Summer vacation is quickly drawing to a close and back-to-school supplies pack the store aisles and ads. The hastening approach of a new semester leaves many reflecting on their summer during the fleeting days remaining in it. Some of you who went on a mission trip this summer continue to think about the challenges and charms of the place you served. The smiles of the children and bonds created with national brothers and sisters fill your waking dreams; and you pray for them and their churches more than anything else. You wonder, “Is God calling me to serve there as a missionary?” I know you do, not only because many of you call and email me about your trip to understand what God is saying, but because I have felt it too. Every single time I go on a trip.
I was just in Ecuador with a wonderful team of dedicated believers, and I was in Costa Rica with a similar group before that, and in Peru before that. On each trip, people have felt called or confirmed in their call to missions during the trip. Afterwards, people will often talk about going back the next year, beginning a weekly prayer effort to support missions in that place, or giving more sacrificially to support the missionaries serving there. On the most recent trip I remarked that time would tell, which must have sounded cynical. However, I meant that like a youth retreat mountaintop experience, we often lose our zeal and passion when we return to the valley. Staying white-hot in missions sacrifice and zeal takes intentionality and daily focus. I read this morning what Thomas Watson wrote on 1 Samuel 15:22 concerning five ingredients of Christian obedience. It should:
1. be performed freely and cheerfully,
2. show there is love in the duty,
3. obey all of God’s commands,
4. be sincere, and
5. be constant. “True obedience is like the fire on the altar which was always kept burning.”
I think that we should apply these aspects to our missions obedience as well. When the Spirit moves you with a missionary call, it will not leave you alone and you cannot leave missions alone. If it ceases to stir you, or you can be at peace after setting it aside, either you have chilled spiritually or it wasn’t the Spirit moving.
I speak to many students and team members who feel drawn to missions, and it is sometimes to a place where they went on a short-term mission trip—and they feel guilty about that. They think that if they enjoyed the culture and loved the people and country, that God must not be in it. They may even think that it is mere emotion leading them to want to return, and of course, it may be. However, we serve a sovereign God and He was the One who determined every detail of that mission trip—the team members, whom they would witness to, where they would stay, and how everyone would be stirred because of the trip. Short-term mission trips are not only effective for the mission fields we travel to, they are also powerful “classrooms” for missions education. Many missionaries learned on a short-term trip that God was calling them to leave their old way of life and return to the place He led them to on the short-term trip to invest the rest of their lives as career missionaries.
Perhaps, you went on a mission trip this summer and feel really burdened about missions for the first time, or more than you have felt before. You may be wondering whether God is calling you there, or somewhere else, and know that a call to missions includes a call to prepare. I would love to have you in one of my classes online or on-campus as we explore missions, cultures, or intercultural communication. My colleagues in the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary teach classes every year in evangelism and church planting that will equip you to be the best missionary you can be. In addition, the courses my colleagues offer in the Theology and Church Ministries schools at SBTS are second to none. While in Louisville, you can minister to one of the 100+ people groups in our area, planting or serving a church in the culture, or a near-culture, God has called you to serve.
If you struggle with what the continuing burden for missions means for you, whether you are to be a sender or a goer (Rom. 10:13-15), or how to sort out the storm of thoughts and emotions swirling in your heart and mind, I hope you would read and consider what I have written in The Missionary Call. I wrote it with you in mind and to help people in your very situation to sort out and understand what God may be saying. I would love to visit with you and talk it through as well. Come see us in Louisville, visit the campus, and let me buy you a cup of coffee. There are thousands of people groups who have never heard an understandable Gospel, and many of them are not where you might think—they may even be in or near the place you went on a mission trip. Don’t let your stirrings from this summer’s mission trip wane without knowing what God is saying to you through them. Ralph Winter said that God cannot lead you based on information you do not have. You have a wonderful mission trip experience filled with information now, how is He leading you? Let me hear from you.