This past Sunday I preached on the sending of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. I had previously preached this passage as it relates to church planting, because I think it truly does. But what the Spirit brought to my mind this time as it relates to foreign missions was something quite different than I had originally noticed. The call to foreign missions, just as the call to local missions-and I think the call to most anything major in life like work and who to marry-involves both an inward and and outward “sense of call.” For instance, if God wants you to be a missionary, attorney, he is going to confirm that in your heart, but others will also see that you are called or not called.
What I think many people seem to miss is that Paul and Barnabas didn’t get ONE “quiver-in-the-liver moment” as Steve Childrers likes to say. In fact in this passage, the call was actually given BY the Holy Spirit, TO the church. Now this is something I think we Americans have a hard time with. The external call.
Now that doesn’t mean there wasn’t also an internal call; there will always be. And I think Barnie and Paul already sensed the call to go, as did the local church. Both parties could see such gifts being developed while they taught in a local cross-cultural setting (Jews and Gentiles) at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26) and saw tons of fruit. In addition, I’m sure the Spirit was already at work internally confirming their call while on a short term mission trip bringing relief funds to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30).
But because the tendency in the American evangelical church is to assume God is saying this or that to you (and it cannot be questioned), I found this passage’s emphasis vital to today’s church desiring to send out missionaries. The Spirit allows the local church to come alongside and confirm that call. That way the missionary doesn’t have to wonder if his sense of call was from the Spirit, or just something he/she ate that day.
It is necessary to pay attention to the Spirit’s confirmation in missions (as well as many other life-changing decisions) THROUGH others in the church. It sounds less spiritual, but that probably comes from viewing the Spirit’s work from a lens heavily tainted with individualism and existentialism. While some may interpret the external call as “outsourcing” the Spirit’s work to the church, discerning the external call actually relies more deeply on the Spirit. For each call and major decision, we desire to seek the Spirit’s work in more than just one person.