Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Missionary Call - from a Member Care Perspective PART VI - a call may change over time

The call of God may change over time

Discussing the call of God in relation to missionary attrition may lead one to the mistaken notion that the call of God never changes and that all cases of missionaries leaving a field of service are unfortunate events.

Here is a disclaimer: the call of God may change over time.

God may call us to a field for a limited time and even call us away from a field. Tom Steffen writes about older missionary assumptions, that these often possessed a “no turning back mindset.” A return home before one was rendered too old or too ill for service meant “turning your back on God’s will.”

Steffen then contrasts this older view with present realities:

Today much has changed...Missionaries who spend their lives in a single place have become far and few between. Even if they serve with the same mission agency for their entire career, they are likely to have a variety of assignments and serve in more than one culture.

Perhaps this disclaimer makes an already ambiguous topic even more ambiguous, but it is a needed addition to any discussion about the call of God. Transitions are common in ministry and we cannot count all of these transitions as examples of failures or “negative attrition.”

God may call us to perform certain time-limited tasks and then that call may end and another may begin. Most would not propose that a missionary can never retire. Sensing the call of God on one’s life is not a one-time event at the beginning of one’s missionary career, but a continual process of checking one’s life not only against the Scripture, but also one’s desires and situations in life. God’s call is what helps get missionaries to the mission field, sustain them on the mission field, but can also draw them from that field into another work.

Some would disagree, however, with this assertion. As recently as October of 2008 the Evangelical Missions Quarterly published these words by Abhijit Nayak:

The ministry has become more career-oriented than call-oriented. As far as scripture is concerned, in ministry there is no retirement. God’s servant has no relief from the ministry; he or she is committed until his or her last breath.

A full scale theological treatment of every facet of the missionary call is not possible in this short paper. Suffice it to say, however, that the above statement by Mr. Nayak may either prove to exhibit the true grit that exemplifies a called missionary, or it may inflict needless guilt on those missionaries transitioning to different roles or retiring due to health or old age.

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