I almost didn’t become a vocational missionary.
That wouldn’t have been a big deal. God uses entrepreneurs and professors to do awesome things for his kingdom. And I would have worked in one of those professions if I didn’t join InterVarsity/USA staff. It would have been okay … except for my reason why.
A Bad Reason to Avoid Missions
I grew up as the oldest son in a big family. My mom had four sons and worked at home to fill our house with activity and baked goods. She’s always helping people, even today. My dad’s side of the family immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Like most immigrant families, we wanted to both fit in and prosper.
My family sent me to Duke and then to Oxford. They cheered as I won awards. They sacrificed for me. How could I become a missionary?
Being a missionary was viewed as a low-status job. My family cautioned me about wasting my potential. Blessed with tremendous opportunities, how could I waste them and become a missionary?
Over the years, I’ve discovered this struggle with status shows up often as we respond to God’s call on our lives. If you’re experiencing this struggle at Urbana, you’re not alone.
Until God transformed how I viewed status, I couldn’t seriously consider becoming a missionary.
A New Perspective on Missions
I interviewed to join InterVarsity staff at Urbana 03. While my friends explored the Bookstore and Exhibit Hall, I answered questions about why I wanted to become a missionary. The Worship Team played in the background, rehearsing for that night. The interview went fine, but I had nagging concerns.
That next day Lisa Espineli Chinn gave a powerful exposition of Luke 7-8. She challenged us to obey God’s call. “The only language fit for a king,” she said, “is ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’” And I felt a shift in my heart. I had a choice: to focus on my status or to focus on God’s status.
I chose to stop thinking about my status and started thinking about God’s. And I’ve had to make this choice again and again over the last decade.
God calls us to join his mission. Whether we serve as bankers or Bible translators, as entrepreneurs or church planters, as professors or pastors, we are called to join God’s good work in the communities around us. Because God has high status in our eyes, we will do whatever he asks.
A desire for high status will consume you no matter what you do for work, but a focus on God’s mission will set you free.
A Missionary in the Family
God worked a series of minor miracles to get me hired, placed, and serving on campus with InterVarsity. And over the last decade, God has continued to form and shape me as I’ve served him in my work life.
But a funny thing happened with my family. After a little while, they got used to my “low-status” job. Disappointment was replaced with pride as they saw the difference my work made in the lives of students. My family learned to rely on me for comfort and advice. They’ve benefitted as much as anybody from the training and formation I’ve received as an InterVarsity staff member.
The best thing you can do for your family is to follow Jesus into mission. Counter-intuitive? I know. I remember.
My family has been tremendously blessed by my willingness to let go of statusseeking.
Help For the Struggle with Status
Here are some actions you can take if the “low status” of missionary work is nagging at you as you think about your vocational future.
- Acknowledge the struggle. This nagging concern is much more powerful when it operates behind the scenes. Bringing it out into the light helps.
- Ask God for help. At the core, a concern about status isn’t about what you do for work; it’s about where you think you get your value. You need God’s help.
- Listen to Lisa Espineli Chinn’s exposition of Luke 7-8 from Urbana 03. Her message, along with many others from Urbana, are available online at urbana.org. Listening to the humble teachers from Urbana can help with your struggles with status.