A High Calling
Our dear friends, Ken and Debbie Vance, are missionaries in Zambia. They have invested their lives in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Congo and Zambia. They were shot at and barely escaped with their lives when they lived in Congo and it was suffering a terrible civil war. Debbie nearly died from a bite from a black mamba snake. Ken had both malaria and yellow fever at the same time a couple of years ago and also nearly died. And God has used them mightily to train pastors, to bring people to Jesus, and to save lives.
Many of us read a paragraph like that and secretly think, "I'm so glad God did not call me to be a missionary. Whew. Snakes and civil war? Near death experiences? Not for me."
I received my calling to pastoral ministry when I was still in high school. I went to college and seminary in succession to fulfill that calling. Shirley and I have not faced near death experiences, except for a couple of really long Board meetings at that one church. Can a person really die from boredom? We have picked up roots and moved, on average, every five to six years while serving congregations in LaPorte, Marion, Mishawaka, Goshen, Logansport, Kokomo, and now Dayton. We have not made the same sacrifices as Ken and Debbie have made, but we share something sacred. God has used us to bring people to Jesus.
Perhaps some of us even read that paragraph and secretly think, "I'm so glad God did not call me to be a pastor. Whew. Moving often? Meetings? On call 24-7? Not for me."
The vocation is different, but the calling is the same. Pastor or missionary. Both are important vocations. Both call for sacrifice and service. Though they are different, both involve making Jesus real to other people.
Here's the thing: we confuse vocation with calling. Every follower of Jesus is not called to be a pastor or missionary as a vocation. Some are called to teach or to work in a factory or to run a business or to sell automobiles at a fair and reasonable price. (Yes, there are Christian car salespeople of integrity!)
Here's the thing we miss: every follower of Jesus is called to be a missionary, just not as a career. Every person who responds to Jesus' call to "follow Me" is sent by Jesus to fish for people! When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He made that clear! “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1:17 NIV)
A missionary is "a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, such as educational or hospital work." When a team from our Church goes to Ghana or Guatemala for two weeks of ministry we are short-term missionaries. We see that picture clearly. When our friends, the Vances, left the US for the Congo in the 80's they were embarking as career missionaries. We get that.
But the radical claim of the New Testament is that our Missionary God sends out every follower of Jesus as lifetime missionaries to the world around us. The calling to make Jesus known is not just for pastors and evangelists and missionaries. It is for all of us who name the Name of Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
Could it be that we will never fully live out a healthy life of discipleship as long as we see ourselves as converts and receivers of blessing, instead of embracing our calling and believing, "I am a missionary"?
We might be a missionary auto mechanic, but we are a missionaries, nonetheless. We are sent by Jesus to the broken culture around us to make Him known to others. We all represent Jesus in all we do and in all we live out. Our paycheck--our vocation--may come from farming or teaching school. But our calling is the same as the Vances and our pastor and the Apostles. It is a sacred and holy life calling.
The most important question is, "Am I embracing and living out my calling in the midst of my vocation?"
Holy Spirit, change our minds and hearts until we can answer yes to this sacred calling.