Keep the Charge of the Lord: Six Considerations for Becoming Missionaries
In my previous post, I shared the difficult dilemma my wife and I experienced as we considered whether the Lord was calling us to China. Unlike most missionary couples we knew, our calling did not feel particularly clear and we experienced what felt like a crisis as we struggled to arrive at a shared decision together. After many tears, sleepless nights, long conversations, hours of searching the scriptures, and heart-wrenching prayers, we committed in unity to moving to China. The following are six of the biggest practical lessons and considerations we experienced that enabled us to make the toughest decision yet in our life together.
- 1. Do not take lightly the burden you feel toward cross-cultural missions.
A great majority of people we know feel little or no burden toward moving overseas for missions service. If you do, that is significant and unique. It should not be ignored as it might be an indicator that the Lord is leading you to the high-calling of world missions.
- 2. Spousal agreement should not be the trump card in the decision.
My wife and I did not agree throughout most of the decision-making process. We received lots of advice that suggested we not even consider the move to China unless we both agreed whole-heartedly. But the decision is too complex and the cause of world missions is too great to avoid exhausting every consideration before prematurely making a conclusion one way or the other. I am not suggesting that one spouse should have license to the neglect of their partner. But, I believe many great missionaries have been kept off the mission field because spousal agreement was given too much initial weight.
Ultimately, couples must come to a decision together. But even on the day we left for China, my wife would admit that were it not for the evidence we had seen throughout the decision-making process (see the next item) and for her marriage to me, she would not choose to move. But, we had each seen enough to recognize that this was going to be a decision that the Lord left us responsible for, with no easy answer. We both admitted to our uncertainties and we agreed early on that there would be no hindsight blame should either decision result in unpleasant outcomes. Ultimately, it took everything we knew about husbands leading lovingly, wives supporting respectfully, and couples submitting to one another.
- 3. If you sense a burden or passion for world missions, devote a season to thoroughly exploring the option.
We now feel that it is insufficient to merely say, "I am willing to go if the Lord ever calls me." For us, we had to take practical steps to actually explore whether the Lord was calling us. We wrote down our core values, our vision for ministry, and our criteria for evaluating any opportunity. And then we started exploring. We contacted business and ministry partners, we considered suitable missions agencies, and we explored sources for financial support. Without understanding whether God was going to provide us with a context, a ministry partner, and a means for living and working in China, we would not have been able to break through the dilemma. As it turned out, we felt that God was making providential arrangements that were beyond coincidence. If we had never explored the details, we suspect we would forever have been waiting and saying, “I am willing to go, Lord!” Don’t wait for something to merely fall into your lap. Sometimes the Lord desires you to take initiative in response to the Spirit’s stirring.
- 4. Don’t believe that God will not call you out while you are at the top of your game.
Success in family, career, and/or ministry in your hometown cannot be confused with a calling to continue without change. A trusted mentor encouraged us and challenged our thinking when we asked him why God would take us when it seems like everything is going well and when we were experiencing great success in many areas of our lives. He reminded us that cross-cultural missions can be extremely stressful and requires particular skill sets. The Lord will call the proven and the successful to the task of taking the gospel to the nations. If you can be successful in one context, there is a higher likelihood that you will be successful in the next.
- 5. Do not try to make the decision alone.
We asked our church pastors humbling questions about our qualifications and suitability, our weaknesses, and whether they would wholeheartedly send us. Then we went one step further and asked not merely for their blessing to go and be fruitful, but to consider supporting us with all the resources they could contribute. We would recommend asking the same tough questions for anyone considering a commitment to cross-cultural missions. If your home church (who knows you best) is unwilling to come fully behind you, then you must humbly take that into account. But, if your church wants to be a significant part of your sending team, then you have strong evidence that the Lord may be calling you to missions.
- 6. A decision to go does not have to be forever.
When we first began exploring our decision, we honestly were under the impression that we would be making a forever decision. We discovered that many missionaries actually commit to a limited term with the intent of seeking the Lord’s will at the end of that term regarding whether to stay longer, to return home, or to move to the next assignment. We decided that we could make an initial three-year commitment. At the end of three years we will re-evaluate our situation. Is the Lord continuing to call us to China? Have we accomplished what we needed to? Is it time for us to move on?
In Numbers, Moses writes, “At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord.” When things are difficult, or unclear, our prayer is that God would grant us the same kind of heart that the Israelites had during the early part of the exodus. We want to go when the Lord says, “Go.” And we want to stay when the Lord says, “Stay.” May we all daily be so faithful.
Please come back for my third and final post, in which I will share one significant and practical challenge of laboring in China as an expatriate for Christ.
Chunsun (meaning “spring bamboo”) is a collective pseudonym for writers ministering in sensitive situations to Chinese people. The author of this post lives in China and serves in supporting and strengthening the Chinese house church.