Do missionaries have a “special” calling? How do we know what our vocation is? And how do we balance pursuing the ordinary good gifts of this life against making sacrifices for the kingdom?

These were some of the questions that began a special session on vocation at last month’s Church Missionary Society Summer School in Katoomba. The purpose wasn’t to “guilt trip” listeners into offering to serve in cross-cultural mission, but to challenge each of them to think about what their true service for the Lord should look like.

The Rev Dr David Sandifer, who has spent the past three years teaching at a theological college in the Netherlands, sought to provide a framework to help listeners to respond to the questions.

Bring Glory to God

First, he noted that while the purpose of human beings has always been to glorify God, for Christians a “call” also refers to our election and God’s purposes for us.

“In fact, in Jude 1:1, the ‘called’ equals ‘the Christians’,” Dr Sandifer said. “So, the heart of our calling, as Christians, is to join Christ and his work in redeeming the world... and part of this calling is specifically to suffer for Christ, as 1 Peter [2:21] makes clear.”

He added that each of us has unique “callings” – some of which we enter into deliberately such as marriage or a new job, while others are determined by situation and are outside our control, such as living with a disease or caring for a loved one.

How to be most useful for the Lord

Dr Sandifer said that while it was good to ask how – with our particular gifts and opportunities – we could give God glory in our lives, a better question to ask was how our lives could be most useful for advancing the kingdom of God on earth. 

He told the group that as a young man he had considered a career in automotive design. Eventually he decided that, although there is certainly a place for Christian car designers, he felt he could be most useful for the kingdom by choosing the path of full-time ministry.

His fellow presenter at the session, new missionary to Tanzania, Brenton Kilby, told the group he had once thought his contribution to global mission would be to do what he could “in the little patch” around him. His dream had been to work in crocodile research in northern Australia and be a witness in the science world.

“Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that I had chosen this course of life without ever really considering God’s call to global mission,” he said. “Not everyone is called to be a missionary, but I’d never even entertained the thought.

“We often say we are willing to go, all the while planning to stay. We are willing to go in response to a golden envelope coming down [from heaven] on a cushion with a personal, signed calling card!... What if we flipped it? What if we all planned to go but were willing to stay? What would our lives look like then?

“Ultimately, God’s promises and calling compelled [my wife Mel and I] many years ago to plan to go and be willing to stay. We would work towards going, and if God’s Church told us we weren’t the right people to go, then we would serve in Australia, supporting global mission from here.”

Mr Kilby said he knew one couple who had been at Summer School in 2023 and, a year later, were on the cusp of serving God’s global church overseas with CMS. Another couple who had realised they were “planning to stay” had had a similar conversation with CMS, which showed them they weren’t yet ready or suited to go. They planned to revisit the idea in five years.


God’s choice

Dr Sandifer said surrender to the Lord’s will was really at the heart of our calling as Christians, adding: “If we want to discern what God is calling us to, we need to be sure that we have laid our lives on the altar – that we have consecrated our lives to him completely, and without reservation.

“It is not a question of ‘What is my calling?’ but ‘What is God’s calling on my life?’. God is the one who gets to decide.”

He said that while some people might experience a call “through a strong personal sense of God’s leading, maybe even a voice, like the apostle Paul... [a call] may come through more ordinary means, as we pray and consider possibilities. But, either way, we can trust that God will lead us and be clear. Though it may involve great sacrifices, to follow God’spath for our lives is the most joyful thing possible.”