Dave Smith, Director of Open Door Baptist Missions
Another mission mistake that should not be repeated is a false understanding of our responsibility.
Being an MK and a missionary, I’ve been around missionaries all of my life. I’m always fascinated by their stories – how they came to Christ, how Christ led them to the mission field, and how they are reaching people with the Gospel. There’s also another side that we don’t hear about as often – those who should become missionaries but don’t, and those who do become missionaries (or try) but shouldn’t.
During our missionary service in Papua New Guinea we hosted several college interns. I remember one who was intent on becoming a missionary but after a while, my wife and I realized that her reason for wanting to become a missionary was a life-long adoration of missionaries. To her, becoming a missionary was the most spiritual thing she knew. It was great that she admired missionaries, and it was great that she wanted to be “spiritual,” but that didn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was calling her to be a missionary.
Another intern was amazingly gifted. He loved Jesus and embraced challenges and thought God was leading him into missions. Again, while those are good things, it didn’t mean that God was calling him to be a career missionary.
Then, there are those who it seems that the Holy Spirit may be leading into career missions, but they feel like they just don’t measure up. So, what is a “missionary” and what are the things that have to be carefully evaluated as part of the process of determining the Holy Spirit’s leading?
When evaluating career missions (full-time, financially supported), two extremes need to be avoided. The first is the idea that the missionary must be “super spiritual,” extremely gifted (learning languages, able to endure incredible hardness, given to acts of mercy, teaching, administration, etc.), and a theological scholar with multiple graduate degrees. While missionaries may seem “super spiritual,” they are human and they struggle with limitations and the sins that easily ensnare them (Heb. 12:1) like all believers. In the same way Jesus chose the disciples to launch the Great Commission, He still chooses dedicated, everyday disciples to build His Church.
Then there is the other extreme – the idea that since it’s all God’s work, anyone can be a “missionary” doing just about anything, as long as it is not sin and is done for Jesus. Jesus instructed His followers to count the cost and to be willing to take up their cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24-28). Being a disciple of Christ is serious and being one “sent” by the church for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, making disciples and planting churches among a targeted people carries an added responsibility. Therefore it must be considered carefully.
In Acts 13, it was the Holy Spirit who called and purposed Barnabas and Saul to be sent as missionaries, but the local church at Antioch played a critical role in confirming the Holy Spirit’s leading. It is the responsibility of the local church to devote the time, resources and energy to evaluate missionary candidates and confirm the Holy Spirit’s leading. Too often, local church leadership will ignore or not take seriously their responsibility. Just as bad, missionary candidates will often avoid evaluation by church leadership. Missionary candidates should not be seeking sending churches, but sending churches should be prayerfully seeking, preparing, and sending missionaries. For those sincerely seeking God’s will regarding career missionary service, scrutiny by their church leadership should be desired, and not avoided, to affirm God’s leading.
In past years, churches have tried to support as many missionaries as possible in as many places as possible. However, the investment and accountability for each missionary was limited. A healthy, growing trend is that more churches are supporting fewer missionaries, but with a greater financial and personal investment in each missionary. The result is that churches are being more diligent and careful in evaluating missionary candidates making sure they are adequately prepared and fit the church’s mission philosophy.
I think making a distinction between being a career missionary and being on mission as a disciple of Christ is also helpful. All Christians are called to be on mission in making disciples of Jesus. While fewer American missionaries may be sent in the traditional, career capacity, the opportunities for Christians to be on mission globally are growing.
J.D. Greear in his book, Gaining by Losing, points out that many of the unreached places in the world that are closed to career missionaries, are open to business people and other professionals. He believes that we are living at a time of unprecedented opportunities for Christians to be on mission and make disciples worldwide. While our focus is often on Paul and the other apostles when reading about the wide-reaching missions impact in the Book of Acts, we must remember that the Gospel spread mostly through everyday believers being on mission. Greear estimates that “enough Christians already live in the 10/40 window to sextuple the mission force there – that is, if those Christians were effective disciple-makers.” 
Regardless of one’s background and career, Gospel opportunities abound. Christians should not seek employment just based on salary, benefits or favorable location, but consider finding secular employment in strategic locations to partner with church planters, missionaries and national church leaders for the sake of furthering the Gospel.
For those whom the Holy Spirit calls to be set apart and sent in missionary capacity like Paul and Barnabas, there is no need to be intimidated. Jesus has promised to never forsake us. He has given us His Word, His Spirit and His Church to guide and help us each step of the journey.
 Greear, J. D. and Larry Osborne, Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (Zondervan, 2016), p.77.
3/23/2018 06:21:26 am
3/23/2018 08:12:52 am
Thanks again Dave for some very penetrating truths about missions. I particularly loved "Missionary candidates should not be seeking sending churches, but sending churches should be prayerfully seeking, preparing, and sending missionaries."
3/23/2018 04:54:18 pm
There is definitely a niche for disciple makers. We had an international family that was a wonderful blessing to the church plant here. They didn’t stay long, but they made a positive impact on the congregation. Their testimony was a positive support and godly example.
3/25/2018 03:56:28 am
Thanks Dave for the insight. In particular, “Regardless of one’s background and career, Gospel opportunities abound. Christians should not seek employment just based on salary, benefits or favorable location, but consider finding secular employment in strategic locations to partner with church planters, missionaries and national church leaders for the sake of furthering the Gospel.“
3/25/2018 06:52:52 am
Thanks for this emphasis. I just shared this article with a group of young adults on a spring break missions trip.
3/25/2018 11:31:03 am
Really like the emphasis on the importance of the church confirming the call of the Holy Spirit. This is such a critical step. Churches like to add up notches in their belts to get people to the field, but they often overlook the step of confirming the call of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the ones they send. I've seen first-hand too many times when missionaries return because they realize they weren't actually called to career missions but were responding to emotional tugs at the heart, or they were convinced that was what "good christians" did. The role of the sending church in missions is so critical.
3/27/2018 08:17:26 am
Great article, Dave. This is spot on. May the Lord use these insightfully applied biblical truths to this generation and beyond.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.