Book Review: The Missionary Call by M. David Sills

Sills, M. David. The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan For the World. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. 246 pp. $13.99.

Introduction and Background

missionary-call-book-david-sillsDr. Sills is the A. P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology, the Director of Great Commission Ministries, and the Director of the Doctor of Missiology program for the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As if that was not enough, he also leads many small-group, short-term missions trips for the Seminary as well as his church, Ninth and O, in Louisville, KY. You can read more about him on his faculty bio page. He has a website and a blog that is a valuable resource in addition to this book. Check out the website here. You can read his blog here. He also has another website, Reaching and Teaching, chock full of free missionary resources and other pertinent information to Dr. Sills’ ministries.

Summary of The Missionary Call

Dr. Sills divided his book into three chapters which flow in both logic and explanation. In part one; he seeks to answer what exactly the missionary call is and how it has been understood throughout the history of the church. In the first chapter, he attempts to help the reader understand what the missionary call is. He only gives a “working definition” and spends the rest of the book expounding on that definition. Next, he explains how one can (or cannot) understand God’s will. After explaining the biblical basis for the missionary call, he gives an extremely helpful treatment as to what the historical understandings of the missionary call are.

Part two becomes a bit more personal in that he helps those who are contemplating a call to missions to understand their call. He shows that a call to missions can be specific or it can be broad. He explains how timing is everything and what should be done if one’s spouse does not feel called to the mission field.

The last part, part three, is an excellent resource for those who have decided to answer God’s call to missions work. Chapter eight explains some about the process of actually getting to the mission field while chapter nine offers warnings as to possible hindrances to getting their. This chapter is perhaps the best resource for one in the beginning stages of the process joining a mission board or society. It is important to note that there is a spiritual element to many of these hindrances, but they are not insurmountable.

Chapter ten elucidates the challenges found on the mission field and how to best prepare for them. I can think of a few missionary friends who would have benefitted greatly from this chapter! After giving a broad definition in chapter, Dr. Sills helps to fine tune that definition in chapter twelve. One may think he can read chapter twelve and be fine, but there is so much explained in the body of the book that goes into chapter twelve that reading this chapter by itself will do nothing more than confuse the reader.

I purposely skipped chapter eleven because of its value as a spring board to history. Chapter eleven is devoted to the many missionary heroes throughout the centuries. Some of these include William Carey (the father of modern missions), David Brainerd (whose diary has led many to the mission field), and “Lottie” Moon (she is the name behind the “Lottie Moon Christmas offering” in the Southern Baptist Convention). To be able to dip a spoon and drink from their well is not only an encouragement but a blessing. Dr. Sills did his readers a huge favor by introducing them to many (the list is by no means exhaustive) of the heroes of modern day missions. A young missionary-to-be would not go wrong by choosing one or two of these missionaries to study in light of a call to the missions field.

Critique of The Missionary Call

Dr. Sills does a wonderful job, in the parameters set by the book itself, of introducing the reader to the many historical aspects to our understanding of the missionary call. With the chapters on the historical understandings of what the missionary call means and who has gone before us to the mission field, think Hebrews 11, the reader is better equipped to deal with the challenges that will surely be set before him.

He treats, at length, how to avoid what is called “the paralysis of analysis” whereby a person called to missions never does anything because he or she does not know what to do. He also helps the reader understand that there is room in the Bible for personal convictions regarding the how and where-to’s of the missionary call.

If there is one weakness in the book, I would say that it is in his treatment of the three historical understandings of the missionary call found in chapter four. The three historical views are: there is no missionary call, every Christian has already received the missionary call, and you need a personal missionary call (p. 62-64). He spends little time on the first and even less time on the latter. He focuses primarily on the second of these three. Granted, he does not spend more than a page and a half on any of the three, but he does devote half of this section to the second.

I call this a weakness only because I feel that this section could have been a bit more balanced with more information given that this is more of an overview rather than an apologetic for missions. In all reality, though, I agree completely with his treatment in that every Christian is called. He explains this, and rightly so, using Romans 10:14-17.

Conclusion

This book is a great resource for anyone contemplating a call to missions. Dr. Sills does a masterful job of explaining all that goes into actually getting to the mission field and, more importantly, why one has to seemingly jump through all of the hoops. Some of these chapters would be great as stand-alone “workbooks” for group study in a young college and careers class or even a mini-conference at a local church on missions and the missionary call.

The fact that Dr. Sills pulls from years of experience on the mission field only strengthens the content of this book. While he would never say that he, too, can be listed as one of the heroes in chapter eleven, one would be well-served to learn from this man who has poured his life into the Great Commission.

The Missionary Call is available from Amazon.com

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