Friday, October 19, 2012
Are You the 5%?
First let me explain what I meant since Twitter’s 140 character limit does not permit a full explanation (of just about anything). The sad truth is that 95% of all evangelical seminary graduates stay in their home areas and serve close to family, while only a handful of them go to the world. A couple of folks remarked that I must not be aware that there are also seminaries in other countries. Um . . . I think I am aware of that since I was president of one of those in South America, and work closely with colleagues in seminaries all over the planet. However, the truth is that their statistics are worse than ours since they do not usually have the resources that we have to send people overseas, so of course even more stay home.
Second, I am not judging anyone or belittling any chosen avenue for serving God; I am simply reporting the way it is. Lighten up, folks. Take a deep breath. Several people pointed out that I am a seminary professor in Kentucky and not living outside of the USA, which apparently makes my observation invalid. I understand their angst and to a degree they are right. I also weary of folks calling us to be radical martyrs for Christ’s sake from the context of comfortable homes, megachurch pastorates, and nice retreat centers located in cities with more Christians than people. However, please know that I am not calling for anyone to do anything that God is not calling them to do. I never want to guilt anyone into going to the mission field. If I did, I would have to go with you and keep pouring on the guilt to keep you there.
Third, if you did react out of guilt—false or true—I’d like to ask you some questions. Do all Christians have the missionary call? What is that exactly? Is it a lifelong call? A misunderstanding of the missionary call keeps more people off of the mission field than anything else (although it runs neck and neck with student debt!). So that everyone may know my position, I wrote in The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World, “The highest and best use of anyone’s life is to do exactly what God leads them to do in the places where He leads them to do it.” If God has indeed called you to be a housewife in your hometown, to live next door to your mother-in-law, or to pastor your home church where you were baptized, you cannot glorify Him more by being martyred in Somalia.
But, can we talk? Could we lower our guard for a minute, stop being defensive or proud, and think about the reality? You may know for sure that God has called, equipped, and guided you to be exactly where you are. If so, amen! Praise the Lord! But, think about some missions math for a second. Over a third of the world’s people have never heard the Gospel, without which no one can be saved. This represents over half of the world’s ethnolinguistic people groups. Approximately 50,000 people from those unreached peoples die and go to hell every day, never having heard the Gospel. While there are untold millions still untold, there is no country as blessed as the USA. No country has as many Evangelical churches, Christian colleges and universities, seminaries, and ministries reaching out to the lost, discipling the saved, planting churches, and training the leaders. Yet, we retain 95% of our seminary grads to minister to us, and more than that percentage of financial resources. God loves the USA, but He loves the nations of the world, too. I cannot help but believe that these statistics indicate that there must be some who are being disobedient to His call to go to the nations to reach and teach so that all the nations might glorify Him.
The Westminster catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The children’s catechism asks, “How can you glorify God?” and answers “By loving Him and doing what He commands.” If He has called you to career missions service elsewhere and has not led you to the place where you are now, let me encourage you to be afraid, and to be very afraid. I’ll introduce you to Jonah when we get Home and you can ask him how running from God’s call worked out for him.
I am thankful for all the comments on the Facebook post and Twitter feed. The energy generated and expended was phenomenal. People who thought about the missionary call for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, made it all worth it to me. I make no excuse for envying our missionaries and wishing that God would open the door and guide me back to such a place of service. Missionaries are my heroes, and I definitely relate to all of you who wish you could be on the field but family, health, or other issues preclude that as a possibility right now. I burn with a desire to be back on the field or in full time missions work again, but God has me here for a season. Part of me being here is to motivate and mobilize as many as I can.
Those who know me will tell you that I often remark that when God tells Mary and me to go back to the field, He won’t have to say it twice. I spend about eight weeks per year on the mission fields of the world and it is harder and harder to come back to the USA every time, especially now that my son and his family are on the field. God knows I am trying hard to be “willing to stay” even though I am “ready to go.” Being a missions professor, speaker, and administrator makes me feel like a hypocrite on a regular basis. The devil constantly harasses me by pointing out to me what some of you said. Still, I cannot help but point people to the privilege and honor of missionary service, and will not stop. Please remember that your life is not your own; don’t waste it on you. Very soon you will come to the end and step from this life into that which is truly Life. Don’t go with regrets and wonder what your life would have been like if you had lived it for Him.
If God has not called you do go, then don’t go. That’s pretty simple! Instead, send, give, and pray as if souls depended on you efforts. If He has called you to go, and is leading you there now, and if He used Facebook and Twitter to lean on that comfort-zone building nerve, Great! That was so fun. I hope we can do it again soon.