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Questions about Global Missions?

What does a missionary calling look like?

By Joshua M.  ·  7 minute read
Learning Center  »  What does a missionary calling look like?

What does a call to missions look like?

This is not an easy question to answer, but at the heart of it, the idea of Biblical calling is communal. A person or couple/family may believe they have a calling, but the calling is affirmed through the relationships that they have with others within the church, family, mentors, and their Christian community. Ultimately, your call to missions is a unique process involving your church and examining doubts and struggles. If you move forward in your exploration, there is an assessment and agreement process through SIM USA that helps answer your questions. Want to talk to a missions coach? Click here!

Definition of missionary calling.

If we look at what a missionary calling looks like, we first need to consider a few things.
A missionary calling or leading to cross-cultural ministry is a clear idea of what the Lord wants someone or a group to do. This can be defined as a sense of purpose to pursue a particular course of action. Feelings may be involved, but strong feelings about the direction are not required. It could be a situation where God makes an opportunity clear.

Discerning your call to missions through prayer and scripture.

A call to missions can often be more definitive after a very intentional time of prayer with the Holy Spirit leading a person or group. It can also be responding to a call or leading that Scripture lays out for the believer to follow. Some of those commands in Scripture can be followed without going and serving in cross-cultural missions, while some cannot be followed without going to those we don’t know in other countries. And the calling to do something for God’s kingdom feels quite different than someone trying to do something for themselves or setting personal goals.

Discerning your call to missions is a unique process for everyone.

Christian culture or the culture within any particular church or denomination has its unique ways of describing:

  • The process of understanding answered prayers
  • The Lord’s direction
  • What a calling may look like
  • What a calling to serve overseas can look like

Discerning that your call to missions is not cookie-cutter.

How to discern the calling and leading of the Lord can be difficult. Good questions to wrestle with are:

  • How can we be free from any idea that a calling MUST be this way or that way?
    • Or can it be THIS way or THAT way and still be Biblical, and are there several ways to have a clear calling?
  • How do we know that a calling is a calling and not just a feeling we had when we were overwhelmed by our prayer time one night?
    • Or when we were struck by a sermon highlighting the realities of a Biblical text that we may not have understood before?
  • Is it a calling if it doesn’t significantly change our lives?
  • Is it a calling if we stay right where we are but now have a more Biblical mindset?
  • How do we know a calling that is unique for us is indeed a calling?
  • How do you know when you need others to confirm a calling that you felt God was at least somewhat clear about?
  • How do you know when you do not need others to confirm a calling you knew God was completely clear about?

Discerning your call to missions – the work of the church.

Sometimes, a church might believe that they have one or a few families called to serve in overseas cross-cultural ministry and don’t know how to approach those families. Maybe the families themselves are unaware of all the Lord is doing in their lives, but fellow believers are.

  • How does a church implement strategies to share missions work with their congregation?
  • How does a church take the next step?
  • What location or ministry type would fit well?
  • What sending agency or mission would they need to go with?

At SIM USA, we love the proactive approach of church leaders praying with eyes open, looking to see whom the Lord is calling to go, and embracing the cross-cultural ministries they could partner with (link here). Want ideas for your church? Here is a helpful article by a pastor with strategies for churches to explore missions work with their congregations.

Discerning your call to missions – struggles and challenges.

One of the realities of discerning a missionary calling, whether others know about the journey or not, is that someone may be wrestling with the calling. Some struggles include:

  • Not wanting to “go” or possibly “running away” from the leading.
  • Holding back from it to do other things instead.
  • Creating a mental list of why they cannot go.
  • Letting fear of the unknown keep them from even exploring the calling.

Discerning your call to missions – questions of doubt.

  • Can you doubt the truth of a calling and still obey?
  • Can you worship the Lord and obey, but still doubt?
  • Can you worship the Lord and obey, but not want to follow through with it?
  • Is it true obedience if you doubt or don’t want to?
  • Could a missionary family be going overseas reluctantly and still be in a healthy place?
  • If a person has a will of their own but chooses to follow the Lord’s will (consider the example of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane), is that all that is needed?

In Hebrews 11, in the “hall of faith,” many people followed God into difficult and/or important things “by faith.” At SIM USA, we desire people to have a healthy level of desire to obey their calling while fully knowing that it could be hard. Being realistic about challenges and having a healthy caution is normal. Many challenges are ahead, and having a certainty or desire to fulfill your calling will be critical in these challenging times. Some challenges to remember are:

  • Learning a language (a handful of placements have had two languages to learn)
  • Getting immersed in a foreign culture
  • Moving your family
  • Being away from loved ones and your home church
  • Being in a country that may persecute those who profess Christ

Discerning your call to missions – what’s my motivation?

Some have a “romantic” idea of missions. They may hear missionary stories, hear about the world’s unreached people groups, or have an idea that may be more of a fantasy than a reality. Some may think before they go how perfectly wonderful it will be to be nine time zones away from everything they know, intending to share Jesus, but having little notion about what serving in cross-cultural missions as a long-term missionary means. It is important to try and help them understand what they will feel when they are several years into a missions placement.

Discerning your call to missions - going with SIM.

Acts 15:28a “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …”

There are several steps in the journey to “Go” with SIM, including exploration, assessments, and a commitment to serve cross-culturally as a missionary. You can read more about each step here. (link here)

The completion and confirmation of a calling for someone who wants to become a missionary that will be sent by their church and partnered with SIM USA is documented in an agreement. The process to complete this agreement helps uncover many of the complexities of a calling while establishing the commitment to serve Jesus cross-culturally.

This agreement represents four parties agreeing to confirm this calling on a person or family’s life.
The four parties involved are:

  1. The missionary or missionary family
  2. The missionary’s church
  3. SIM USA
  4. The receiving SIM entity overseas where the missionary family will serve.

This four-way agreement is a way to invite the Holy Spirit into everyone’s discernment process and gives time for everyone to see how the Lord is moving. The process from “we want to go” to signing the agreement can easily take six-to-nine months or more for the missionary family. A great place to start is our Connect Event. To learn more, start with our Connect Event. Learn more here.

Beyond the missionary family, we have the church. They will hopefully know the missionary family well and can be that relational foundation during the sending process and while they serve. The sending agency can help the missionary family by journeying alongside them and helping them be prepared well for missionary work and service. And the receiving SIM entity overseas can help with knowing the realities of being in a specific cross-cultural ministry and caring for their missionary while serving.

All three partners are there to help the missionary, and through all four coming together, a Holy Spirit-anointed calling can be clear, Biblically supported and communally affirmed throughout the sending process.

All four parties are asked to confirm their stake in this missionary family being called to serve in a particular area of the world. Each party has a responsibility in this agreement and are accountable for their part of the agreement. All would say they see the Lord moving in this direction.

Discerning your call to missions - going with SIM – the role of the sending church.

SIM USA will not send someone as a missionary without a sending church. The idea of a “sending church” may look different to different people, but SIM USA sees the church as the primary sender. Therefore, we could not help send a missionary family without a sending church. We desire to journey with Christians sent by churches, not just Christians who believe they have a calling isolated from the Biblical relationships found within a church.

Discerning your call to missions - fulfilling the calling – unity is important.

Ninety-three percent of people who complete this four-way Partnership Agreement, signed by all four parties, fulfill the calling they have started. There is power and accountability when we all come together before the Lord! There is unity when the missionary, the church, SIM, and those who will serve with them cross-culturally agree on the purpose and work. Those already in the chosen location believe this missionary family would do well there, and no part of this journey or four-way agreement is forced.

Joshua M.

I have served with SIM USA Recruitment for over 5 years. I spent the first three years having initial conversations with those interested in cross-cultural ministry, and it has been a joy to help them understand more of the process from the perspective of the church, the missions’ sending agency, and even from what Scripture call us to.

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