In Acts 13:1-4 we see the Holy Spirit calling those who are already serving in a local church. He did not call people into missions who are not already serving. Barnabas and Saul were among the most gifted ministers in the church at Antioch, they. Before their calling, at the time of their calling and after their calling, we find a record of significant service and ministry to the cause of Christ, nearly always connected to a local church in some way, by planting or strengthening. Barnabas was serving in the church in Jerusalem when that church heard stories of what God was doing in the church in Antioch. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate what was happening in Antioch and he did as instructed by his local church. He preached the word and many were saved. Luke tells us that Barnabas was a “good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). The work in Antioch was so fruitful that Barnabas sent for Saul to help him. Saul was serving and earning a good reputation for preaching the gospel, even before he was known by sight among the Judean churches, prior to his going to Antioch (Gal. 1:21-23). At Barnabas’ invitation, Saul went from Tarsus to join him in Antioch and they taught together there for a full year. After a period of time, Saul and Barnabas, were appointed to take a special offering to the church at Jerusalem to help the believers suffering there (Acts 11:22-30). These ministries were in the context of expanding the church and more specifically, the local church in Antioch. At the time of the call, both had been serving or ministering in that local church for at least a year.
It is not enough for a person to desire to be a missionary. They should already be serving in their local church’s ministry. If one is not serving in one’s local church where there is ample supervision and accountability, there is little chance that they will serve well on the mission field with little or no supervision and accountability. “The church is called upon to send its best, its brightest” (Larkin, 1995).
God also calls those who know His word and are proven in ministry of the Word. Missionaries must be able to minister the Word of God. God could have said that there were certain men in Antioch without indicating any specific qualifications, but He named five individual men who were gifted and serving in specific ways, as prophets and teachers. “A clear delineation between these two terms is not possible” (Schnabel 2004, 659), but we know the word “prophet” means “proclaimer,” i.e. one who proclaims the message of God. These were ministries that involved preaching and teaching the word of God, pulpit ministries such as would be the responsibility of a pastor or elder. Barnabas and Saul were named among those who were preaching and teaching the Word of God. They were experienced proven ministers of God’s word. This may indicate that those called to missions must be able to teach, a requirement for the office of pastor or elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. So a follower of Christ who claims to have been called by the Holy Spirit should be a person who is not only a student of the word of God but also an experienced teacher of God’s word, whether a pastor or medical worker.
God calls on the church to send its best, the gifted and the serving from among the congregation. Both Barnabas and Saul were experienced in cross cultural ministry and were spiritually gifted. Rightfully handling the Word of Truth does not necessarily require formal theological training, but it does require a certain level of spiritual maturity, Scriptural knowledge, a solid hermeneutic and the ability to properly exegete and teach the Scriptures.
God calls those who are spiritually mature to serve as missionaries. A spiritually mature person is not necessarily someone who keeps a certain list of rules. Rather it is someone with biblical motives and goals, a servant attitude, a good understanding of the Word of God and ministry involvement. A spiritually mature person is also a good example for others to follow. Barnabas and Saul were spiritually mature, not novices. They were not doing things in ministry for the sake of “serving” so they could fulfill a requirement. In this context they were ministering “to” the Lord rather than “for” the Lord. They were engaged in devotion to God and their relationship to him. They were not ministering to others or seeking the approval of men. “Everything about the event argues that mission is grounded in God’s command and the response of a church engaged in devotion” (Block 2007, 438).
Barnabas and Saul were not so busy that they did not have time to seek the face of God. The fact that they were fasting indicates that they were attempting to remove the distractions of the world and the flesh in order to focus more on God. These were men serious about their relationship with their Lord and about their own holiness. Perhaps if they had not been fasting and praying (focusing on God) they would not have sensed the call of the Holy Spirit.
God calls those who are spiritually qualified. Though it may seem that spiritual maturity and spiritual qualifications go hand in hand, let’s consider them separately. The Holy Spirit included information in these verses and throughout the book of Acts that clearly indicate that Barnabas and Saul were spiritually qualified for leadership in the church. The teacher should be more qualified than his students. Barnabas and Saul were being called by the Holy Spirit to go forth to preach the gospel, make disciples and establish churches (Acts 14:21-23). Therefore, it follows that they should have been at least as spiritually qualified as those they would train. Paul set up leaders in each church and he wrote to Timothy and Titus giving specific requirements for the pastors or elders and also for deacons in the local churches.
After all, Paul instructed several of the churches he planted to follow his example and he commended Timothy for following his example, (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; 2 Tim. 3:10) so he certainly must have met the spiritual qualifications that he laid down for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Since missionaries work on a level comparable to pastors and deacons, it follows that those who receive a call from the Holy Spirit for missionary service would meet those qualifications as well.
Next time we’ll talk about who sends missionaries.