An overwhelming 98.75% of all missionaries serve in well-evangelized nations. This means that less than 2% of all missionaries serve within the unreached nations in the 10/40 window. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? In addition to that statistic, studies also show that only $1 out of $100 donated to missions goes to support efforts in that same region of the world. I don’t know about you but that seems like an irresponsible distribution of church resources. Either we as a church are ignorant to the great need in these parts of the world or we’ve simply found a way to justify missions without sacrifice. I’d say it’s a little bit of both. After reflecting upon these stats, I think that the reason why many of us fail to go into such territories is because we think our vision in ministry should be determined by our gifting.
When you ask someone what they are “called” to do, many, including myself, would start explaining the gifts and talents God has given them. But more recently, it has come to my attention that such a notion is only supported by the assumption that vision revolves around the individual. It seems as though our vision is more determined by our temperament, gifting and talents than it is by God’s will. We assume that the development of our gifts will lead us towards God’s desired path for our life, but such a presumption completely hinges on a self-centered perspective.
What if we took a step back and looked at the world before we started examining our personal “calling”? What if context supersedes our specific gifting? This may contradict western philosophy, but I think it resonates with God’s kingdom. The American dream doesn’t only promote the carnal ambition for material gain, it also promotes a seemingly righteous pursuit for individual excellence. It urges every man, woman or child to thrive in their destiny. With such a value deeply embedded in our culture, it’s easy for such an idea to find a home in the North American church. It’s definitely effortless to justify this kind of value in scripture.
However, I was struck by Romans 12 where Paul identifies how we are able to discover God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.” It seems as though “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice” creates the ideal context in which we are able to “test and approve what God’ s will is.” According to this text, it is amidst sacrifice where God’s will is found. God’s will is most clear when we’ve laid our ambitions aside. Jesus helps us find our destiny by explaining that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).
Could it be possible for us to compromise God’s vision for the sake of our personal ambition? I’m sad to say that it is. It gets even more difficult when our personal ambitions resemble an act of service to God. Sometimes a godly ambition can still be contradictory to God’s will. I mean imagine King Saul’s diverging path from God’s will. When you look at this story, you gotta feel for the guy. He’s waiting for Samuel to offer the sacrifice, and with the influence of his pragmatic mind, he goes ahead and does it himself. He later goes out to battle with divine instructions to kill everything in the nation, and he ends up preserving some cattle to sacrifice later. I mean come on, the guy didn’t save the cattle for his own personal ranch, he saved them so that he could sacrifice the animals before God. However, good intentions can never justify disobedience. Although Saul was genuine in his efforts to serve God, he let his mind and royal position drown out the Lord’s guidance.
It’s incredibly easy to avoid difficult paths in the name of one’s individual “calling.” I think I personally do this all the time. A need presents itself to help kids in Africa, I respond with a clear explanation as to why I am “called” to college students in Boston. It’s as if my “calling” has the ability to mute the needs of the world. The danger in crying “calling” at the face of every need that presents itself, is that we rule out the possibility that God may want to use us outside our gifting. We are obsessed with specialization and assume that God can only work one way with one type of person.
Listen, I’m not telling us all to jump at every third world problem that presents itself. But I’m asking myself…
$1 out of every $100?
2% out of all missionaries?
I’m sure there are ways to justify a focus on individual destiny, but I can’t help but see where it has taken us thus far. While the world develops and cultivates their “calling”, millions in the 10/40 window continue to live without a Savior. It’s time to stop squeezing God’s will into our calling and start fitting our gifting into His vision.