Given the chance, there are plenty of things in my life I would’ve done differently. I would’ve listened more to my dad. I would’ve read more attentively in school. I would’ve gone on a short-term missions trip in college. I would’ve entered foster care and adoption with my wife with more training.
But since God is sovereign, it would be unfair to call any of these “regrets.” I’d do things differently, but I’m not held captive by guilt. God’s providence has brought me to where I am now. I’m not expected to discover his secret will but to obey his revealed commands.
Yet there’s still an elephant in the room. I work for a missions organization. I’ve cowritten a book on the theology of missions. I realize 3 billion people on the planet are without access to the gospel. Naturally, I often ask myself, “Should I have become a missionary?”
At various seasons of my life, I’ve had sound reasons for remaining in my country of birth to serve Christ. At other times, I’ve used naive excuses. Maybe, like mine, your reasons for not pursuing missions are a mixture of good and bad. Have you ever had the following thoughts?
‘God Hasn’t Called Me’
I know I’ve often told myself this narrative: I don’t need to be a missionary because God hasn’t called me. And there’s a ring of truth to it.
In the grand scheme of God’s design, most Christians aren’t led to faraway places as missionaries. Throughout history, most Christians have stayed put. (Of course, historically, most humans stayed put.) And God’s ordinary plan for the believer often involves serving Christ from the same station of life in which he or she was converted (cf. 1 Cor. 7:20).
But it’s not true that we must hear an audible voice from God or see a miraculous sign to be called into missions. A better definition of calling has to do with a combination of need, desire, opportunity, qualification, and affirmation from the local church.
In few other areas do we think it wise to wait for a divine voice before we act. We work jobs to survive. We move to a new town for better schools. We marry because of love. Yet when it comes to taking the gospel to the nations—God’s purpose for his people reaching back to Genesis—we often stand idly by and await further instructions.
Of course, God can lead people into his global harvest in extraordinary ways. But we must be careful using the lack of such an experience as an excuse.
‘The World Doesn’t Need Western Missionaries’
Many of us have heard arguments from the secular world against Christian missions. Colonialism, imperialism, and white-saviorism are all likely objections raised by the unbeliever to the Christian embarking overseas. And these objections can take the wind out of our sails.
A young man I was discipling once told me his professor at an ostensibly Christian college tried to talk him out of becoming a missionary because missions itself is a mere vestige of colonialism. These types of objections must be weighed and considered carefully or else they can quench the missionary spirit. But even those already accustomed to answering these well-worn objections can often allow subtler excuses to slip into their hearts.
Early in college, when I was first considering my place in the world, I became convinced that supporting indigenous missionaries was the best (and perhaps only) viable method for missions. Westerners, after all, demand much higher standards of living and take longer to learn languages and cultures. Considering the many faithful national believers who do incredible work with far less, the stereotypical American missionary seems to pale in comparison.
For a young man with my sights set on comfort and career, it wasn’t hard to get excited about a model of missions that allowed me to, well, stay home. However, at the time, I don’t think I’d sufficiently considered those unreached, unengaged language groups with no believers. These peoples need someone from the outside to come. And in some contexts, being an outsider might even open doors.
‘I’ve Got Better Things to Do’
I don’t think I’ve ever admitted out loud that I think I have “better things to do” than serve the lost. Few Christians would. But we can express this without saying so.
Some of our reasoning makes sense. Student debt, for instance, causes many to delay or defer a missionary career. (Though missionaries can get student loan forgiveness.) When my family was in the adoption process, we couldn’t leave our home state without disrupting the legal process. Maybe for you, God has given you an open door for ministry with unbelievers in your neighborhood, school, or family.
The difference between sound reason and excuses is often one of motivation. Are we, like Paul, honestly seeking to spread the knowledge of Christ wherever we are (2 Cor. 2:14)? Or are we like those in the parable of the banquet who used house, family, and business as polite excuses to decline an invitation to follow Christ (Luke 14:16–24)?
The stories we tell ourselves affect everything: our emotional state, relationships, and life choices. The same is true for our decision to pursue international missions. While we shouldn’t make those decisions based on guilt, we should make sure our stories are grounded in reality.
At this point, God has providentially—through circumstances and the wisdom of others—made it clear to my wife and me that we have a mission to fulfill for this season of our lives here at home. We’ve concluded our desires, gifts, and opportunities best align with a role as senders and mobilizers for missions.
But deciding this isn’t the same as deciding to be uninvolved in the Great Commission. A call to serve on the supply lines rather than the front lines is still a call to the same effort. And serving in Christ’s mission leads to a life with no regrets.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition on September 16, 2022. Used with permission.