So, you feel the call to be a missionary?
A Good Question: What Is A Missionary?
Let’s begin our discussion on the call of God with a good basic question: What is a missionary? This word is from the Latin, mission which is equal to the Greek Apostolos (apostle). The literal meaning of the word is, he that is sent. There are many very good ways to define what a missionary is but it is actually the word apostle. A simple definition of apostle is, a father of churches who has received exceptional power and authority from God. I think I heard Gordon Lindsey say that many years ago. The Holy Spirit has quickened (made alive) that concept of the missionary to my heart over the years. By our misuse of the word missionary today we have a terribly distorted concept of both the ministry of the apostle and what missions is.
There aren’t that many apostles and they are indeed the elder and achieved ministries among us with proven lives and fruit to bear witness of their credentials. Paul called himself an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1; 1:5; 11:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1,2; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 11:5; Galatians 1:1,17; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:1,11; Titus 1:1. Peter also referred to himself as an apostle in 2 Peter 1:1.) The ministry of the apostle does not belong to ninety nine percent of those are referred to as missionaries serving on foreign fields. They may have one of the several ministries (1 Corinthians 12:28) but certainly not qualified as apostles. The situation we have in the church today is such that it is better to let others confer on you the title apostle but not to assume that title for yourself. If the church places your ministry on the level of an apostle with Paul it is a compliment. But If a man confers upon himself the title he had better have the proper credentials or his ministry will suffer a loss of respect.
Who are these people going to Africa and India as missionaries? I was sitting on the platform in a great convention being held in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia some years back when suddenly in the middle of the meeting the door opened and several (who appeared to be Americans) entered the church and took seats. After the session they approached several of the church leaders of Yugoslavia and announced that they were new missionaries sent by the missions department of the Assemblies of God to Yugoslavia. I was standing in that circle and heard this with my own ears. This was strange to me. First they were sent without these Yugoslavian brethren even knowing they were coming. Secondly, the Yugoslavian brethren were not asked to take part in deciding what kind of person(s) would be sent. But more strange than that was the fact that Yugoslavia was being evangelized by the Yugoslavian churches and Christians – a church was already there and in place. These missionaries were coming to the Yugoslavian brethren, announcing their purpose and presence when they could not even speak the language. How will they raise up churches? How can they possibly father churches in Yugoslavia. What has happened to our concept of what a missionary really is?
Actually they could be no more than representative of the Assemblies of God of the USA. Plain and simple, they were certainly not apostles in the true Biblical sense. I would estimate that seventy five percent of the “missionaries” American organizations have appointed to foreign fields could come home and the work God is doing in the world would progress faster with a much more spiritual result. Too many American missionaries have the idea that they are God’s gift to these “poor people who are still under the bondage of their national traditions.” The real truth that will not be spoken by those in the world missions work here in the west is that most missionaries are actually carrying western culture, philosophy and materialism to these foreign brethren and their churches and NOT the message godliness and Christian perfection as did the apostles. These modern missionaries are the advocates of a western culture kind of gospel that is far removed from the apostle’s message of the Church of Acts. They think the national churches are terribly lacking because they do not worship and function as our American churches. Their real objective is to “Americanize” the national churches. They are corrupting the foreign churches and then call themselves “missionaries.” Pray tell, since when was there such a thing as a missionary to bring a cultural message to the churches? Since when was there such a thing as a missionary to the churches? Missionaries aren’t sent to the church, they are sent where there are no churches!
Paul and Barnabas set out to see how the churches fared but these were churches they had planted and established. There are at least two hundred mountain tribes in India that have not heard the gospel. That is where we need missionaries! There are hundreds of peoples in Asia who have never heard, that’s where we need missionary penetration! In spite of strong missionary numbers in Africa, most of these missionaries are holed up in air conditioned homes with air conditioned cars while remote tribal areas still languish for missionaries to come and raise up churches in their villages and open schools for their children. I sat with an American missionary in Africa who attended this conference in an expensive air conditioned automobile. Just three hours away in the bush a large remote tribe was begging for missionaries to come and open schools in their villages and teach them about God.
The kingdom of God would benefit if many of these “administrators” the denominations have sent out to foreign churches would return to their own countries. Too many Americans propagate Americanism not representing the pure doctrines of the kingdom of God very little or not at all.
Missionaries who feel the call of God to carry the gospel who have never heard of the cross and the Lamb who died on that cross should first promise the Lord that their mission is to reach the unsaved and not to go and try and reform the churches that are already working in that country.
Missionaries leaving for the field should be careful not to go with the intention of making the churches they come in contact with like our American churches. With that as your objective instantly disqualifies you as a missionary. You are a spoiler sent of Satan, but you are certainly not a “sent one” from God.
A missionary in the truest sense is an apostle’s ministry and is one who moves about raising up churches and fathering them as Paul and the apostles did in the New Testament. Some Pentecostal denominations have declared that the ministry of the apostle has ceased with those apostles who lived contemporary with Jesus or with the generation of the church after the disciples. But Paul said twice (1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11) that Jesus gave these ministries to the church. God didn’t cause the pastor teacher ministry He gave to the church to cease, why would He cause the ministry of the apostle to cease? This is a serious and violent assertion against the Word of God! On the other hand, those who assert this are correct inasmuch the missionaries they are sending out are certainly not apostles. So the apostles ministry no longer exists in their organization and therefore they have no such ministry, and in that case, the ministry of the apostle has ceased (in their denomination). How could God give these ministries to the church and then retract them without notice? The answer is obvious – He did not retract them.
So long as there is an un-evangelized region in the world in any given generation there will be the need of all of the ministries God has given to the church including especially the apostle!
There are literally hundreds and thousands of people sent out over the world who are no more than administrators, teachers and official representatives of their denomination but go by the title of “missionary.”
The word missionary is a sacred word and I often think of the link it has with apostleship when I hear someone introduce me as a missionary evangelist. This word missionary is a Biblical title that we have come to use too loosely. As a result our concept of missions has become distorted. The truth is we have thousands of denominational representatives all over the world and some of them not even appreciated by the nationals they work around. I have been serving on the mission field evangelizing in many countries trusted by the nationals and know their personal feelings toward the Americans and others who come to “change them.” If you go by the name of “missionary” then you have been called to the heathen, not to churches already established in that country. A missionary is sent of God to raise up churches and not to go to national churches to bring your materialistic creeds of corruption to them.
There are some strange new conditions developing in the constantly changing church setting of today. We are living in a very peculiar and prophetic time of the history of the church known as the end-times. It is a much more complex and evil time than any other age in the history of the world. One thing that makes our age so very different is the fact that civilization is not limited to a continent or two with most of the world undiscovered and undeveloped. Six billion people cover the face of the planet with myriad’s of cultures and ethnic groups. There are three thousand tribes in the mountains of India alone. Only about three hundred of these three thousand tribal peoples have been evangelized. There are about one hundred and forty seven sovereign nations in the world with many of them having different cultures in each. Inside of Russia alone there are more than 90 languages spoken in remote areas. The dilemma of the missionary in Communist days was not knowing how to reach inside the Soviet Union, as it was providing Bibles in so many different dialects. These and many other even more complex factors make world missions today the most difficult since the church was born in the upper room nineteen hundred years ago.
Many of these countries are closed to Christian evangelism and the presence of residence missionaries. This includes China now with more than a billion people! But short wave radio is beaming in and available to hundreds of millions of Chinese with radios.
A major problem today in our churches providing missionaries is that the only areas left in the world that are in the true sense “not evangelized” are the hard places such as the Amazon of Brazil, the Himalayan tribal people, the tribal nations of India, the remote primitive natives of Australia (Aborigines), Brazil and closed Arab nations where Christians caught evangelizing are executed. So, the easy places are all taken while much of the world remains un-evangelized because western missionaries are soft and not willing to tackle the hard places.
It is very interesting, for example, that at the same longitude running North and South between the Caribbean and the Amazon jungles of Brazil you have such a strange contrast. Mind you, that at the same locations, one above and one below the equator you have such different missionary logistics. In the Caribbean there are actually too many “missionaries.” But in the Caribbean you are really close to home, the weather is idealistic with housing and communications quite available. Now let us go straight down into the Amazon basin of Brazil where missionaries are not so common (there are a few but certainly not enough to hold a convention). Why? To answer this I must speculate a little. In the Amazon the jungle is steaming hot at a constant 41 – 42 degrees Celsius (110-115 f). Many of the Indian tribes are still cannibalistic even thought the government has outlawed it. There is no electricity or running water. You will live in a stilted hut with deadly fish in the water around you and pythons in the trees ready to drop down on you! There is no communication and no quick or easy way to get out of the jungle. Isn’t it strange we have so many more “missionaries” above the equator at this same longitude than we do below the equator in Amazon?
But an easier mission field where some of the sweetest people in the world live is in Northwestern Nigeria way up the Benue river where Robert Holmes took me the first time. Far up the Benue river you will come to bush country where the Igedi tribe is spread over the land, many of their villages hidden off of the highways in the bush. Poverty abounds but their warmth and friendliness remains abounding! Missionaries in Nigeria are holed up in the large cities with vast parts of Nigeria not being touched by them. In these regions there is no electricity, no running water or modern conveniences. The heat is unbearable and in the Hanmatan (dry season) dust literally covers everything and water is so scarce you may have to carry it miles to your dwelling. But the Igedi people begged me to send someone to come and teach their children and organize schools for their villages. I have tried but there is no response. To do this work you would have no relief from the heat and it would mean getting dirt under your fingernails. We put in 23 water wells and replaced thirty five shabby bamboo church huts with block and tin roof buildings for the Igedi Christians. We still need someone who will go help the Igedi people.
This is the greatest era of world missions since the church’s beginning. The greatness of this end-time church age in respect to the size of the world population (six billion!) and the work of the holy Spirit as He calls His chosen laborers to this great field is greater now than when the apostles first proclaimed the gospel to their world. The dilemma that I see in world missions today is not in the challenge of reaching the worlds billions as much as it is in keeping the purpose and meaning of the call of God pure so we as a church can accomplish the very most for the kingdom of God in reaching out to this colossal mass of souls.
But, the first thing we must consider is the fact that the church has also grown and the number of workers has also increased with the growth of the world population. It is certain that our growth as a church has not been as great as the world population.
But, there is another factor that must added to the equation of world evangelism today that neither the disciples or the church had for at least fifteen hundred years that we have today. In the sixteenth century and the dawning of the machine age the printing press allowed us as evangels to not only print and reproduce the Bible for the waiting world but also introduced the age of the printed message allowing us to duplicate spiritual messages by the hundreds and thousands for every heart to receive the gospel testimony. Add to this the advancing technology of the space age which provides space communications bringing the televised and transmitted radio by short wave, and as a church we are witnessing the sound of the gospel reaching through the ether waves and out into space beyond even our planet.
If You Are Planning To Go
If you are planning to leave your church and enter a missionary ministry let me share with you some advice that has helped many others considering such a move.
First, anyone leaving their church should consider one great, if not supreme, fact before making a move.
Never mistake the desire to go into a missionary ministry for the calling of God. Paul spoke to Timothy of having a desire to BE a bishop and that it is a good thing. But to possess the desire to be something and having the call of God to Do a specific work are two different things.
There is a big question I have when I listen to some brothers who say they are going to leave their church, leave their jobs and go to do missions work. I know the mission fields in most of the world and I know where missionaries are NOT really needed. Too often these dear people tell me they are going to one of those fields already well evangelized and in some cases even over evangelized. the same people in these countries (usually small countries) are receiving the gospel over and over again by radio, literature and church outreaches. In the true sense of the word evangelism they are already well evangelized. In many cases we have American missionaries on the field that has been burned over again and again. In this case, you are not needed. It would be far better for you to remain at your home on the job, faithful to church and raising your children and be a substantial supporter of a national worker who is already there doing a good job on the field for you.
I know many precious brethren who are doing more for the mission field by remaining faithful to their local church and their families and helping to support missionaries working in vital areas of missions, than they would be by leaving the place they are in and going to that country themselves.
Every Christian who has the desire to evangelize should sit down and ask himself or herself one very important question; How can I best use my life and time to produce the very most with my life for the Lord Jesus Christ, the church and the kingdom of God? Read this over several times. How can I produce the very most and achieve the salvation of souls for the Lord?
Here is a Christian brother whom God has blessed beyond measure in his business or a well paying job. His finances are a main source of support of the small church he attends. His monies have provided many visiting missionaries with gifts needed for their urgent projects. The help he gives is turned into souls and the establishment of the kingdom of God in many places in the world over the years. Not only that, but his spiritual presence in his church has been vital often providing stability of the church probably more than he realizes. So, here he is, blessed financially, his family and home is strong and a major support spiritually to his pastor and a great blessing to the needs of many missionaries with established and effective ministries. Will he be doing more with his life for the Lord by quitting his job and leaving his church? Or would he be doing more for the Lord by remaining faithful in the place God has placed him and where it is evident he is needed?
Let’s be practical now and consider a few things about making a move to the mission field in today’s world.
1. Is it a needy mission field?
2. How many missionaries are there in this country per capita?
3. How will you be supported sufficiently?
4. If you have a family, do they all have the peace about the move?
5. Have you received an invitation from missionaries on the field to work with them?
6. Do you have a call to preach?
7. Will you be going as a worker? an administrator? or as a man with a call to preach?
8. Are you needed in your local church?
9. Have you asked your pastor for his opinion?
10. Will you accomplish the most with your life and for souls of men where you are now or where you have the desire to go?
But, someone may say, these things don’t matter if God calls me to go to the mission field. My reply is that what we have listed here are precisely the things God also considers when and if He is calling someone to the field. Look at your Bible. The first thing that constitutes a mission call is a need existing in the place God calls you.
I was pastoring in the in the 1960’s when the latter rain movement was the big wave in Pentecost. They attempted to renew the apostles authority by laying hands on people and prophesying over them a call to the mission field. Scores and scores of married couples left their jobs and sold their homes using all of their cash resources to buy tickets and settle in the land they were “called” to. One of the things that killed the latter rain movement in those years was the literally hundreds of married couples and individuals who thought they were being directed by the Holy Spirit lost everything by making an impulsive decision that was based on their personal desires and spiritualizing everything and throwing the practical to the winds! Most all of these returned in shame suffering total loss of everything they had. Many of them ended up in divorce with broken homes and backsliden. What started out as a great move of God turned out to be movement being led by spiritual kooks!
One thing you will learn in years of serving God is that to be spiritual is to be practical. God does not call anyone to anywhere if there is not first a need.
Some of them arrived on the field to find they were not really welcomed by the other missionaries and became isolated and without fellowship. If you are independent and have other independent missionary friends on the field you had better have a long deep talk with them. It may be that they will feel you are coming in on them when its not really necessary. To support and visit them is one thing, but to move in by them is another thing! You will find that what fells comfortable to you working with a missionary from a supportive distance is not the same as being there with them.
Hardly any of these poor people fascinated with the “supernatural” saw the miraculous results that was prophesied over them by those who sent them. Their dreams turned to nightmares simply because they were not actually sent of God! They launched out with great zeal and excitement knowing it was God! They returned in shame and defeat because it was not God!
In some case several families left the same church leaving that local church weakened in many ways. Every church has key figures. These key men constitute the spiritual quality of that local church. If one family leaves from a small church God will raise up other ministries and fill that void. But when several families all leave a small church at once it can leave that church wounded and weakened. We would like to say that the Holy Spirit is the one in charge of the church and He will provide and lift up the church. But let me ask a question; If the Holy Spirit can provide for the church’s losses would he call whole families out of the church at the same time and hurt that church in such a way? We sometimes use the Holy Ghost to cover for asserting our will over His.
If I am moving in the will of God,
1. I should have the support of my Christian family members.
2. I should leave no deficit in the church.
3. I should have the whole hearted approval of the pastor.
4. I will be accomplishing the very most with my life.
5. I will make no impulsive decisions but let God open doors.
6. I will have my support provided (by more than one source is best).
7. I will have a message and a ministry with purpose.
And how can I know the will of God and that it is really the Holy Spirit calling me in the feelings I have. I have for you here a formula that is Scriptural and acceptable to all. Here are some considerations when considering a launch into a new ministry.
– One –
STARTING OUT: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1. We are admonished to try the spirits whether they are of God. Visit the field your being drawn to. Establish contact with missionaries there and ask them if they need your presence. If you are going to a place where there are no missionaries then go and stay several months leaving everything at home in tact.
– TWO –
THE PAULINE MINISTRY: We live in a wonderful age as far travel and communication. You could plan to keep everything at your home base leaving the business in the hands of a trusted senior employee. Give him a financial incentive (percentage of growth so that his motivation remains whether you are there attending to business or he is left to direct it). By traveling between your mission field and your home base you are fulfilling your desire to be a spiritual blessing and at the same time providing a stable home base for your family and providing the church with your presence. You would also be able to support yourself and with God’s continued blessing be a great help to your local church.
– THREE –
TIMING: This is one of the most important parts of knowing God’s will for your life and the most unconsidered. I can speak from first hand experience. God often gives you a desire in your heart to minister in some special way to some special people years before it comes to pass. In fact, a person’s ultimate ministry may begin as a prayer burden for a special part of the world. That prayer burden will remain until one day suddenly your circumstances make it possible for you to go to the very people you have been praying for those many years. It is one thing to have a prayer burden for a special field and the desire to go. But, it is also a much different thing to have the desire to go and knowing when God wants you to go. For anything that has a power source – timing is everything! I often tell young men that they will know when God’s time comes, God will start pushing.
– FOUR –
PEACE: But – be very careful not to make a decision based on circumstances either! Just because it seems everything is starting fall into place could also be a trick of the Devil. With circumstances there must be the peace of God in the heart. Go into a prolonged time of prayer and worship at least one or two hours alone in the closet until you are in His conscious presence. When you get alone with God in the closet and wait until your spirit is in complete broken submission to His precious will He will give the sign of the urim and thumim. Ask the Lord if you should make this change and start the action leaving your heart open to whatever God’s answer is. In that surrendered state you will have peace either when you say you will do this thing or that you will not. Once you have either the urim or thumim answer then you must not change it once you return to the outside world and its influences. What God whispers to you in secret is more to be trusted than all of the thundering voices outside of the closet of prayer. Read Colossians 3:15 and let the peace of God rule in your heart.
When I tried to redirect some erring brethren asking them so consider my counsel, they spiritualized their situation implying that I was looking at natural things in a natural way and that they were being led of the Holy Spirit. God never makes mistakes when He indeed sends someone out! But people do stupid things and then when it fails to pan out they bring a reproach not only to themselves but to the Holy Spirit. More than just the person who makes the mistake suffers loss.
This brings me to several other very important factors regarding what missions and a missionary is.
Missions is reaching un-evangelized areas …
A missionary is an apostle, a father of churches.
A missionary must have a message, a preaching ministry.
Workers distribute tracts and assist the missionaries already on the field. A worker and missionary are two different ministries.
So, if you feel you have the call please consider these principles from an elder brother who has spent fifty years in the ministry as a pastor, evangelist and missionary having evangelized in thirty seven countries and having counseled missionaries, discussed God’s work in various parts of the world with missionaries, and observed missions and missionaries as a missionary for thirty four years. Pray and then think.