Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Missionary Call - from a Member Care Perspective PART III - The Missionary Call is not a loner

The missionary call is not a loner – it involves the larger body of Christ.

Regarding this missionary call, it is not a hidden call. It does not happen in isolation from the larger body of Christ and confirmation by one’s home church and agency is vital.

How can one be sure that they are called by God if other Christians do not recognize this calling?

J. Herbert Kane laments that this aspect of the call (confirmation by the larger body of Christ) was, “prominent in the New Testament but is almost completely missing in church life today.”

The Apostle Paul, (Romans 10:15), asks rhetorically, “How shall they [go] preach unless they are sent.”

Michael Griffiths reflects further:

When certain men of Cyprus and Cyrene started evangelizing Greeks in Syrian Antioch, news of it came to the church in Jerusalem and the account states baldly “they sent Barnabas” (Ac 11:22, NASB). We are told nothing of calls for volunteers, nothing of Barnabas’ own personal sense of call (we need not infer from this that he did not have one). We simply learn that the church “sent” him.

The larger body of Christ bore an active role in selecting or choosing others for service. The example of Barnabas above illustrates this. The Apostle Paul confirms this as well, being brought by Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:26). The Antioch church (Acts 13) owned their responsibility by fasting and praying before confirming and releasing Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. The emphasis in the New Testament regarding the selection of “sent out ones” is not mainly on the individual, but on those that sent the individual. Griffiths points out:

In all the four instances, then, of sending out Barnabas, Saul, Silas and Timothy, what the New Testament emphasizes is not the initiative of the individual, nor his own subjective sense of call, but always the initiative of others, either of a congregation or of other Christians already active in such a work.

Michael C. Griffiths gives us three well-formed phrases to better understand this aspect of the missionary call. First he reminds us that “availability bears little relation to suitability.” Also, he speaks of the “subjective call, objectively confirmed.” Finally, he speaks of the “individual call, corporately confirmed.”

The interplay between the voluntarism of the individual and the voice of the larger church is summed up by Griffiths this way, “the most that an individual can do is express his willingness. Others must determine his worthiness.”

The chief aspect of being a missionary is “sent-ness.” The meaning of the word “missionary” comes from the Latin Mitto which means “to send” which is drawn from the Greek “apostello.” Being sent by another on their authority to convey a message is at the heart of defining what it is to be a missionary. Hesselgrave reminds us again, “A missionary is not just someone who goes, but someone who is sent.” This matter is not mere theological trivia, but is immensely practical.

Of course, requesting confirmation from the larger corporate body is not a magic bullet. It minimizes, but does not always guarantee, a proper assessment of the “called-ness” of a missionary candidate. Smaller churches may be so happy to send a candidate that the candidate’s lack of fitness is glossed over. In New Sending Countries (NSC), where relationship is valued more highly as a cultural trait, this might pose special problems. Whereas character references and the endorsement of one’s local church is highly correlated with retention in the Old Sending Countries (OSC), “Some colleagues from NSC have suggested that references hold little value for them as people often write what the candidate would want written rather than an accurate assessment of their character.”

Thus, the role of an outside agency to assess the local church’s assessment of their candidates is of vital importance; missions works best when it involves the desires of the individual, coupled with the confirmation of a local church, which is further confirmed by the sending agency.

Even local church approval and sending agency confirmation means little unless strict standards are maintained since the temptation is to let pressing needs influence objective assessment. Often, “once a candidate ‘feels called,’ some organizations tend to assume suitability unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

No comments:

Post a Comment