Callsourcing the Mission

This is post #5 in a series on developing a new missiology.

Human-sized hamster ball. Dunkin’ Donuts locations. Double Rainbow.  At any given point in time, web analytics can show us what topics are “trending” in social media. An uptick in Google searches might indicate breaking news or a YouTube video going viral. Twitter trends give a real-time glimpse into what people are talking about right now. The value of this data is immense; marketers know what audiences are looking for, and social influence can be tracked through hyperlinks and re-tweets. The information isn’t limited to a single source, it pours in from the crowd.

Likewise, people are tapping into the collective knowledge and skill of their social networks to make things happen. Social websites invite user-generated content, which builds community ownership and grows the pool of participants through virtual connections. Open source software is the ever-evolving product of volunteers working together. Product development ideas are “crowdsourced” to (mostly) anonymous contributors who are compensated only in the pleasure of the work.

This should be our model for missions.

Throughout scripture, God uses “calling” to let His people know where He’s at work and how they can be part of it. The itinerary of Paul’s missionary journeys was determined on the fly by the Holy Spirit. God’s direction for an individual, confirmed by his local church, should be our model for selecting and sending missionaries. Say God is calling white, middle-class suburbanites by the dozens to “evangelized” Mexico. There is no better place for them to go, and no better place for us to send them, than to Mexico. The advent of their calling (again, confirmed by their sending churches,) should serve as an indicator of God’s activity in the world.

There are different types of “calling.” We usually think of calling as that which God plants in us and builds internally until we can’t help but do something about it (we often refer to it as a “passion”). This kind of “call” is often quite specific, and can usually be traced to a time when we clearly heard from God. You know, like “Jonah, go to Ninevah” or “Steve, move to Thailand.” Paul once had a dream of a man from Macedonia begging him to go there, and other times, the Holy Spirit “prevented” him from going where he thought he should.

Of course, not everyone gets explicit directions from heaven. Sometimes, God uses external influences to give us direction. The chance to do something important, something of eternal value. The joy of serving where gifts, skills, and ministry intersect. The pleas of the oppressed, the plight of the neglected.  These are the needs and opportunities that move us to action. These “calls” may be more general, but they’re no less significant for mobilization to God’s global mission.

I propose that we build a new missiology based on “callsourcing” our strategy. If unreached people groups in certain regions of the world “trend” in our collective consciousness and prayers, that’s God leading us. If our next-door neighbors make us aware of the spiritual need in their home countries, that’s the Holy Spirit giving us direction. We, the church, can know the will of God for our missionary efforts by listening to His call.

The resulting direction would be vastly superior to our categories and statistics. “Callsourcing” forces us to start with utter dependence on the Holy Spirit for guidance and leadership. Jesus instructs His disciples in this vary matter in Luke 10, when He sends them out on a mission trip. He gave them no objective criteria for strategic planning other than the Spirit. He tells them that they’ll know where to go and with whom to speak by blessing people. If their blessing “returned” to them, they were to move on. This spiritual guidance should be the foundation for our every missionary turn.

Reliance on the calling would build ownership in the mission. Rather than say, “If you want to be involved, we’ll find a place for you,” we would mobilize people by asking them to weigh in on what they see God doing among the nations. The line between the professionals and supporters would be erased. Unity, not resources, would be our commonality.

Certainly, there would be some objections to Callsourcing as the foundation of our missiology. What if nobody is called to certain places in the world? What if everyone wants to live on the beaches of Barcelona or in the alpine Switzerland? Can we trust the ignorant masses to “get the job done?” In my next post, I’ll examine these and more.

23 thoughts on “Callsourcing the Mission

  1. Good stuff! Reminds me of some books by Roland Allen called The Ministry of the Spirit and Missionary Methods; St. Paul’s or Ours? where he advocates for non-professional missionaries. What??? Trust people to be led? How efficient is that? But it is His way. I guess we’ll just have to deal with it.

  2. Yes, the Spirit of God can/does call us. In February, 1984, I was sitting, alone, in a small apartment in Pune, India. God clearly spoke to me via a question: “Why should you stay in America?” Neither my wife nor I could come up with a great answer to that piercing question. As a result, 15 months later, we (and our three blond-haired little boys) landed in Nairobi, Kenya. However, the “Kenya” choice came via others. Our statement was simply, “This is who we are. Where might God use such people?”

    Yet, I find a 21st century weakness/oversight in your posting today. You’ve completely overlooked the role and place of the national church and context in the equation. Yes, we can discern what we believe to be the voice of the Spirit, yet we can’t claim infallibility either for the individual or the supporting church. Such “calls” need to be confirmed by a good and clear understanding of the needs of the country one feels called to. “Test the spirits,” says Paul. Godly counsel when making a decision like this requires good research also. Otherwise, how can you argue when an individual and local church say “God told us to …”? I had friends in Kenya who were “called” personally and through their agreeing church to plant churches in Kenya because there weren’t any of their particular flavor of Baptist.

    Bottom line: I don’t think it’s an either/or issue. I believe it’s both/and: both the calling of the Spirit and the testing of that call.

  3. Oops…one final thought to complete the role of the national church. The movement of the gospel is no longer West to East and North to South. There is a mature (and maturing) church in many nations. If we believe we’re “called” to a certain place, we would do well to take the time to know what God is up to in that country and whether or not who we are and what we bring to the “table” is needed. Who better to speak into that than church leaders in the receiving country?

  4. Rick,
    While I used the “white, middle-class suburbanites” example in this post, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that this group was alone in the mission. I’ll point you to my reply to Justin in my last post:

    Say the majority of missionaries from the U.S. go to easy-to-get-to places like Latin America and Korea, and they share the gospel and plant churches there. And then God, in a sort of chain reaction, sends Latin American believers into the Middle East and Korean believers into China to share the gospel and plant churches. As those works mature, those fields produce and send workers into Southeast Asia and North Africa. This is a beautiful picture of God redeeming people and sending them out to the near cultures around them. The Great Commission belongs not only to the Church in the West, but to the whole Church, even those parts that are currently hearing the gospel for the first time.

    See? I’m not as “us-centric” as you thought!

    I’d like to address your other point, concerning the “God-told-us-to” trump card, in the next post.

  5. I agree. Is there something about the idea of calling that would make you assume a missionary would go in to a country without getting to know the national believers?

  6. I appreciate your passion, but in my brief reading I don’t think I understand. I track over 4,000 mission entities and have been personally in touch with all of the largest with regard to their mobilization & placement strategies. *Most* US-based mission agencies already have great respect for a person’s calling. Not every mission will be able to place someone (e.g. Latin America Mission won’t place someone who wants to go to Africa), but there are hundreds of agencies, enough to find one that fits your niche. They generally don’t try to force a person to go to some place they don’t feel called to. After all, agencies are voluntary places: it’s not like a draft. Yes, there are instances where people, churches and agencies go a bit off the deep end – the anecdotal instance of someone telling a missionary to Europe that they weren’t really a missionary and weren’t where God wanted them to be if they weren’t inside the 10/40 Window. But this seems to me to be less common than one might think, although like a shooting it gets a lot of bad press. Out of 200,000+ missionaries (and an equal number of short-termers not to mention locals doing cross-cultural work) how many are told they “must” go somewhere or that they are not real missionaries? Anyway the real challenge of the statistics remains this: presently a lot more people are called to nations “outside” the 10/40 Window than are called “inside” the Window. Does that mean God isn’t calling people to hard, dangerous fields? I rather doubt it. So in advocating a callsourcing strategy… how do we go about finding people whose calling is to hard places as well as easier-to-access ones?

    2: your example is an interesting one, and it does happen and is happening – I have several friends in Latin America involved in just that. But there are far fewer people going to the Middle East than are needed. And I don’t think it’s because the majority of those called to the Middle East are non-Westerners, convenient though that might be for us.

  7. Justin,
    You’re right. I don’t know of any missions organization that will “force” anyone to go to a certain part of the world. But the missions community in general, and the majority of those larger entities you’ve interacted with base their strategies on the “Unreached People Group” understanding of missions. This means that they promote the work in certain places more than they do others. Missionaries from some organizations are being “strategically re-deployed” to “less-reached” areas. The work in places like Europe, where I served for some time, is de-emphasized. This makes sense if you subscribe to the “UPG” philosophy. But I think most of the people who are involved in missions don’t even question this understanding of missions. Also, I work more with churches than with agencies. Most of them have never considered any missiology at all, and the few that have don’t realize that there may be other ways to look at it. Hence my series of posts.

    You doubt that God is calling the majority of Western missionaries to places outside the 10/40 Window. But the reason you doubt that is because you have a missiology that values going to places where people have not heard the gospel over staying where they have. Why isn’t God calling people to the hard, dangerous fields? I don’t know. But the reality is that He’s not. The majority of missionaries on the field feel called to missions, but not to go to the 10/40 Window. Why do you think that is? I imagine I could guess your answer. I’m suggesting that maybe it’s not just mass obedience on the part of those who are called to Europe and Latin America, and mass disobedience on the part of those who God really wishes would go to Pakistan.

    You ask, “how do we go about finding people whose calling is to hard places?” I don’t think we do. I think we disciple people into obedience and help people discern what God has for them. Trying to find people to go to certain places is doing it backward; that’s starting with a strategy and then trying to fit people into it. I prefer we start with the people (and what God is leading them to do) and build our strategy around that.

    You mention that there are far fewer people going to the Middle East than are needed. I do believe that we need to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers. But what do we need more workers for? Who says God isn’t going to do with a smaller “army” (a la Gideon) what only He can do? Why would you doubt that the majority of those who are being called to the Middle East would be non-Westerners? Why wouldn’t God use nearer-culture peoples to lead the work among them?

    There are no extra points for going to “hard” places. Comfort and convenience should never factor into our decisions about where to send missionaries, but neither should “difficulty.” We have received a global commission, but we need individual direction.

  8. Ernest and Justin,

    I see both of your points. I would fall somewhere in between, probably falling closer to Justin. Ernest, you almost denounce (too strong a word) the UPG philosophy, though by your own definition of ‘call’ perhaps this has in fact been a call to churches and individuals to go to these fields. In commenting on previous posts I believe that I have stated what I believe about UPGs and how the philosophy has become somewhat distorted. However, it is not that God has made His passion for those most divided from His Gospel unclear in Scripture. It must be, at least in some cases, that we just aren’t deliberately lifting up our eyes, which is disobedience.

    Did God not use a shoemaker deliberately lifting up his eyes and confronting his brethren with the results to motivate the British Baptists and many others to go to the world? Were they just not called before, or were they disobedient? Perhaps He is now still using many UPG researchers and advocates to do the same today. Could it not be that there has in fact been wide-scale disobedience on this matter in the past and present? We sinners are certainly prone to such neglect.

    Missions in my movement has been driven (as many have) with a priority on an individual call, above all else. Without purposefully lifting up our eyes to see the state of the Gospel in the world, and so without praying for a greater part of the world, we have often (not always) sent people back to the same countries, ignoring most of the world. As a movement, we still largely don’t think in terms of UPGs and research, but in terms of the last missionary presentation we saw or the last STM trip we took. This continues to result in most of our missionaries (US and otherwise) going to the same sets of people. I can say confidently that, at this point in my movement, countries and regions in which a church currently knows no missionaries almost always get zero mention. This is changing somewhat, but those who have taken up an UPG approach have usually done so without thinking, and so have come to be imbalanced.

    Do I believe that God only calls to what we classify as UPGs? Absolutely not. But do I trust that churches or individuals will, on a large scale, go to all the peoples that God is calling them to when they are neglecting both to purposefully lift up their eyes and to pray for those areas where the Gospel is not? No, I do not.

    Knowing that I am prone to go my own way, and that churches (made up of people like me) are as well, I trust that there will be a God-given balance to missions as we are obedient to lift up our eyes (necessitating research) and pray. Further, I believe this balance will come when we put an individual call in proper context (for we are too individualistic a people). God calls churches to send certain people to certain tasks, just as He calls the individuals. I believe we ought to look for a corporate call, just as much, if not more than an individual call.

    Can can, and sometimes does, knock us upside the head to turn us to neglected peoples, but it seems to be His general plan to lead as we obey things like “lifting up our eyes and praying.” Let us first admit that we, even on a large scale, can become missionally disobedient. Then, merely begin to present the full status of the Gospel in the world to as many as possible and trust that the Lord will call appropriately.

  9. Debtor Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the conversation.
    It may very well be that there is widespread disobedience on the part of Western Christians. But you still come at things from the perspective of prioritizing “unreached” over “reached”– something that I don’t see explicitly in scripture. I see a huge difference between “seek and save the lost” and “reach the unreached.” One assumes we know which of the lost need our attention at the expense of the others.

    Do you see the difference between depending on the Holy Spirit’s step-by-step guidance vs. assuming that God wants us to go to the upg’s? To me, it seems like saying, “God, I’ll go wherever you lead me, which will, of course, be to an unreached people group.”

    You make it sound as though “ignoring most of the world” is bad. But if that’s what God is doing among your group, what could be better? Who says we need “balance?” I address some of your points in my next post, but I just can’t agree with you that “lifting up our eyes” necessarily equals “going to unreached people groups.”

    Your point about the “corporate call” is a good one. That’s why I tried to be very clear in my last few posts about the need for and individual’s calling to be affirmed and supported by their sending churches. It is the role of the church to filter out the kook and quacks, to confirm gifting and calling, and to send, lead, and support missionaries.

    Thanks again for your comment.

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  11. On Justin’s comment: “the anecdotal instance of someone telling a missionary to Europe that they weren’t really a missionary and weren’t where God wanted them to be if they weren’t inside the 10/40 Window.” I can point you to 20 recent missionaries in my field (and myself) who all have had this personally said to them (and recounted directly to me firsthand) at least once (usually more) while fundraising in the States. Virtually all missionaries to my particular field here in Western Europe get this line, along with the phrases, “Why’d you pick an easy place to live? Couldn’t handle Africa? Wanted a vacation?”

    On Ernest’s comment “I don’t know of any missions organization that will ‘force’ anyone to go to a certain part of the world.”: I do know of one that essentially coerced a missionary within the last 5 years. A friend of mine felt very led to mission service in the UK, thought he found an agency that would send him there, then was told that he had to serve in a different (read: harder) country in Latin America for a year, basically to prove himself. He actually did this, and then the agency did make good in sending him to the UK, but I’m not sure what it accomplished since he had to learn a language for the one year and didn’t use it in the UK. When I met up with him, he was happy in the UK and hadn’t felt a different call to stay in Latin America.

  12. Confidential,
    This happened to me on a regular basis. I heard those things from both supporters and fellow workers all the time. Good thing I was confident in my calling!

  13. Thanks for the comments. Sorry I’m a bit slower to respond!

    (1) Given that 90% of all missionaries are currently deployed outside the Window, 10% to moderately difficult places, and 1% to very hard places, and God says we are to go into all the world, I somehow doubt that God is saying stay away from North India, West China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, etc.

    (2) If someone asks you why you are choosing an easy place to live… well, I don’t know what to tell someone to tell such a person. I know I would probably test my self-control and charity! That’s just a very unChristian uncharitable thing to say. It really gets my dander up. I should write a series of posts on THAT.

    (3) I am sorry that an agency would attempt to “coerce” anyone. I would advise someone who wants to work in Europe to work with a group like GEM or YWAM? or even Campus Crusade? Why would an agency that specializes in Europe send someone to Latin America?? :(

  14. p.s. I absolutely do NOT value going to unreached places OVER places where the Gospel has been heard. What I advocate – and have always advocated – is a 33/33/33 split between unevangelized, evangelized-non-Christian, and Christian regions. All I would like to see is a balance, rather than the 90/9/1 split we presently have.

  15. @Justin: It got my dander up, too, more than anything because the use of the words “pick/choose” also is a backhanded implication that God didn’t call me here–like I’m using Him as a foil to mask my will. It took all my diplomatic know-how to answer and explain to each person (it happened more than once) about the call. But still so many have actually said to me “this doesn’t count as missions” because a) I’m working with white people, b) I’m not using/learning a foreign language, and c) I’m not in a terribly impoverished land. Still trying to find that list in the Bible…

    On the group, it was a lesser-known group that had reach all over the globe. I’d never heard of them. I don’t know why my friend chose them as I also know about GEM and YWAM, even EMF, but my friend had already gone through this before I met him.

    –C. Holland

  16. I wonder what an appropriate response to that kind of question would be. Would it be to question the person’s own sense of their own calling? Defend your own calling, and explain how you know? Simply ignore them? What would be the charitable, kind, gentle, self-controlled response? Hummmmmmm

  17. I feel like I am not even qualified to speak into this conversation, but my husband and I have been so disheartened by sharing our hearts for Western Europe and having so many people we talk to kind of laugh it off and assume we want to be missionaries “for the experience”. We didn’t start out wanting to be missionaries. We wanted, and still want, to be obedient. By “hard places, moderately difficult”, etc. what do we mean? Do we mean living conditions or ease/difficulty of getting into the country or ease/difficulty of being a missionary in that country? Is it possible that the hardest living conditions are the “easiest” missionary conditions? I don’t think we can even compare, or that it matters. When you enter a country that is obviously spiritually dark, I don’t care if you can walk through the border screaming that you are a missionary or what percent of people have heard the gospel or if you’ll be living in luxury or in squalor, it will not be easy and who would ever choose to go there for fun? Any time we wage war against the ruler of this world, we are putting our children, ourselves, everything on the line. We are dying to ourselves and trusting that His purposes and plans are not about us, don’t rely on us, and are certainly are so far beyond our realm of understanding that we sit humbly in awe of the fact that he might choose to use us at all. I don’t know that the problem lies in missions agencies so much as in individual churches who plan, strategize and “cast vision” until there is no room for the holy spirit to speak into their plan. It seems like it would be very difficult to totally change direction, if the spirit leads, when so much time, effort, marketing and money have gone into a certain strategy. How can a plan that is virtually unchangeable be biblical? Then again, how much effort do we put into this conversation (I definitely think it is extremely valuable to talk about)? If it’s from God, it will succeed, if it’s not, it will fail? I don’t know. Just my thoughts. Like I said, we are relatively new to all of this, so I in no way think we have this all figured out. In fact, the further we do get into it all, the more we don’t know! Always interesting. Thanks for helping us sort this all out.

  18. @Stephanie: I couldn’t have expressed this better than you have. We’ve been in your shoes, being laughed off (I think we still are) and accused of resume padding. And you’re so right about defining easy, because my “easy” field’s attrition rate is through the roof. Over the almost 4 years we’ve been here, over 20 missionaries left way before their term commitment. Marriages collapsed, church plants collapsed, one couple left evangelicalism completely for Eastern Orthodox. None of that sounds like a cake walk mission field to me.
    –C. Holland

  19. @ Justin-I agree with you that God probably isn’t saying we should all stay out of the 10/40. As long as by “we” you mean the entire world. From my experience working with mslms in Spain, hands down, Latin Americans had better in roads with the north Africans than any of us white western Christians. And I keep hearing awesome stories about people from Asian countries heading to the 10/40 window. If I were an Afghan, I’d probably be more likely to listen to a Chinese talk about Christ, than I would an American. I absolutely agree that the Gospel needs to be taken to the 10/40 window. I just think we need to re-asses who it is that takes it there. Are we as Americans the best choice? Or are there better people out there who are better suited for the task? I think we have to be careful that we don’t look at the world as “us” and “them.” I’m sure you aren’t doing that, but your comment begged me to clarify this point.

  20. Confessions, I (generally) agree. I want to be sure that we are not “shirking” our duty out of fear, however. That’s very often the case in my experience. And, while Latins are doing quite well in the 10/40 Window, I don’t think that means there isn’t a role for a White Westerner. There are some great stories about Asians but by and large they are anecdotal stories – the Back to Jerusalem movement for example is a great story and a great inspiration but so far has sent very few people abroad. I am very hopeful of China’s long-term involvement however esp. as more and more Chinese are going abroad particularly to Africa to do business.

  21. Confessions,
    I’m not sure how you got a copy of my next post before I finished writing it, but your comment sums it up quite nicely. Thanks!

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