Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are You Called?

The other day I received a questionnaire from a supporting church. Not only do I not have a problem when I receive such inquiries about our ministry, funding and sharing personal information, I welcome them. I am a strong advocate of accountability. I am accountable to my board, and the Master, of course, but I think it’s important that churches actively stay in contact with those they support.

One question on the questionnaire I always have a problem with is, “Explain your ‘call’ into ministry.’” I’m never quite sure how to answer that question as I believe there is a misunderstanding of that term; I don’t believe it has Scriptural foundation and historically has been abused.

Earlier in the week my wife and I were having supper with some friends in the city. In over a little over a years time three families from their organization has left the field. Two of these families lasted less than three months each. If you were to ask any of them, prior to landing on this side of the world why they were here they would have said emphatically “God called us to this country.” They no doubt raised their support by passionately telling potential donors that they were bound to living overseas because of the compelling call of God on their lives. What happened? Did they “miss” their call? Did God change His mind? Or, as I argue, there is no such thing as a call.

This is what I do believe as it relates to the subject:

• I believe there is call unto salvation; that is a call to everyone who has the privilege to hear the Good News of Christ.

• I believe there is a call for every redeemed saint to take that Gospel message to others, whether it be to the pagan across the street or to the pagan across the ocean.

• I believe that God gives gifts to people to equip them for ministry (see my earlier post on whether missionaries are made or born).

• I believe man makes his plans (based on their personality, gifts, relationship with Christ) and God directs their steps. (Romans 15:20 is part of that guiding for my life.)

• I believe that in the process of man making plans that God’s direction can steer people towards opportunities and likewise can thwart mans plans by closing doors of opportunities.

• I believe that man can override God’s leading by pursuing their agenda in spite of God’s attempt to steer them in a different direction. Baalam beat the daylights out of his ass before he got a clue of God trying to steer him in a different direction. Some of us override God’s leading by sheer pride that He has “called” us and we’ve raised too much money in the process to turn back now.

As an outside observer I can only guess why the three couples ended up leaving the field. One is because the husband was hell bent on coming to the field and the wife never was on board. Another couple came and went because of a dramatic change their family circumstance between the time they were appointed to the time they arrived (reluctantly) to the field. Another was due to two things, lack of job satisfaction and culture stress. The fault of two out of three of these cases lies squarely on the sending agency’s leadership. None of these situations was God’s fault.

An old missionary of the past was fond of saying, “Why do you need a call when you have a command?” My fourteen years in Kenya as a church planter and sixteen years teaching and training countless cross-cultural workers around the world is not a result of a call but a desire to fulfill a command. My present and future residence has nothing to do with a specific summons from God. If I gave up vocational ministry tomorrow I wouldn’t feel any less valid in His service, as long as I was still walking close to Him. I don’t feel compelled to lie for God’s sake to explain the path I have chosen and the steps He directs.