I remember hearing the Christian musician Keith Green say that we are all called to be missionaries. According to him, in order to stay where you are you would need a good reason. It turns out Christians have been saying similar things about missions for more than a hundred years. Indeed, God does call all of us to participate in his global work of making disciples — and he is particularly honored when people from many different cultures embrace the gospel and find their treasure in Jesus.
But God does not call every Christian to live long-term in a cross-cultural setting for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel and building up the church. Since most missionaries minister thanks to the financial contributions of God’s people, the number of missionaries will always be limited. God does not call everyone to that task, but he does call some. And God may be calling you to take part in that profound privilege.
So, how do you know if God wants you to make a move to missions — a step of faith toward full-time, vocational service in a cross-cultural context? Let me give you three marks that can help you discern God’s leading today: a God-centered heart, eager hands for cross-cultural work, and a listening ear.
A Heart that Treasures God
All Christians should reflect God’s love for the world, but no one goes into cross-cultural ministry without a deep passion for God’s global glory. For someone considering a call to missions, the first step is to be filled with delight in Jesus.
A call to missions first begins with a growing sense that Jesus is my supreme treasure. That means living out the reality that on my own I am a sinner, but by God’s grace the gospel has come to me, the Spirit has transformed my heart, and God has opened my eyes so that I see and know Jesus as Lord. It means that there is no greater delight to me than knowing God in Christ. And it means knowing I belong completely to God who created me, redeemed me, and will one day lead me into unending life with him.
Second, we need to delight in God’s heart for the nations. When I was in college, I stumbled across a two-volume account of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. I was captivated by God’s work among the ordinary missionaries who journeyed inland from the coast of China to preach the gospel. They would get kicked out of one town and move on to another. They would keep preaching even when their food supply ran out since they believed God would provide. And many of them lost their lives in the Boxer rebellion as witnesses to a hostile culture. A call to missions does not mean we want to be Hudson Taylor, but it does show itself in a desire to be at the front lines of God’s work to transform people and cultures.
How do you know if you are called to be a missionary? A first indication may be that God’s global mission has captivated your heart.
Hands Eager for the Work
When I was in graduate school, a professor asked our Old Testament class, “Would any of you be interested in teaching these sorts of things in Ukraine?” I knew little about Ukraine at the time, but it occurred to me that I might be the sort of person God could use for that work. Not only might I have the ability to do that, but I could do so with joy — not kicking and screaming the whole way. The chance to participate in God’s kingdom work in another culture lit a fire in me.
We should all be evangelists, and we should all proclaim the gospel. But the particular call of missions is to do so in a different culture. Why? Because God means to save men and women from groups all over the world. His gospel is already taking root in many cultures, but there are still large groups of people that have never heard the good news of Jesus clearly.
A strong love for Jesus, a desire to evangelize, a desire to be used by God — these are all wonderful parts of how God grows and directs us. But a central element in a call to missions is, does it feel right and good to you personally to be spent in the hard work of crossing cultures?
An Ear Open to Counsel
This is the hardest part, but it is a step we cannot pass over. If you want to probe the call to missions, tell a mature Christian about your desire and ask if they think you are suitable for the work. You’re not asking if God has specifically told them something or whether you are a top 5% Christian and so deemed “qualified.” All you want to know is, does this desire fit with who I am right now? And if not, how should I grow?
They may respond in a number of ways. They might see that a call to missions fits you well. But they may also say, “Listen, I love you and know your love for the Lord. Here are a few ways I see your character developing but not yet fully matured.” When I once put this question to a mentor, he responded, “You’re made for this. . . and don’t come back!” That encouragement gave me great confidence in the following years.
Eventually, this question will need to come to your church, but there is no reason not to start with someone who knows you well — such as parents, mentors, and trusted friends.
Should I Go?
When you have a passion for Christ, an interest in cross-cultural work, and the affirmation of at least one mature believer in your life, what is the next step? Ask yourself, what sort of person do I want to be if and when God leads me toward cross-cultural ministry?
I’ll tell you. You want to be a mature, resilient believer who can delight in God in all circumstances, who knows how to learn and grow even when no teacher is forcing you to do so, and who has practice with the questions and crises you will face when immersed in a different culture.
The Global Studies emphasis at Bethlehem College is part of a larger track of deep learning in Scripture and the great books. It will help you be ready to dive into any culture as a mature Christian, who can proclaim the gospel and serve the church.
Jon Hoglund, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology and Global Studies
- Pray with us for the students in our Global Studies emphasis as they prepare to proclaim the gospel and serve the church.
- Pray for the prospective students considering Bethlehem this fall.
- Pray with us for the students and faculty as they rest, participate in missions trips, and witness for Christ this summer.