The Holy Spirit’s call to missions is denied or confirmed through the local church. Sommer erroneously suggests that “the call of a missionary is confirmed through the financial gifts of God’s people” (Sommer 1999, 69). He also suggests that anyone who senses the call to missions should find a church that will “encourage your missionary call” (Sommer 1999, 69) rather than asking the church that knows the candidate best to evaluate the call. While the Holy Spirit indeed calls individuals, that call should be confirmed or denied by the local church. Schnabel says, “The church united in prayer is the place where God answers the prayer for strength to engage in courageous missionary work” (2004, 416). In Acts 13:1-4 we find a well established church and the Holy Spirit is setting apart believers to minister the Word throughout the world in an orderly organized fashion.
A local church is, most simply stated, a locally organized community of believers in Jesus Christ. This imperfect community has a responsibility to do its best to recognize the call of God in the lives of its members. There should be a level of accountability and fellowship that results in a familiarity that allows us to judge the abilities, spiritual gifts and spiritual maturity of our members. Before we commission someone to missionary service, we should verify the call of the Holy Spirit and their spiritual qualifications to the best of our abilities. This crucial step in the missionary process helps protect the integrity of the church and evangelical missions. When a missionary candidate contacts a church for possible support, that church does not have sufficient exposure to properly evaluate the candidate’s qualifications for ministry or the call of the Holy Spirit in the candidate’s life. Written testimonies and doctrinal questionnaires are good tools, but they are not enough. Prospective supporters and mission agencies alike are highly dependent on the screening and qualifying process of the commissioning or sending church.
If we simply accept the candidate’s claim that God has called him, the result is every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. The candidate’s claim to be heeding the leading of God in his heart is very subjective. The church, though imperfect, was established by Christ to carry out the work of God in the world. We need to trust that the plan that our sovereign, loving God has given us will accomplish His will. The church is to live in the Word of God striving to keep His precepts and diligently seeking the will of God in the light of His word. Ultimately, the church is responsible for placing its seal of approval on those who minister the gospel whether at home or abroad.
We need not only the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to determine the call of God, but the input and godly discernment of the body of Christ. Three key things that the local church can do to maintain the integrity of this biblical process are 1) train its members regarding biblical qualifications for leadership, 2) train its members how to identify the calling of the Holy Spirit, and 3) seek to identify people who are qualified or could be qualified for leadership and who might be used by God in ministry.