I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by emphasizing “the call” as it relates to missions or ministry assignment. Aside from the Macedonian Call of Acts 16, the “call” as we articulate it doesn’t exist in Scripture. For my entire young life, I remember hearing missionaries share their “call” to various far off and exotic places as I sat on the edge of my seat soaking it all in. I’ve heard pastors talk about their “call” to youth or music or whatever their particular ministry is. In my own life, I’ve heard God’s voice at the altar as I prayed about my future and seen his hand at work as that future became a reality. But is that really “the call?”
Ephesians 4:1 tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” For years I equated that with my call to Muslim Arabs, specifically to Syrians. So when the crisis came and I was no longer able to live in that beautiful country, I was faced with a sincere dilemma: had I lived a life worthy of my calling to Syrian Muslims? Is that what Paul meant when he penned those words? I would humbly venture to respond negatively. Further on in the same paragraph, verse 4 tells us that “[t]here is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called….” I read this as saying that our calling is individual in that we are each called by God, but corporate in that we are called to be one body with one hope. But this hope isn’t in the call or even in the body, but a hope in Jesus.
The same crisis of theology came when we moved from our work with Syrian refugees to Cairo. If my calling is wrapped up in my work with Syrians, and as a result, my belief about my success as a missionary, leaving that work behind could then be construed as a failure or of not living a worthy life instead of as a move forward to what God has for us as we continue to obey him on our journey.
And so I would say that our “call” both individually and corporately is to obedience to Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. We can no more be called to church planting as we can to creating a moon. Church planting doesn’t begin or end with any individual or team. It is only created and sustained by the Creator himself. To say, “I am called” to this people group or that country, has the marks of arrogance. Instead, I wonder if saying I am privileged to obey Jesus in a particular location or while attempting to fulfill a particular assignment. In this way, our hearts are no longer tied to a one location or people group or assignment which will ultimately lead to disappointment and heartache, but to Jesus. After all, our only obligation is to obedience to Jesus – whatever form that looks like on any particular day. In this way, the responsibility is placed in the hands that can hold something as ethereal and huge as church planting. And placing humans in their proper place as beloved sons and daughters joining the father in the work.