Most evangelicals have heard a sermon or two on the biblical calling to international missions. You have probably even memorized a few passages on the subject.
- “I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19 ESV, used throughout)
- “You will be my witnesses . . .” (Acts 1:8)
- “Here I am! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8)
- “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matt. 28:19)
But what happens when you want to move overseas to share the good news and your church won’t send you?
Maybe a pastor felt you needed more cross-cultural training or a Sunday School teacher had reservations about your understanding of Scripture. It could be that a fellow church member brought up a sin pattern in your life or a close friend believes the timing isn’t right for your family to undertake a major life transition.
“It is important to hold fast to the primacy of the local church in sending missionaries and submit to the church’s leadership.”
There are many reasons why international missions may not be best for you right now. Still, that doesn’t relieve the emotional sting of being told no, nor does it provide insight about your calling. In those moments, it is important to hold fast to the primacy of the local church in sending missionaries (Acts 13:3) and submit to the church’s leadership (Heb. 13:17).
With that in mind, here are five pieces of advice to consider.
1. Lean In
When confronted with difficult news, you will be tempted to withdraw emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Resist that temptation. God gives us the gift of Christian community—the church—precisely for these moments. Healthy discipleship includes moments of discomfort—truth spoken in love.
Humbly ask questions about why church leaders would advise against moving overseas. Did they identify red flags related to your character or doctrine? Or were there yellow flags related to your skill-set, education, health, finances or other logistical circumstances? The answers may be the difference between “no” and “not now.”
Inquire about mentoring or more in-depth discipleship opportunities that could overcome the weaknesses they identified and open the door to future international service.
If you care deeply about taking the gospel to the nations, it’s okay to be disappointed if your church says no to sending you. You probably feel sad. But don’t let emotions overthrow wisdom. Remember the basic truths of the Christian life. “Be quick to hear, slow to speak” (Jam. 1:19).
Now is the time to heed the counsel of your pastors, church leaders, and fellow Christians. Hear what they have to say. Seek wisdom. Listen to instruction.
Ask God to make you aware of all the ways he is working in your life through this situation. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jam. 4:10). What is he teaching you?
Thank God for placing you around Christian brothers and sisters that love you enough to tell you something you don’t want to hear. It doesn’t help anyone to send a missionary around the globe, only to have them return because of a crisis, scandal, or another difficulty that could have been prevented by wise counsel on the front end. Such occasions could also bring dishonor to the gospel.
We should all be grateful to God for churches that care about the souls of missionaries and the name of Jesus.
“We should all be grateful to God for churches that care about the souls of missionaries and the name of Jesus.”
4. Keep Serving
Being told that you shouldn’t move overseas could leave you feeling rejected or left out of God’s redemptive plan for the world. But that’s not true. Each of us has a mission field just outside our front door. Many pastors and missionaries say the best way to prepare for international missions is to start now, right where you are. Look for opportunities to continue ministering to internationals in your city or region.
Use the experience of serving where you are to reassess your calling. Invite others to pray and read the Bible with you as you ask these questions: Do I desire to serve overseas? Based on Scripture, am I qualified to be an international missionary? Have I been discipled and equipped? Does my faith family affirm my desires, qualifications, and training?
5. Don’t Lose Hope
The book of Acts recounts a story about the apostle Paul and his companions. On their journey north from Jerusalem, they decided to go into Asia to preach the gospel, but the Scripture says “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:6–7). They were told no by none other than Jesus himself. Yet, soon after the divine diversion, Paul received a vision to go and preach the good news in Macedonia, which would eventually result in the birth of a church. That congregation is now lovingly known as the recipient of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
God is not done with you. In fact, he may be sovereignly orchestrating a mission opportunity—whether it’s in a foreign land or just outside your front door—that is more fruitful than you could ever imagine. He desires to see unreached peoples come to know the gracious gift of salvation infinitely more than you do.
It is always hard to hear disappointing news, but we can eternally rest in the truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). You can trust his purposes, which he accomplishes through his church, and joyfully submit to the Lord by seeking wisdom from fellow Christians.
Seth Brown serves on the pastoral team at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also content editor at the Biblical Recorder, a news journal for North Carolina Baptists. Connect with him on Twitter @DSethBrown.