Strategic action step 3: Increase number of workers in the field through a special emphasis and do better at preparing them for the work.
Editor’s Note — This is part 3 of 5 in a series related to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd’s Vision 2025 proposal that will be voted on at the SBC annual meeting in June. To follow the series, visit tabonline.org/vision2025.
Bottom line for how to achieve Action Step 3, according to IMB leaders: more churches and entities working with individuals to discern a ministry call and prepare for it.
What does it mean to be “called” as a missionary? What does that really look like?
Scott Ray, director of assessment and deployment for the International Mission Board, shared with TAB Media how everyone’s calling looks different.
Ministry callings come in many forms and include work done at home and abroad, he said.
While this article focuses on a call to serve overseas, the concept of discerning and preparing for a call can be applied across the board.
When thinking about being called internationally, some believers are “free agents,” said Ray, who served with his family in India for more than a decade. They are called to the overall task of the Great Commission but open to wherever God uses them. Others know emphatically they are called to a specific place or people group, he added.
For the Ray family, their calling focused on reaching the spiritually lost in India. But in order to know that, they went on short-term missions trips to various places.
“For me, every time, it was an affirmation that God is at work everywhere, but His place for me was India,” Ray said. His wife, on the other hand, had more of a general call until she went on a short-term trip without him to India.
“She called me and said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. It is India.’”
To help sort out a candidate’s assignment and other questions, the IMB has a thorough missionary assessment process that includes three phases encompassing seven steps, with a key part involving the individual or family’s home church, according to the IMB website.
In the first phase, the candidate works with his or her church and pastor to help determine readiness. In the second phase, the candidate goes through a comprehensive assessment with IMB staff that covers spiritual maturity, physical health and emotional wellness.
Missionary team leaders then coordinate a “final field interview” that focuses on determining the best fit for applicants and missionary teams.
It is during the assessment process that issues such as depression and addictions are discovered and addressed. Debt, family difficulties and other concerns also are worked on, and mentoring on how to prepare for spiritual warfare is provided.
But even with all that is involved in the assessment and preparation, there is no perfect formula for evaluating a calling, Ray said.
“There are aspects of it that we know exactly what we need to do and when we need to do it, but it is very much an art rather than science.”
The focus of the missionary assessment process, which can take anywhere from six months to more than a year, isn’t about questioning a candidate’s calling, Ray noted.
“We work with them on [their calling] very early so the point of the process is not questioning their call,” he emphasized. “The point of the process is you are getting ready to enter into a battlefield.
“You’re getting ready to go into an area where the enemy doesn’t want you there.”
For that reason, Ray said, the IMB focuses on ensuring — as much as possible — that a missionary is as healthy and sustainable as they can be when an unexpected medical or spiritual issue pops up. It’s the preparation on the front end, he noted, that can help avoid a missionary needing to unexpectedly leave the field.
“[When] people have to leave the field before their time, (it) can do damage to themselves, their family, the work,” he said. “So, we try to work with them to get them as healthy and sustainable as possible.”
And with the COVID-19 pandemic came even more issues.
The number of candidates sharing about anxiety, depression and struggles with pornography rose dramatically, Ray said.
“Pornography has become rampant in our society, and that is an area we need them walking in freedom from for a pretty considerable amount of time,” he said. “And so we work with them, their mentors and their churches on getting to that point of freedom.”
IMB’s website clearly notes that a person should have “at least one year of abstinence from pornography before starting an assignment. Other related issues of sexual purity are also considered and addressed.”
The rise of student debt has also become another top issue, especially among candidates pursuing the Journeyman program, where recent college graduates under the age of 30 commit to a two-year term.
“As they are having to take on more student debt to make it through college, it’s a heavy burden that can end up delaying them a good bit before they can go to the field,” he said. “There are all of those issues that are continuing to rise.”
Sensing the call?
Ray always asks candidates to consider where they are right now. Are they going on short-term missions trips? Are they regularly sharing their faith, discipling someone and regularly spending time in prayer and studying God’s word?
“You need to look at what God has you involved in right now and continue to grow in those areas,” he said. “If you’re not reading your Bible, if you’re not in prayer … you need to be … so that you will continue when you get overseas.”
For more information, visit imb.org/go.
Clarification on Action 2 reported last week: The goal is to add 5,000 new congregations in whatever form that means, not necessarily church plants.