Missionary Call Q&A with Dr. David Sills

Dr. Sills expressed his thankfulness for the questions that were asked and said to let everyone know that they were excellent questions.  Because of the media by which we are doing this, he was not able to go into too much detail.  However, he wanted to let everyone know that he would love to have any of the readers come by and sit down with him in his office to discuss these, and/or any other questions that they would like to address. 

From my perspective as a student, please allow me to exhort you to take advantage of this opportunity. Dr. Sills’ office is in Norton 271. To see who won the book, scan to the bottom of this post.

Reader Q&A

Matt Pierce

Q: What is your opinion about sending children to boarding schools while living overseas?

A: I understand that some missionaries feel led of the Lord to go this direction in the education of their kids. We have many friends whose situation necessitated this approach. However, my wife and I always felt that God gave us our kids for us to raise, and so we preferred to keep our kids with us. We were prepared to home school and did so for a time. However, God provided national schooling opportunities or MK schools in every place we lived so that our kids were able to get a great education that way. They are both college graduates now and MDiv students at Southern Seminary.

James Briggs

Q: What kind of negative situations does a foreign missionary presence create and would the intentional training up of Indigenous missionaries solve them? I guess the real question is do missions like Paul on the mission field, going and starting new churches and than moving on once they have had leadership rise up and therefore be migratory in a way or should we think about long term foreign missions as planting our selves in one place and staying their for the rest of our lives?

A: I do believe that training and discipling indigenous leaders is key for avoiding the vast majority of potential harms from missionary presence. It is through this model that we most clearly fulfill Jesus’ command in the Great Commission as we teach them all He has commanded us and Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 2:2.

There is potential for significant danger- both emotional and theological- when we quickly establish some form of a church (or reasonable facsimile thereof) and move on without taking time to disciple indigenous leadership. Yet, there is also significant danger when we stay too long and allow our leadership to substitute for that of the indigenous leaders. Ultimately, there is no scale or time period that can be set as the absolute missiological parameter for when to go and when to stay. It is for this reason that we must stay as close to the Lord as possible, faithfully disciple others, and ultimately be willing to sacrifice even our own ministries and kingdoms for the sake of His.

Jason Vaughn

Q: How does one that is following a call to missions decide with which agency to work? Can you suggest some sending agencies worth looking into outside the IMB and NAMB?

A: This is a very important question. The agency you choose will have tremendous impact on your missionary career.  When you consider that you will potentially be working with this agency for 20-35 years, conforming to its rules, organizational structure, decision-making procedures as they relate from the home office to the field, and doctrinal emphases, this decision is almost as important as whom you marry.  It can influence the length and effectiveness of your missionary service.  For this reason, I address the nuances and dynamics of this issue in Part 3 of The Missionary Call.

Scott Lee

Q: I believe passionately in missions and long to see every Christian engaged in the task, but here is a question our church has been wrestling with. It concerns the effectiveness of a lot of short term mission trips.

Are short term mission trips really the best use of our resources? Given the expense of transporting Americans to a foreign field where they can only stay a week or two, wouldn’t our limited funds be put to better use by sending and supporting well-trained career missionaries who are able to disciple and train nationals to carry on the work of Gospel ministry? Isn’t there sometimes a danger in “short term missions” being another word for “sight seeing tour with a little ministry thrown in?” What steps would you suggest to avoid this problem, if you see it as a potential problem?

A: You have raised some of the questions that are always on the front burner of short-term missions (STM) discussions. I address many of these issues in The Missionary Call and plan to go into much greater detail in a forthcoming book entitled Reaching and Teaching.

With proper orientation of the team and field personnel, the STM team can be very effective. The non-negotiables include team member selection, proper orientation, receptive field missionaries, and trip administration. The team may do construction, VBS, evangelistic camtpaigns, street preaching, or medical work. Obviously, these teams can look over their shoulders and see effective service left behind.

However, much of the good is done in the hearts of the team members in many ways:

  • God often calls people to missions using STM trips.
  • Team members are educated about the church around the world and become more fervent in their prayers for missions.
  • They become ardent stateside advocates/mobilizers for missions.
  • Field missionaries are encouraged to know they are not buried in obscurity when their church visits to help them.
  • National brothers are encouraged and edified.

The concerns you raise are legitimate but they are easily countered by proper orientation and receptive field personnel. I have seen that the value of STM trips far exceeds the potential of abuse or waste when we are responsible. There are several million evangelical Christians from the USA going on STM trips every year.  The question is not whether or not to encourage them to continue–they are going to continue–the question is how to make them as effective as we can be for the advance of the kingdom and glory to Christ.

Todd Benkert

Q: One of the books that has informed my view of the missionary call is Freisen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. How does the view expressed in your book compare with Freisen’s view, or other traditional views of the “call” to missions in particular or ministry in general?

A: My view is a modified view of Freisen’s. I agree that there is no “dot” that Christians must find and get on it or else be forever outside of the will of God. However, I do believe that our sovereign God has a very specific and detailed plan for every Christian’s life. “All my days were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

However, I do not think we can find it by sitting in the library with our Bible and a legal pad.  I believe that we discover God’s will as we delight ourselves in Him and seek to glorify Him with every day.  As we do that, He guides us into His perfect plan for our lives by granting us the desires of our hearts. I address this in greater detail in the book.

Alex S. Leung

Q:What is your view on Private Prayer languages?

A: I classify myself as a cautious cessationist. I know and understand the arguments related to the “miraculous gifts,” their purpose, and why they are no longer needed. I do not have, nor have I ever had, any of the so-called “miraculous” gifts. However, I hesitate to declare heretical any view that asserts they cannot exist today, since the New Testament never declares that they have now ceased. With private prayer languages, other questions arise. First, a private prayer language never is, or it would cause no controversy. Second, I am not convinced that the contemporary understanding of the term is what Paul is referring to in his writings.

Michael O’Neill

Q: How do you believe we should balance the concept of contextualization of the Gospel with the need to ensure that we do not alter the message of the Gospel?

A: I have written on this at length in How Shall They Hear? However, let me briefly say that anyone who thinks we do not need to contextualize in our ministry either 1) does not understand the term, 2) has never been outside of his personal study without a handler, or 3) is a Judaizer. Many do not understand the term, they think that contextualizing is changing the gospel. Me genoito!!! Contextualizing is simply communicating the unchanging gospel in a way that the hearers can understand it–if they are Mandarin speakers and you preach to them in Mandarin instead of English, you have taken the first step in contextualizing. There are many other areas in which we must contextualize to make the gospel understandable.

Secondly, as we increasingly interact with the peoples of the world, we realize this truth more and more. Some who claim that contextualization is not necessary are not aware that they do so all the time. For instance, a pastor may call the kids down front for a children’s sermon before he preaches. He tells them the same points he is going to preach about; it is a totally different delivery but the same basic message. The message will be contextualized in other ways when he speaks to the youth and again to the seniors in the retirement home. The message may remain the same, but he will use different terms, delivery, perhaps form of dress, etc.

Others are unwittingly being modern-day Judaizers because they think that people have to come to the Lord the same way they did. They go to the people living in mud huts in Africa and build red-brick Baptist churches, fill them with pews, stained glass, steeples, choir lofts, and little signs by the pulpit that announce how many came to Sunday School and brought their Bible. For the missionary, this is a church. For the nationals, this is the foreigners’ religion, and how the foreign God wants to be worshiped. He will not accept us as we are. He will only love and accept us if we worship Him with a piano instead of our traditional instruments, wear suits and ties instead of traditional clothing, and become highly literate like the missionary.

We must never change the gospel message (God is holy, man is sinful, Jesus is the answer, and you must repent and be born again) but we must communicate it in culturally appropriate, contextualized ways. Otherwise, it will result in a non-salvific syncretism or the rejection of what appears to be a foreign religion.

And The Winner Is . . .

With Dr. Sills’ permission, my four year old son picked the winner. I wrote down the names on individual slips of paper (same size) of those who asked questions and put them in a baseball hat. Austin, my son, then scientifically chose the winner; i.e., he closed his eyes and picked one piece of paper out of the hat.

The winner of an autographed copy of Dr. Sills’ book, The Missionary Call, is Matt Pierce. Matt is a student in the Billy Graham School of Evangelism where he is studying in order to go back to Thailand. Matt writes at his blog, Kirksey Boy, about his heart for missions, especially in Thailand. I was blessed to meet with him Friday morning to give him the book and to be able to talk with him about his love for his wife and for Thailand. If you get a chance to meet Matt, be sure to talk to him about his work in Thailand.

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4 Responses to Missionary Call Q&A with Dr. David Sills

  1. Interesting post.

    I have always found the practice of sending MKs to boarding schools to be deplorable. If they’re going to have kids, raise them. It seems to me there may be somewhat of an Elijah complex involved in the sense that it appears that the missionaries have the idea that if they don’t go (to wherever) God will have no one else to go.

    Raise your own kids! Or don’t have them in the first place.

    Stan McCullarss last blog post..The Trinity and word games

  2. Joel says:

    “Raise your own kids! Or don’t have them in the first place.”?! Are you serious? I’m wondering what your biblical rational is for such a statement. I don’t think there is any missionary who thought of having kids with the intention of sending them to a boarding school. Dr. Sills rightly explained that sometimes the situation necessitates boarding school. Children are a gift and responsibility given to us from God. Sometimes the choice in what it means to “raise your own kids” isn’t as black and white as American culture would make it appear. If the dad is out in the bush most of the day and mom is home with her surprise new baby and her 13-year-old who is struggling with geometry and already dreading going to college, how can you look at them and tell them to “raise your own kids or don’t have them in the first place”? It’s this mentality that has opened up this generation to playing buffet with the Christian life. Sure, the Bible doesn’t say much about boarding school vs. home school vs. public school, but it does say some about not having kids in the first place…and I’m pretty sure that is not really a biblically mandated option.

  3. Jason Vaughn says:

    Great post. Thanks Terry and Dr. Sills.

  4. Joel,
    Are you serious? I’m wondering what your biblical rational is for such a statement.

    Very serious. I find it absolutely shocking that anyone would even consider dumping their kids off somewhere such as boarding school.

    How did the burden of proof end up on me? I’m not the one advocating dumping the kids off somewhere so I can go do “the Lord’s work.”

    It’s amazing that today the world is theoretically trying to teach kids that having children is a big responsibility. Yet, some in the church are still thinking of children as something that gets in the way.


    Stan McCullarss last blog post..Campolo’s Letters to a Young Evangelical best left in the bookstore

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