One of my main concerns with evangelicalism today is its failure to appreciate missions as ministry, and its primary participants as ministers. Many leaders of the New Calvinist movement in particular, whose doctrine may be Reformed (it’s often hard to say), but whose understanding of ecclesiastical policy and practice is (apparently) still reforming, speak often and loudly about getting more and more Christians to the mission field. Now I certainly do not wish to pour frigid doctrinal waters on anyone’s passion to get more involved in witnessing and evangelizing, or in foreign missions, for certainly all Christians are to be engaged in such; but it is clear in the Word of God, if one takes the time to study it out, that there is a crucial difference between our Lord’s call to his disciples and his call to everyone else–a difference not in devotion, but in vocation. There is a difference as well between those scattered by persecution who went about preaching the word, and the divinely-called and Spirit-appointed ministry of church planting engaged in by the Apostle Paul. The difference here is the same as that between pastor and pew. The difference is one of ministry, of being divinely called, divinely prepared, divinely gifted, and divinely empowered for a particular task in the kingdom of God. The fact of the matter is that the principal work of missions, Biblically-speaking, is not to be carried out by normal or all Christians; it is to be carried out by those Biblically called and prepared for such. “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul,” the Holy Spirit says in Acts 13:2, “for the work to which I have called them.”
Certainly there are nuances here. Some may be called to the principal work of missions, which is concerned with church-planting, while others may justifiably be called, again following Biblical principle and practice, to come alongside and help them, even for a short time. And certainly all Christians are to be actively involved in evangelism wherever God has placed them. We don’t want to so guard such things, as so many in Reformed circles are prone to do, that much of the good that could be done in a variety of missions-related settings is lost. What I am contending is simply this: The work of missions, properly understood, is a God-appointed ministry set aside for those called, prepared, and empowered by the Spirit (and sanctioned by the church) for this purpose.
Now I do not doubt that many in the New Calvinism movement understand this principle to some degree, but the question is how seriously they take it; it seems, frankly, that they do not take it seriously enough. The last thing we need is more unprepared, uncalled, and unempowered Christians on the mission field. The church desperately needs to think more carefully through this erroneous trend. I know from practical experience, having gone to the mission field terribly unfit, that such will not only do little good, it will quite possibly lead to great harm. I have seen as well that one man divinely prepared and placed is worth a thousand who are not so.
The need is indeed great, but the laborers for the work of missions must be raised by God himself, through the one divinely-appointed means–the means of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38). And here, perhaps, is where the real problem lies, here at the foundation. For as I mentioned above, Christian leaders today talk of many things, but prayer occupies a tragically small part of their message. This New Calvinist movement may very well continue to be a mile wide and an inch deep (as it often appears to be) until God continues to mold and fashion its priorities. Until the church today spends hours and hours in slow and painstaking prayer, depending on God for every leading, and waiting until the answers come from him, the results we see, in our own country or abroad, will continue this dangerous trend–this trend of shallow Christianity, this trend of reckless doctrine and careless practice, this powerless, still too unholy, and largely ineffectual tide of youthful exuberance we call the new movement; this movement that is yet to know anything, I am afraid, of real sacrifice or spiritual warfare, of battles with real supernatural forces won or lost on the efficacy of prayer.
My prayer and hope is that the leaders of the New Calvinism movement will one day come to understand this principle personally–that God is preparing many such leaders for the real work of missions, and that one day they themselves will be called by God to leave their worlds of comfort and success for the infinitely more difficult work of giving one’s life and soul to the breaking of hard, hard ground. Even practically speaking, we cannot send new converts, short-termers, college students, or businessmen to the front lines to do this work; what a laughable strategy. We must send the best of us–the most mature, most gifted, most Spirit-anointed, and most battle-ready and battle-hardened, who are prepared not merely to give their lives, but to give what is far less glorious but often much harder–a lifetime of soul-draining service. I am presently waiting on God to make me such a person, and to return me to the front lines if He so wills; until then, may we as Christians take up that other work of missions, the work to which the vast majority of us are called–the work of prayer. And then, in a prevailing atmosphere of “ministering to the Lord and fasting,” may God show us whom he wills to set aside to that most serious of all callings, the work of the ministry.