Call is comprised of three parts:
1. What is the missionary call?
2. Understanding your missionary call
3. Fulfilling the missionary call
In the first section, Sills explains six facets of the missionary call. It includes a burden for the need to share the gospel with those who’ve never heard, the motivation to obey Christ’s commands to spread the gospel, a passionate desire leading to action and radical commitment, church support and blessing, the Holy Spirit’s gifting, and an indescribable yearning. Even with all of those present, how can a person know it is God’s will that he or she become a career missionary? In chapter two, Sills encourages Christians by explaining how we can know God’s will. He cautions us to not fall prey to the "paralysis of analysis," saying, "The believer has total freedom in Christ and is not bound by anything except the Word of God." We can know God’s will by growing as close to Jesus as we can "and staying there." Sills explains eight different avenues which converge to help us discern God’s will. They are the knowledge of God, knowledge of God’s word, prayer, counsel from godly mentors, life experiences, circumstances, timing, and the desires of your heart.
If the rule is God’s word, then we must go to it for a definition or explanation of missions and the missionary call. In chapter three, Sills asks the question, "Is there a biblical basis for the missionary call?" This is a very important chapter. Sills goes into great detail regarding examples of God calling men out for service in both the Old and New Testaments. He differentiates between the call to salvation, the call to service, and the many ways God chooses to guide his people. Sills encourages Christians to not expect visions, voices, or dreams. Yes, many people speak of their callings in these very spiritual ways, but Sills does not want Christians who feel called to be discouraged because they did not have a mystical experience. Genuine evidence of a missionary call will have three components centered around The Great Commission (a passion for people groups, not geopolitical countries), The Great Commandments (a passion to see God glorified by the nations and a desire to meet the needs of your neighbors), and The Great Compassion (a heartbeat for people that reflects Jesus’ heartbeat for people). Sills emphasizes that all Christians are called by God to international missions, however, God does not want all Christians to go. He wants some to stay and send.
An historical perspective of the missionary call is also important in attempting to define and understand it. In chapter four, Sills offers three historical understandings of the missionary call. The first view is that there is no call. The second is the view that says every Christian has already received the missionary call. The third view says that a Christian must have a personal missionary call. Sills then offers a summarized history of missions since the very first recorded call that occurred in the early church to present day, profiling nine different men who comprised the Protestant missionary movement, including John Calvin, David Brainerd, William Carey, and Cam Townsend. Sills also offers historical perspective by discussing movements, events, and specific people. Sills shows how each missions era emphasized a different aspect of missions, how the missionary call was defined during that time, and how the past continues to have positive and negative impacts on modern missions. Even with an understanding of what the Bible and history can teach us about the missionary call, "a definitive description that is universally applicable is elusive."
Because we lack a specific definition, Sills dedicates the last two sections (eight chapters) to a very practical discussion of understanding and fulfilling your missionary call. This section feels pastoral, as though Sills, being a missionary himself, comes alongside the reader to offer instruction, encouragement and words of caution. He offers guidance for answering many of the questions that missionaries have, like How specific does the call have to be? How do I discern God’s leadership? Can the call change? What do I do while I’m waiting? What if my spouse does not feel called? I know I’m called, so what’s my next step? Do I go with an agency? How do I know which one? The considerations are numerous. Sills also addresses seven types of hindrances to getting to the field, concluding, "Remember that a hindrance to service may be just that — a hindrance; it is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier…The point is that a hindrance is not a "no." You can avoid many hindrances by making intentional lifestyle choices that will preclude them." Finally, missionaries face challenges once they are on the field, many for which a missionary can prepare in advance. Sills shares his wisdom for facing discouragement, doubts and working through culture shock. His words regarding culture shock were particularly eye-opening to me as I realized my assumptions about international missions were wrong.
The missionary call has been understood in many different ways by many different people throughout history. It is very helpful to see how God called his people to service through the years, but "you should not determine the legitimacy of your call by comparing it to someone else’s experience…i
t is more important to embrace His call to you when it comes." Perhaps the best bit of advice is to "get as close to Jesus as you can and stay there."
The Missionary Call includes a glossary, notes, a bibliography for further reading and study, and a subject index.
This book corrected my false assumptions. My new understanding of what the missionary call entails, before and after arriving on the field, has enlarged my heart to support missionaries in any way that I can. I am confident that I am called to international missions, that God began planting seeds for missions in my heart when I was a little child. I am not, however, called to go. For now, I am still called to send, to support financially and to pray for my brothers and sisters who are called to go. Sills helped me see that, while I was praying many years ago for an open door to go, I lacked many key components of a genuine call to go and that there were specific hindrances in my life at the time that I did not know were hindrances. Yes, I am called to missions, but I’m a sender not a goer. Which one are you? If you can’t answer that question, then you’ll appreciate this book.
I highly recommend it for all believers, but especially those who are already missionaries and those who wonder if God may be calling them to go. This book would also be a great resource for your pastor and your church’s library.