Following Directions

Whose orders do you follow on mission?

Upstream’s own Caleb Crider argues in his article, Spirit-led, that a follower of Christ should unabashedly obey the direction of the Holy Spirit.

“Forget ‘unreached people groups,’ your ‘strategic focus,’ or ‘what works,’” he writes, “our only guide for mission is the Holy Spirit.”

Crider points to Paul’s experience as documented in Acts 16, when the Spirit prevented him from traveling to locations he had determined were on his must-visit list. He is portrayed as surrendering his previous ideas of what he needed to do through obeying the step-by-step guidance of the Holy Spirit. This, Crider said, is the pattern for all believers on mission.

“God doesn’t send us out alone,” he said. “The power in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is his Holy Spirit goes with us, directing, empowering and guiding us in truth. As missionaries, we cannot depend on our own strategies or wisdom.”

Many Christians, however, would disagree with Crider’s perspective.

Traditionally, missionary efforts factor in demographics, ethnography and statistics. Mission agencies such as Frontiers, Pioneers and Mission to Unreached Peoples emphasize making disciples in the areas of the world concentrated with the most people who have not professed faith in Jesus Christ. They say the church should focus its efforts among those who do not have access to the Gospel. If God is calling you to serve among a statistically “reached” people group, you won’t be serving with them.

Is Paul’s experience with the Holy Spirit normative? Does God “reveal” his will outside of Scripture? Dan Philips of the Pyromaniacs blog takes issue with Henry Blackaby’s teaching about being Spirit-led. Philips, like many conservative reformed Christians, takes a dispensational approach and believes in an absence of new revelation of the Holy Spirit after a certain historical event. Such individuals think everything that was going to be revealed by the Holy Spirit already has been in Scripture. Therefore the details of when and where a missionary should serve should be left to wisdom, opportunity, desire and providence.

Obviously, Crider disagrees.

“When I talk about the missionary depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” Crider said, “I’m not talking about revelation. I’m talking about direction–the sort of guidance Paul refers to in Romans 8:4-16. Being led by the Spirit is evidence we are adopted sons of God. In Galatians 5:16-25, Paul writes that we must walk by the Spirit, lest we do what seems right to us. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the Church on mission.”

Who or what do you listen to when determining to whom you are sent? Is the Holy Spirit active in leading his followers on mission with personal revelation, or should we be focusing on something else for guidance?

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