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Discerning Your Role in the Mission

Christian, what’s your role in the mission to see disciples in disciple-making churches exist among all peoples? Because the Lord has given you the Spirit and promised you the grace to serve him, you have an important role to play in the mission. Is your role to serve and support the mission through local ministries? Or, is your contribution to advance the gospel among the unreached through frontier missions? Or, does your role involve a bit of both, as these pursuits often overlap one another? Do you know?

After all, you do have a significant role to play in the mission. When Jesus made you his own, he put you on the playing field. Nevertheless, we sometimes struggle to discern our role. Yet the Lord has not left us without help. He has given us his Spirit-inspired word, Spirit-empowered prayer, and his Spirit-filled church to aid our discernment.

1. God’s Spirit-Inspired Word

The first place we turn for discernment is to the place where God has revealed his will for us, namely, the written word of God. God’s word reveals to us who God is and how he works through the lives of his people. Once we learn how God uses people in various ways to strengthen the church in its local ministries and to advance the gospel in frontier missions, we will be better equipped to consider what ways God has gifted us. That is to say, we can’t just ascribe any and everything to the work of the Spirit, but only those things which align with God’s word and bring glory to Jesus Christ. The word of God reveals various gifts, activities, and services through the church that please him and glorify Christ. Ask yourself: How do you see the word of God leading you to serve him? What services and ministries and activities revealed in God’s word excite you most?

2. Spirit-Empowered Prayers

We should also earnestly desire for the Spirit to work through us in unique ways to advance the gospel. Our giftedness for gospel work is not necessarily automatic, but should be earnestly desired (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 12, 39), fanned into flame (2 Tim 1:6), prayed for (1 Cor 14:13), used and not neglected (1 Tim 4:14), exercised and not quenched (1 Thess 5:19-20). That’s not to say that our desires are ultimately determinative in the distribution of God’s gifts, but that God distributes his gifts through the desires and longings that he works in us according to his gracious will (cf. Phil 2:13-14). He works this way because he wants us walking in utter dependence on him in prayer. As Jesus put it, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). So, in discerning how you should serve, ask God to give you discernment alongside his word and to grant you passions that square with his word. As our brother Jonathan recently put it, “Ask God to raise up laborers for the harvest, and that he might begin with you!”

3. God’s Spirit-Filled People

Lastly, God has given us to his Spirit-filled church. He uses his church to recognize and affirm how we should serve. Since the Spirit’s gifts function within the local church, the church will also play a role in recognizing how the Spirit is at work in the lives of others (e.g., Acts 6:3-6; 9:36; 2 Cor 8:16-17). For instance, the church set apart Paul and Barnabas for their pioneering works, while others remain behind to sustain local ministries (Acts 13:1-3). In another place, it seems that the gifts simply manifest themselves as people serve the body (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12). Therefore, we should not attempt to discern our particular role in isolation, but with the help and confirmation of our discerning brothers and sisters in Christ. A few things the church may help us observe include the following:

Our Compulsion

Compulsion refers to our personal aspirations, zeal, or sense of calling. While Christ is the one who gives people to serve in various capacities, he does not do so apart from their aspirations (e.g., Rom 12:8; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1; 1 Pet 4:9-11). Thus, what should be visible to the church is God’s working through a Spirit-wrought desire to serve in this or that role in the mission.

Our Character

Character refers to someone’s life before God and others that consistently bears witness to the transforming power of the gospel. All Christians strive toward such character, because all Christians want Christ to be seen more clearly through their lives. The church is able to tell us when we are and aren’t exemplifying such character. Or, when a particular role may demand further spiritual maturity (e.g., leader, teacher, church-planter), the church exists to encourage growth in any area of weakness. The church is a partner in the grace of sanctification, a community cheering each other on to greater maturity in Christ, so that we might be more effective in our respective roles. If certain sins or struggles hinder us from serving in some way, the church is not there to condemn—since Christ already bore our condemnation—but to equip and make ready for the unique roles God has for us. In short, the church helps our lives authenticate the gospel in whatever role we serve.

Our Competency

In his common goodness, the Lord also gives us the abilities to do some things better than we can do other things. We abound in one area while others excel in areas differing from our own. We should not look on this merely in terms of our “natural” abilities, but more so in terms of how God has built us as unique image-bearers to glorify his Son. In this case, the church helps us discern what areas we tend to excel. If the church sees a lack of competency to serve in this or that role, that doesn’t mean we never do it. It could mean that, but it more often means the church intentionally engages to make us more competent for this or that role. Such training for competency might occur through avenues that are informal—such as what occurs through the daily events of life—nonformal—such as intentional learning that occurs outside a formal school setting—or formal—such as intentional learning in a formal school setting (see Schnabel, Paul the Missionary, 389, for these distinctions).

Our Context

Lastly, the church can also help us consider our context. Context simply refers to the interrelated conditions in which we function for effectiveness in local ministries and/or frontier missions. The church can help us apply wisdom and prudence from the Scriptures to questions such as the following. Are there existing ministries that your gifts complement? Are there ministries you might initiate that do not presently exist? What is your current vocation, and how may it serve the mission? Where do you live currently and what is the culture like? Are there preferences you can adjust to engage people with the gospel more effectively? Do you have a spouse and children? If so, how will they be involved and cared for? If you’re heading into a frontier setting, is a receiving church existent? If not, how will your local church be involved with you along the way? Will you be able to cope with transition? How do you tend to respond to instability? What is the strategy in your new context? Are you going to another local ministry for long- or short-term work? Or are you going to a frontier mission context for long- or short-term work? Will language-learning be involved?

So, What Is Your Role?

All of these observations aren’t meant to be exhaustive, but they’re at least a starting place in helping us discern our role in the mission. So, what is your role? We all have a contribution to make, however different it may look. Some of you may know exactly how the Lord wants you to serve right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remain in your current role forever. Others of you have jumped in to serve, but are considering a different role at this juncture. Still others may be new to the faith and you need help discerning just how the Lord might use you. Whatever your situation, perhaps these few observations may help you discern your role in the mission to see disciples in disciple-making churches exist among all peoples. To that end we read our Bibles, we pray, and we give ourselves to one another.