“I’m seriously thinking about vocational Christian work, but how can I be sure of God’s will?”
“What if I plan to get a secular job and use my position to develop a ministry?”
“How can I prepare myself for an effective ministry within the context of a secular career?”
“Wouldn’t a secular job be more secure financially and therefore better stewardship of my money?”
“Who came up with this support-raising idea?”
“Didn’t God change His missions budget in the New Testament?”
“Paul was a tent maker. He didn’t ask for gifts. Shouldn’t I follow his example?”
“What about getting a job for a few years before I go into ministry?”
“Should I pay off my debt before going into ministry”
“Can I really live on a missionary’s salary?”
“I’m interested in going into vocational Christian work, but my parents don’t want me to.”
“My parents are worried that I will be wasting my major.”
“What can I do to help my parents understand what I want to do?”
“What do you do when God says ‘Go,’ and my parents say ‘No?’”
[I’m seriously thinking about vocational Christian work, but how can I be sure of God’s will?]
This is probably the most common question believers ask. Any sincere, Spirit-filled Christian who wants to know the will of God concerning his life can know it, but this is typically a process, not a dramatic revelation.
There are two issues that swirl around this question of God’s will. The first is how one looks for affirmation when they are sensing God’s leading. Insight into this question can be found by reading through the Keith Davy letter, where he outlines the process by which we confirm God’s direction: through alignment of circumstances; prayerful impressions by the Holy Spirit; the council of others; reflecting upon our deepest desires; analyzing the pros and cons of the decisions/options (wisdom); and through insight from the Scriptures.
The second issue is what exactly it means to be “called” or receive a “calling” from God to ministry. What seems to paralyze most people is that they are expecting an unusual or spectacular sign—perhaps a cloud formation rolling by with their name on it?
Here’s a more helpful way to see things: If you read through the Scriptures, you’ll notice that a person’s coming to Christ is also referred to as a “calling” or being “called.”
So how does God call us into a relationship? A variety of ways: sometimes the calling is more cognitive (the gospel just seems to make sense); sometimes we see a great need in our life and reckon that Jesus is the answer; sometimes it’s an emotional experience; or the example of a Christian friend that convinces us the gospel is true. But make no mistake, the Holy Spirit is doing the calling; He simply uses a variety of microphones to get our attention.
Likewise, your calling to ministry can come through a variety of channels: you may logically conclude ministry to be a good stewardship of your life; you may be compelled by the great need of those who haven’t heard the gospel; it might be your experience of God using you in ministry; or simply an intense desire to serve God. There’s an assortment of means by which God call us into the ministry, most of which are not in the category of the miraculous.
There’s something else we should probably clarify about the idea of “calling.” The call to be a vocational Christian worker is really no different from the call to be a doctor, a homemaker, or a ditch-digger (though I must say I don’t know anyone personally who has felt called to the vocation ditch digging). Any vocation to which God directs you can glorify Him, and you should feel called and led to whatever your chosen occupation.
Being called primarily means being obedient to the ongoing direction of the Lord’s leading in your life. God is calling every Christian to submit his whole life to Him and thereby bring glory to His name. “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Finally, lest our “calling” become too subjective, the Scriptures affirm a community component of our calling. Meaning that those within the ministry to which you belong, should be able to affirm that God is indeed leading you into ministry. Others in the body of Christ should recognize your call.
[What if I plan to get a secular job and use my position to develop a ministry?]
This is a worthy goal and high calling. The marketplace is in desperate need of Christians who are willing to be ambassadors for Christ. So if this is what God is calling you to, “Go for it!” and don’t be dissuaded. This is a task worthy of investing your life.
Now, having said that, let me temper my optimism with a little wisdom. Our hearts are “deep waters” and when it comes to dating and careers “master can be quite tricksy” to quote Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Always be cautious about hidden motivations in these two areas.
Graduating from college is not without its anxieties. Simple questions like “What will I eat?” can dash dreams and ambitions. But there is also the stress of people’s expectations and the desires others have for your life: to pursue a career, get another degree, go into ministry, or to take that attractive counter job at McDonalds. If, like most people, you have a desire to make everyone happy, a good solution will almost always involve doing everything, and making one career trajectory satisfy everyone. All that to say, people will often pursue a career, with a goal of ministry, in an attempt to satisfy all parties or because they can’t decide, or won’t, between ministry and a secular job.
If God has called you into the mission field, than you must go. Let the chips fall where they may as it regards people’s expectations, or, as Winston Churchill put it: “It has been said that leaders must always keep their ear to the ground. All I can say is that the nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are found in that somewhat ungainly posture.” You cannot live to please everybody.
However, if God is clearly directing you to a career in a secular field, then you must, likewise, pursue that no matter who you may be letting down, including Cru staff. We are to fear God and not man.
If God is calling you to a vocation other than ministry, you should be genuinely excited about that field of study, and that job. If the only personal motivation for taking the job is the opportunity to do ministry, than it’s doubtful that God has called you to that employment. God wants you to have a job you can sink your heart into. As archbishop William Temple once said:
“To make the choice of career or profession on selfish grounds, without a true sense of calling, is probably the greatest single sin any young person can commit, for it is the deliberate withdrawal from allegiance to God of the greatest part of time and strength.”
Last, don’t overestimate the amount of time you will have for ministry in a secular job. Your employer is not paying you to evangelize on the job (though wouldn’t that be nice), but rather to make a profit for the company. You must be committed to working hard
for your employer, as unto Christ, and workweeks are seldom 40 hours. Bottom line: don’t expect to be able to do the work of a missionary while holding down another full-time job. If your heart is most passionate about ministry than do it vocationally, don’t try to moonlight at a second job, everyone gets less of you than they deserve.
[How can I prepare myself for an effective ministry within the context of a secular career?]
There are several things you can do. First we’d suggest you work through this 4-part Bible study on the life of Daniel written for students graduating into the business world. There is no better example of how to have an impact in a secular job, than the life of Daniel. Go through the Daniel studies contained on the Decisions CD.
Second, as soon as you arrive at your city of employment, look to find a ministry, and get plugged in right away. Obviously you need to do the same with a church, but getting involved with some kind of ministry or college and career group will be critical for training and support. Cru has a ministry targeted to young professionals called Priority Associates, which you should investigate. They are not in all cities, so go to their web site to see if they have a ministry where you’ll be working:
The Priority Associates web page also has some resources for effective ministry in the marketplace. Check out their resource page at:
But now, let’s backtrack. Many Christians fail to develop disciple-building opportunities “on the job,” because they simply were never equipped in basic ministry skills they could have learned on campus. So, if you are interested in having a future ministry at your place of work, get involved now with the ministry on campus and also plan on going on a Cru Summer project. It’s some of the best and most intensive ministry training available, and if you have the ability to negotiate the starting date of your job, schedule it after you’ve gone on a Summer Project. You’ll probably never have the two months free again—unless you get fired.
Let me make a final training suggestion: Cru now offers one-year internships that are really worth looking into. Haven’t you thought how nice it would be to go into a business setting with the training and experience of a Crusade staff member? In one year you’ll learn a ton, and if you’re seeking to spend the rest of your life having an impact for Christ in the marketplace, you couldn’t get better training; it’s like a year of ministry grad school. It can also give you another year to process your vocational decision, if you’re still on the fence, or just like to procrastinate major life decisions.
[Wouldn’t a secular job be more secure financially and therefore better stewardship of my money?]
Financial security should probably not be the major factor in the decision about your career. If you have gifting and aptitude as a music teacher, you should probably do it regardless if pays less than the job at 7-11. In Matthew 6:24-33 Jesus clarifies the issue of financial security:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? ...So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The greatest security for the future, solely resides in doing the will of God and in seeking first the things of his kingdom and the expansion of it.
But this always leads to a related question. “What if I could make a ton of money and fund a whole platoon of missionaries. Wouldn’t that be better stewardship than going into ministry myself?” How this question is answered is deeply rooted in whether I’m the one you’re planning to support — that was a joke.
Actually, if you are torn between being a laborer in the missionary enterprise and funding it, be the laborer. Remember this familiar passage:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt. 9:36-38)
Jesus looks around at the spiritual hunger and observes that the greatest need is for laborers, not money. There are a billion Christian businessmen and women, but not many qualified or willing to serve as missionaries.
[Who came up with this support-raising idea?]
Nearly 3,300 years ago, God designed a comprehensive financial plan that would adequately provide the salaries and benefits of His full-time workers. In the book of Numbers, God called the Levites to be His first full-time ministers.
There were plenty of qualified and motivated laymen (i.e. Moses, Joshua, Caleb) to work in the tabernacle, but God was looking for more than part-time help and summer lifeguards. He wanted to meet the demanding spiritual needs of the nation, and even the most dedicated workers could not possibly meet these needs, in their spare time alone.
So, God created a position for vocational ministers in His kingdom, and these first full-time workers, the Levites, were instructed to rely on God for their income and financial stability.
The Lord tells Aaron in Numbers 18:20,21 “...I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel...to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform...“ (See also Deuteronomy 18:1,2.)
The Lord staked His credibility on providing financial security for His servants. While the nation of Israel worked the land and faced the financial uncertainties of drought, disease and famine, the Lord promised to provide for the Levites through the tithes and offerings of their countrymen.
In addition, when God set up His employee pay scale, His checking account was not overdrawn (Numbers 18:8-13). He demanded that His workers be well cared for. The Lord instructed the people to set aside the “most holy gifts” and “the best of the fresh wine and of the grain” for His ministers. The Israelites were charged with the responsibility of providing for the finances of the Levites, and they were to give of their best.
[Didn’t God change His missions budget in the New Testament?]
After Christ came, God did establish a new covenant whereby any believer (not just those in the family of Levi) could serve Him in vocational ministry. Jesus, who was a carpenter, could have funded His ministry by building furniture or repairing carts and tables fulltime, then teaching and healing during His spare time. But that’s not the example He left those He calls to vocational service.
As Jesus went out ministering full-time, He relied on people (i.e. Mary, Martha, Lazarus) “who helped ...support Him out of their own means” (Luke 8:3). Jesus had financial supporters.
When Christ commissioned His followers “to every city and place,” He gave them the spiritual authority to minister and told them to trust Him for their physical provisions. “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9,10).
They were to accept gifts from others, as Jesus said, “eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:4-7). A laborer in God’s kingdom is truly worthy of being paid for his service. The workers in the early church lived on the same system of support that God established with the Levites.
[Paul was a tent maker. He didn’t ask for gifts. Shouldn’t I follow his example?]
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:14, “so also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” He explains that God set up a system of financial support for His workers. He also writes that even though he had the right to be supported by the Corinthians, he chose to make tents. This was an exception, however, to Paul’s normal method of ministry.
Paul wanted to make sure that the Corinthians to whom he preached had no reason to question his motives. He chose to live on a smaller salary and take less from the Corinthians in order to validate his character, his faith and his ministry. With the Corinthian church Paul may have supplemented his income by sewing canvas, but he did rely on gifts from supporters.
Many times in the New Testament (Philippians 4:10- 16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5) we see that the churches gave sacrificially to support Paul’s work. He commended them for their support and reminded them of the eternal profit of their gifts. “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account” (Philippians 4:17).
This great missionary willingly received financial support from other Christians and churches, and he asked for support. “When I go to Spain...I hope to have you assist me on my journey” (Romans 15:24). The original language in this verse confirms Paul’s request for money. John also made reference to support: “For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 7,8).
In examining Scripture it is clear that Paul was a support- raising missionary, and his part-time job in Corinth was a special exception to God’s financial plan for His full-time workers. The lifestyle of supported ministry that he was called to was little different than the models followed by both Levites of the Old Testament and Jesus Himself.
“Is it less spiritual to look for a salaried missionary job rather than a support-raising position?”
Raising support does not make you holier than other Christians. Walking on water or raising the dead, yeah, definitely, but not raising support. Many outstanding denominations and missions groups offer salaries to their missionaries, and the Lord is honoring their ministries. All Christians need to live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:6) regardless of how they receive their paychecks. The bottom line though, is that you need to be willing (without shrinking back) to do whatever the Lord asks you to do, and to work wherever he is leading or you cease to be qualified for any missionary career (salaried or supported).
[What about getting a job for a few years before I go into ministry?]
This is certainly not a question with a yes/no answer. Sometimes a few years in the work world is exactly what you need to mature, gain experience, and pay off debt. It can also make support raising easier if you use the time to get rooted in a good church. The cautions are as follows:
Do not take a job to satisfy the expectations of others. If the Lord is leading you to work elsewhere for a couple years, that is certainly one thing, but if you’re doing it to minimize the friction caused by going into ministry (or not using your major), or you are just postponing the challenge of support development, well...don’t.
Look at what Jesus says in Luke 9:59-62: He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
While tempting to take the time to explain the passage, it hardly requires it: the admonition is pretty straightforward.
Also consider that in light of the challenges presented by support raising, as well as disappointing others, that it’s much easier to go into ministry first and later switch to a secular job, rather than the other way around. Life has a way of reeling you in, and it becomes increasingly difficult to think of leaving a steady paycheck to go raise financial support. Loss of even the slightest motivation and momentum you now possess can be decisive in whether you ever enter the ministry.
If your heart is telling you to do ministry now, do it now.
[Should I pay off my debt before going into ministry?]
Fifty years ago the world was much different as it relates to personal debt. In today’s world some degree of debt for cars, college, or a home, is really unavoidable, and unfortunately you can no longer pay off this debt using cattle and chickens. It’s a new world.
There are some guidelines as to how much debt you are able to carry when coming on staff with Cru (see financial information), but besides these limitations, debt should not be restrictive for entering the world of ministry, any more than it would be for entering another occupation. You raise support for your salary. Out of your salary, bills must be paid, and in today’s world part of those bills will relate to loans for college, cars, homes, and, of course, overdue rental fees to Blockbuster.
[Can I really live on a missionary’s salary?]
This depends on your definition of living. Will you be able to drive a Hummer to campus? No. However, living on a moderate salary does not mean you’ll have to pander for recyclables and bathe at the YMCA. In most Christian organizations your income will allow you a sufficient amount to give cheerfully to the Lord’s work (2 Corinthians 9:8), as well as adequately meet your daily needs, educate your children, and provide for your retirement.
Almost 67 percent of the more than 420 North American Protestant mission organizations require their staff members to develop their own financial support. That’s more than 67,000 people depending on vocational ministry salaries. In Cru, for example, each staff member’s salary is evaluated annually in light of the Consumer Price Index and, if necessary, adjusted to the rising cost of living.
In addition to salaries, a number of other expenses may be covered through reimbursements (automobile, insurance and ministry expenses). Plus a group insurance plan provides staff members with full health coverage for personal injuries and sickness; and a life insurance and pension program is designed to meet individual needs and give families a reasonable level of security. It is the philosophy of Cru in financial matters that a staff member should be free to minister without undue financial pressures.
The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with His hand. I have been young and now I am old. And in all my years l have never seen the Lord forsake a man who loves him, nor have I seen the children of the godly go hungry. Instead, the godly are able to be generous with their gifts and loans to others, and their children are a blessing (Psalm 37:23-26, Living Bible).
“I’m willing to do what God wants, but right now I just don’t feel comfortable raising support.”
Most people find themselves a little uneasy as they approach the challenge of support raising. It seems to go against our American culture to depend on others... especially for finances.
As Christians we heed strong scriptural warnings about our culture’s view of morality, materialism, etc. Similarly, we should not rely on the world’s view, or our own feelings, when it comes to God’s Word on support for His full-time ministers. The Bible strongly states that accepting support gifts is part of God’s economy.
Raising support is a matter of obedience, not feelings. If God calls you to a supported ministry position, then He will provide everything you need to fulfill your ministry (including emotional strength and perseverance). “...my God shall supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19), and “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Developing a financial support team is a faith adventure and an opportunity to see God work in your life and the lives of those who will financially stand with you. It is also the best possible preparation for the ministry, because asking people if they would like to know Christ is no easier than asking someone to support your ministry. Both require courage and humility. What are cultivated in support raising are the prerequisite virtues for a minister of the gospel.
You must choose to remember God’s promise to meet your needs and to bless those who give. The phrase “it is more blessed to give than to receive” is not a trite platitude, but the conviction of our Lord Jesus (Acts 20:35). God honors giving and promises to return His blessings a hundred-fold. In Malachi 3:10-12 God commands, “test me now in this. Will I not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Your supporters are not merely doing you a favor, but you are helping them to make investments which will return benefits to them now and throughout eternity.
For further study and consideration: Numbers 1:47- 54; Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 18:1-6; Luke 8:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9; Matthew 16:25; Luke 6:38; Jeremiah 29:11; John 15:16.
[I’m interested in going into vocational Christian work, but my parents don’t want me to.]
When the Bible clearly teaches that we are to both honor and obey our parents, it’s hard to justify going against their wishes. Both the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) and Ephesians 6:1-3, as well as other passages, admonish children to revere and obey their fathers and mothers.
Your parents’ opinions are important. Your mother and father love you and are probably as concerned with your future as you are. So, how do you weigh your parents’ wishes when you’re evaluating many factors in trying to discern God’s leading for your future? Are their wishes the predominant criteria or merely one voice in the crowd?
Neither. Your parents’ wishes should be considered as a very significant piece of information, but not the determinative factor.
There was a period of time in your life when you were totally under your parents’ authority. However, the Scriptures indicate that with the onset of adulthood, your accountability shifts from your parents to your own independent responsibility to God.
We are always to be committed to honoring our parents, but there comes a time when we are personally accountable before God. The Bible seems to indicate that a person was considered fully independent around the age of 20. For example, God required men 20 years old and upward to fight in the Israelite army (Numbers 1), and He expected them to pay the temple tax at the age of 20 (Exodus 38:21-26).
When Israel was ready to enter the promised land, God considered each person above 20 years accountable for his own decision to cross the Jordan or remain behind. Was this not the case, those over 20 that responded to their parents’ wishes to stay would have been spared God’s judgment. They were not. God held them accountable, and all those of majority age (20 years) died and did not see the land of Canaan (Numbers 32:11).
The New Testament also addresses the issue of the age of adulthood or the time of breaking with parental authority, though a specific age is not given. As in Genesis 2:24, Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7) clearly states that a married couple should depart from their family homes (which were the places of government and parental authority) and begin their own home. Jewish men usually married by their 19th year and were held responsible before the Lord.
Jesus challenged young men (probably near the age of 20) to leave their parents and follow Him. The Bible records in mark 1:20 that, “...they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him” (see also Matthew 4:22).
Though they had probably discussed Jesus’ ministry as a family, there is no biblical record that they even consulted their parents about their vocational choice when the directive came from the Lord.
We see that the sweep of Scripture points to the necessity to honor our parents, and it recognizes that at a certain age, roughly around age 20, a person must assume responsibility for his own life decisions.
It is both biblically and psychologically sound that you should develop greater autonomy throughout your college years, while still maintaining an attitude of honor and respect for your parents, supplemented by regular communication and seeking of counsel.
When an individual is on the threshold of adulthood (about 20 years), that person alone is responsible for the decisions he makes. The final say must belong to the individual, and this may unfortunately be contrary to parental wishes. What Jesus communicates (Luke 12: 51, Luke 9:59-62, Mark 3:31-35) is that the call of God is much more important than the call of the family. We must always respect and honor our parents, but our responsibility to obey subsides when we become independent adults.
[My parents are worried that I will be wasting my major.]
That’s a very reasonable concern, considering in many cases they have helped pay for the education.
In all fairness, to do just about anything these days, including being a missionary or a pastor, you need a college education, so nothing has been wasted. Nor does a career jog into missionary work preclude the possibility you will return to your field of study. The current average is about three job changes and several different career paths for individuals in their first ten years in the workforce. Whatever you do, your undergraduate degree will be essential.
The academic part of your education, while very important, is also only one part of your higher education. While in college you also learned how to deal with pressure, how to live independently, how to learn, and, most importantly, how to get along with other people. These benefits of your education will never be lost.
Notice, and this is important, that the Lord never hesitated to call people away from their majors or life work to serve Him full time. For example, Moses, who was raised in Pharaoh’s court, listened to God’s call and left a prestigious leadership position. Peter “majored” in oceanography, Matthew in tax accounting and Luke in medicine. Jesus never apologized for calling them away from their “majors.”
Maybe your parents are really saying, “We don’t want you to waste the buying power of your education.” That’s understandable. But, the way that you waste something is by spending it on something of lesser value. Buying land in Florida with your life’s savings, only to find that it is six feet under a lake, is wasting your money.
The most valuable commodity in all the universe is the human soul. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Certainly it is not wasteful to invest something that you have for something of higher value. In a ministry you’re investing your education in the changing of people’s lives for all eternity. You’re purchasing the commodity of highest value. That’s no waste. That’s a phenomenal investment.
[What can I do to help my parents understand what I want to do?]
First of all, sit down and ask them what their questions are. “I know you have some concerns about my future decisions, and I’d like to understand them” will go a long way in opening up communication. By tilting the time to listen, you’re not only showing consideration and respect, but you’ll also be better able to address their specific questions.
Explain what you want to do and why (your parents need to see your heart and the depth of your conviction). Calmly communicate your goals and desires, and give them adequate information on the organization that you will be with.
Most Christian organizations have adequate to excellent programs for insurance, health care and retirement. Good organizations will be pleased to send information regarding their salary and benefits package. Many objections come from misinformation or a total lack of information. Talk to your parents in the context of how much you appreciate them and all that they have done for you.
If you sense pressure to fulfill their expectations more than your convictions, then consider saying, “I want you to know how much I’ve appreciated all you’ve sacrificed for my education. Now that I’m making my career choices do you have some expectations in return for your investment or am I free to make my own choices?” Getting their expectations out on the table will help both you and them evaluate their validity. Remember: your parents want what they perceive to be the best for you.
Some other steps to take:
• Be filled with the Holy Spirit, and pray for your parents.
• Determine specifically what questions or objections your parents have.
• Take the initiative to get answers and helpful information for your parents.
• Introduce your parents to other people involved with the organization in which you are interested.
• Begin to take personal responsibility for the decisions you have to make.
• Be firm and assured in your call to vocational Christian work. Parents easily can sense apprehension, which can raise further doubts in their minds.
• Remember that disapproval probably does not mean that your parents will disown you. For most parents their children will always remain exactly that - their children. Letting go is often very difficult.
In response to commonly asked questions, Roger Randall has written this article about full-time vocational ministry. Roger, who has served on the staff of Cru for 25 years, has counseled thousands of university students and young professionals regarding their career decisions.
[What do you do when God says ‘Go,’ and my parents say ‘No?’]
My parents were full of conflicting emotions when my wife and I first thought God was calling us to a term in South America.
They called themselves Christians, as 90 percent of the people in England do, but they weren’t churchgoers. Nevertheless, they were somewhat proud that I was going to a distant part of the world and that I would be representing something good. They were proud that their child was doing something different from the general run of things, so they had something to talk about with their neighbors that their friends didn’t have to talk about.
But at the same time they were often quite embarrassed because they didn’t know quite how to articulate what I was doing. If I had been going overseas to work with a bank, they could have talked about that with their friends. But since I was going to be a missionary--what were they to say? They didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it.
Besides that, we just had our first child, and they were now grandparents. They felt that they were being deprived because they would not be able to see their children or their grandchildren. It left a void for them.
After I returned from Chile in 1970, I helped train recruits for our mission, the South American Missionary Society. Once a year, we held a conference for the parents of missionaries. A large proportion of our missionaries’ parents came; many of them were non-Christian.
Often at the conferences, late into the evening, we would see the parents gathered around the tables talking to one another, showing off their children’s photographs. They talked about the reasons they resented the fact that their children were overseas. But when they were able to talk to other parents of missionaries, some of these resentments dissipated.
One cause of resentments is that they think their children are throwing away a promising career. While many say, as my parents did, “I’m really thrilled that my son is not doing what everyone else is doing,” at the same time they’re thinking, “Why can’t he do what everybody else is doing? Why does he throw away his life like this?”
Another problem is the insecurity of it all. Many parents, especially those who haven’t traveled much, TM picture their children in the midst of a jungle somewhere with wild animals roaring at them, snakes hissing at their feet, and spiders climbing up their pant legs.
Parents also worry about what will happen if they need their children. As they get older and frail, they want to know whether their children will be able to fly home in an emergency.
What to do When Parents Say No :
• Reflect on the way you’ve represented your great ideas before. You’ve sounded certain about so many other things that you are no longer very interested in. They’ve seen you dating three or four different people and every one of them, you thought, was God’s one for you. How are your parents to know this plan to go overseas is not just another of your many enthusiasms?
• Ask them to pray with you for several months about your plans. If your parents are Christians, say to them, “Can we both seek the guidance of God during the next six months? If it’s right for me, I trust that God will show that to you. If that’s not so, then one of us is wrong. And it may be me.” This kind of humility is important.
• Ask them why they feel as they do. And listen carefully! They may be right! As your parents, they know you better than you know yourself. Let them know you really want to know why they are so strongly opposed. Then question yourself quite carefully. A high proportion of missionaries should never have gone overseas. I know people who really didn’t have what it took to be out there. If I had only spoken to their parents first, I would have known that.
• Introduce them to someone senior in the mission agency. When my parents met some people who are overseeing me, they found out they were good and competent people, and they were not odd. I got out of the way for part of that time so my parents could talk to the mission representatives alone. Then they could say things they knew about me that the mission needed to know.
• Let them know you haven’t just dismissed their objections. I said to my dad, “You’re right, Dad. I realize that if I follow what I believe to be the Lord’s call to the mission field, that means I won’t have the kind of career I would if I stayed here. Neither will I earn the kind of money that I could. I’ve really struggled with that. But I’ve come to the conclusion that there are bigger values and issues.”
• Bear in mind the ridicule your parents may face from friends. Sometimes the criticisms they express most stridently are not what they feel, but are reflections of the unkind things other people have said to them that they couldn’t answer. Confronting you may be their way of looking for answers.
• Express your gratitude for their past provisions for you. I said, “Dad, I couldn’t be doing this were it not for the excellent education you’ve given me. If I need all this education to make progress in this society, I need even more to be effective in another culture.”
• Help them to realize many missionaries are dealing with more urgent and fundamental questions than what we meet here. For instance, the missionaries in my mission are saving whole populations from starvation, helping develop agriculture, teaching farm management and developing literacy programs. A number of parents visited our work and were very impressed with what we were doing. One father, a cattle breeder, looked over our stock and gave the most unusual gift any mission may have ever gotten- -bull semen!
• Seek counsel from an older Christian who knows your family. The point may come when you must go in the face of parental opposition. But first, find an older Christian who will tell you whether you’re an impetuous young person. If so, perhaps you should wait for a little while. A year may seem like the end of the world to you, but it may be better for you to go later.
• If you do leave in the face of parental opposition, it’s good to know you have left behind somebody who cares for you and your parents. A lot can happen while you’re away. I’ve seen antagonistic parents won over, and I’ve seen the chasm become so wide that it can never be bridged. Having this mutual friend helps prevent the chasm from getting any wider.
• Let them know you’ll take care of them as they grow older. It’s good to have a family chat with siblings about who will take care of your parents as they grow older. It’s our Christian responsibility to see that our parents have adequate provision and care.
• Realize the costs they pay when you go overseas. Parents face more of the costs of missionary service than their children. You’ve got the adventure; you get to go to new places. But your parents are left behind, with your photograph over the fireplace. The Lord may assess their contribution as greater than yours.
It’s also important to show your appreciation for their sacrifice; once you leave, go out of your way to keep up the communication. My wife, Renee, and I still call her parents in England once a month.
We tried to give our parents such a clear description of our daily activities that they could sit in their armchair on a winter’s evening and picture exactly what we were doing. We often slipped copies of our slides (without the cardboard frame) into our letters. We sent my parents one of a Mapuche woman holding our 4-year-old, just like a granny. Wouldn’t you know, that’s the photo they put over the mantelpiece.
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Part 5 to living missionally
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