Saturday, 18 October 2014

Called to be a Missionary (Part 3 of 3)

     In preparing for their second missionary tour, Paul and Barnabas had a decision to make – to take John Mark or not (Acts 15:36-41). God did not tell them what to do, and they ended up making opposite choices. Which one was right? Later Paul realized that his estimation of John Mark may not have been totally accurate (2 Timothy 4:11), but this is not to say he made the wrong decision. Two missionary teams going to two mission fields doing twice as much missionary work surely demonstrates that neither decision was wrong. The Lord allowed Paul and Barnabas to make their own choices, then he made sure that both decisions worked together for good.
     To be a missionary or not to be a missionary? I was told multiple times in preaching school, "If you can do something other than preach, do it" (cf. Batsell Barrett Baxter, The Heart of the Yale Lectures 6-7). The point is that you should only be a preacher if your conscience will not allow you to do anything else. The same is true of missionaries. It is not a matter of prestige, adventure, love of travel, guilt, or any other questionable motive. The bottom line is whether or not you can be comfortable doing something else. But if you carry in your heart the burden of a lost world and you have a fire burning in your bones and you can’t rest knowing that you have an untold message that has the power to save souls, then your choice ought to be clear. Paul expressed it this way: ". . . compulsion presses hard upon me; yes, woe is me, if I do not proclaim the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16, McCord).
     The desire to be a missionary, however, is not the only consideration. There may be some who have the aspiration but lack the fundamental people-skills, adaptability, tenacity, or other qualities necessary to be an effective missionary. While at least some of these traits can and should be developed, until then those who lack them may be better suited for other areas of service. An ill-equipped missionary can sometimes do more harm than good.
     How, then, do I determine whether or not I am suitable for the challenge and how do I go about identifying and eliminating any possible inadequacies? The best place to start is where you are right now. Get involved in the work of your local congregation, which usually requires more than just waiting to be asked. Be evangelistic – share the gospel with the unsaved people in your life right now. Take advantage of campaign opportunities, both local and abroad. Read books and articles about missionaries and missionary work. Correspond with or talk to current and former missionaries. Most Christian universities and some other church-affiliated schools offer courses in missions, cultural anthropology and evangelism, and some even coordinate missionary apprenticeship programs. Above all, be a diligent student of God’s word. Good personal study habits are indispensable. You may even consider attending a tuition-free preacher training school to enhance your study skills and increase your Bible knowledge.
     While much experience can be gained by serving the Lord at home, to a large degree the only way to fully prepare for foreign missionary work is to actually do it. There are some things you just can’t learn from a book, in a classroom, or in another unrelated environment. No matter how prepared you think you are or you think you need to be, most of your learning, growing, and maturity will develop on the mission field. There comes a time when you must step out in faith, take your tiny seeds of knowledge and limited experience, and venture into the exciting, challenging, faith-building world of cross-cultural evangelism. "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’" (Isaiah 6:8 NKJV).
–Kevin L. Moore

*Adapted from my book The Single Missionary [2002] 6-13.


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Friday, 10 October 2014

Called to be a Missionary (Part 2 of 3)

     How do I know whether or not I am capable of doing missionary work (in its customarily understood sense)? Granted, we all have different abilities and not everyone is cut out to do the work of a missionary. Precious resources can be wasted and much damage caused by the wrong kind of people going to the mission field. I can’t help but wonder, though, how so many Christians seem so sure they are not cut out to be missionaries when so few have even attempted it! I have a suspicious feeling that many more could be doing effective missionary work than are currently trying.
     How, then, do I go about ascertaining what the Lord’s will is for my life? Since God "has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us . . ." (2 Peter 1:3),1 we can know, generally, what the divine will is. As a matter of fact, the will of God is something we must understand and obey (Matthew 7:21; Ephesians 5:17). But what about the particular things in one’s life that are not specifically addressed in the Bible? For example, where does the Lord want me, as an individual disciple, to "go" in order to share may faith? I can’t be everywhere at once. How can I be sure that I’m presently where I’m supposed to be? Moreover, how can I determine whether God wants me to get into full-time ministry or to seek secular employment, and which of the multiple options in either category is right for me? Is it possible to know what the Lord’s providential will is?
     "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). While we can have assurance that God providentially works in our lives, we cannot always know for sure the particulars of his providential will (cf. Esther 4:14; Philemon 15). In fact, it is probably best that we don’t know. Each of us has been created as a free moral agent with the ability to think and the freedom to choose, yet we often take this for granted and forget what a tremendous blessing it is. Admittedly, being entrusted with responsibility is not always easy. We sometimes want to say to God: "Tell me what to do," "Show me a sign," "Don’t let me make the wrong decision." Now the Lord certainly wants us to trust in, rely on, and obey him, but surely he does not want his children to be a bunch of helpless, indolent, senseless robots. If we are going to make a difference in this world, it is imperative that we develop into mature, responsible beings. And this is only possible when we have opportunities to make our own decisions, and even our own mistakes, and to learn and grow from them.
     We most often struggle with this when we naively think there is only one choice that can be "the right one." What career is the right one for me? Will I ever find that special someone who is the right one? Which mission field is the right one to choose? While preference, personality, compatibility, and other personal traits play an important part, more often than not our "best" choices extend far beyond a single option. As we travel down the road of life, we regularly come to forks in the road. Often there are several paths leading off the fork and we must decide which one to take. Equipped with a good understanding of God’s word, we can make wise, responsible choices. No matter which direction we decide to travel, as long as it is consistent with God’s overall will, and even if it turns out to be rough and bumpy, the Lord will ensure that it works out for the best. Moreover, other forks lie ahead that will enable us to change our course if necessary.
–Kevin L. Moore

Endnote:
      1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from the NKJV.

*Adapted from my book The Single Missionary [2002] 6-13.



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Friday, 3 October 2014

Called to be a Missionary (Part 1 of 3)

      How do you know whether or not you ought to pursue a career in missions? Have you been called to be a missionary? To be among "the called" (Romans 1:6) means to have been called out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9) into the fellowship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9).1 This call comes by way of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14), which is God’s invitation to the world to be reconciled to him through Jesus. All who respond in obedient faith are "called in one body" (Colossians 3:15) and "in one hope" (Ephesians 4:4). But does this "holy calling" (2 Timothy 1:9) offer benefits without expectations? No matter how many times I read 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, it continues to say the same thing. If I am a new creation in Christ, then both privileges and responsibilities have been granted by God, "who has reconciled us to himself and [in addition] has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This ministry, which ensures that others have a chance to be reconciled to God, has not been given only to first-century apostles (Matthew 28:18-20) or merely to full-time paid evangelists (Acts 8:4), but to all who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. In a sense, therefore, every Christian is called to be a missionary. The twofold question is: how and where does one fulfill this ministry?
     The body of Christ is of course comprised of individual members, each having particular talents, functions, and consequent responsibilities, contributing to the integrated work of the entire church (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). While preaching the gospel is the task of the whole body, both proclaimers and supporters, goers and senders are necessary (Romans 10:14-15; 12:4-8). This is not to say that if I put a dollar in the collection basket each week I have sufficiently fulfilled my Christian duty. While we can never repay the Lord for his manifold blessings, surely eternal life is worth more than a dollar a week! God does not simply want the meager leftovers of my paycheck but desires that I first give myself to him (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:5). What every called/reconciled individual must solemnly evaluate is: am I doing everything within my God-given capabilities to fulfill my God-given ministry of reconciliation?
     Another important consideration is "where" this ministry is to be fulfilled. The obvious answer is wherever you happen to be (Acts 11:19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:7). But since the gospel is needed everywhere, it is not simply a matter of where you are needed. You should start thinking about where you might be needed the most. Surely more Christian doctors, social workers, teachers, farmers, factory workers, businessmen, and preachers are needed in Hometown, USA. Wherever there are committed Christians faithfully serving the Lord, let us be thankful. But consider the fact that the United States comprises only about four percent of the world’s population, yet the highest percentage of full-time church workers among churches of Christ are laboring in this country. The sobering question is, who is going to help give the rest of the world an opportunity to go to heaven?2
     Are you among the vast majority saying, "Let someone else do it"? Please be aware that there is no "someone else" when it comes to fulfilling your own personal Christian duty. "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it" (Colossians 4:17b).
–Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
      1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from the NKJV.
    2 In 1983, as I sat in his World Evangelism class at Freed-Hardeman University, Dr. Earl Edwards pricked my heart with the following statistic: the USA comprises only about 6% of the world’s population, yet approximately 95% of the gospel preachers are in this country. It was then that I made the decision to be an overseas missionary. But in all fairness, this statistic needs to be amended. Since 1983 the number of foreign missionaries supported by churches of Christ has gradually increased, while world populations have significantly increased. Another factor, which seems to have been omitted from these figures, is the number of national evangelists (not to mention other dedicated Christians) in the various mission fields around the world. Nevertheless, the number of missionaries being sent out by North American churches of Christ is still a fraction of what it ought to be.

*Adapted from my book The Single Missionary [2002] 6-13.



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