4 Questions to Help You Understand Where God is Calling You

If your heart has been gripped by the gospel and the Great Commission, sooner or later you’ll find yourself asking the question, “Where is God calling me to go?” That can be a tough question to ask, though, because it creates all kinds of follow up questions.

Does God want you to go overseas? Does He want you to quit your job and work for a ministry? Or does He want you to stay where you are when you thought it was clear you had to go?

The Apostle Paul knew that he was God’s chosen instrument to reach the Gentiles, so he knew he would be going where the Gentiles were. Peter knew he was called to lead the Church in Jerusalem, so he would be going across the street and into his neighborhood.

But that kind of clarity isn’t the norm, either today or throughout the Bible. More commonly, we are left with quite a bit of freedom for adhering to God’s commands. While that freedom can be a relief, it can also be cause for incredible stress as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives. We can get lost in our heads, playing out every possible scenario and wind up paralyzed from taking any steps toward going and making disciples.

If that’s you, here are four questions and answers that might help you understand where God is calling you.

4 questions to help you understand where God is calling you

1. What did Jesus come to do?

Answer: To seek and save the lost. 

When Jesus went to eat at the home of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, the religious people of the day scoffed, sneering to themselves and saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” They were correct. That’s precisely what Jesus was doing, because that’s precisely why he came to earth to begin with. After Zacchaeus repents and is saved, Jesus provides a retort to the snide religious peanut gallery for why he was hanging out with people like tax collectors. In perhaps the most glorious phrase ever uttered, Jesus, the God-man, said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

If Jesus had a vision statement, this was it. He came to seek and save the lost. That meant he was going to spend the majority of his time around people who didn’t know anything about him. He would be going out among the lost to seek and save those who were without hope.

That’s exactly what Jesus did throughout his ministry. And it’s what you’ll do if you want to go where God has called you.

But what about now? How does Jesus seek and save the lost now that he’s in heaven? That leads us to our second question.

2. How does He do that?

Answer: By sending us out as sheep among wolves. 

We have one really good look at what it was like when Jesus sent out his disciples for ministry. It’s recorded in Luke 10 where we see Jesus’ instructions to 72 of his followers as he was preparing them to go out on mission. One of the most interesting things Jesus says here is that he is sending his disciples out like sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). Have you ever thought about that? When a sheep fights a wolf, the sheep doesn’t come out on top.

This is a sobering picture of what life on mission for Jesus is like. Those who would follow him and witness for his name are not promised a comfortable life (in fact, they’re promised the opposite; see Luke 9:57-58). More specifically, what this means is that if we’re really going to live the way Jesus calls us to, we’ll live our lives among the wolves (the lost).

But before you think this is a recipe for being miserable, consider that when the 72 came back from the mission field they were ecstatic with what they saw God do. Yes, it was hard and exhausting and scary, but they saw God move in ways they never would have if they stayed among the sheep (believers). And the same principle is true today.

We can spend our time among the sheep and still know God, but if we want to experience all that Jesus offers then we have to live among the wolves. And if you want to go where God has called you, there’s no doubt that it involves a significant amount of time among wolves.

If we decide to trust Jesus and live our lives among the wolves, what exactly does Jesus want us to do once we get there?

3. What are we supposed to do?

Answer: Go and makes disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.

Imagine a person you saw at their funeral walking up to you. Imagine seeing them being lowered into the ground, and then a few days later they showed up and had something to tell you. Whatever they had to say, you would listen. That’s because their words would have authority.

This is the exact setting in which Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. He reminds them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, then gives them this last command:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that pI have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here we have Jesus’ last words, his last instructions for how to continue what he started. And it was pretty simple. Go into the world, as you go make disciples, then baptize them and teach them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. That may sound simple, but it affects everything in a follower’s life.

And this command is for every follower of Christ. It is the primary thing to which every disciple is called to, before their career or anything else. First and foremost, we are disciples of Jesus of who make disciples of Jesus. It’s not optional. It’s not something some of us are called to and others of us aren’t.

That’s why the primary question associated with our purpose in life isn’t what we are supposed to do. The Great Commission makes that clear. We are to make disciples. The only question is where do we go and do that?

4. Where do we go?

Answer: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

Acts 1:8 gives us another glimpse at Jesus’ final words. Here we see Jesus giving specific instructions about where his disciples are to go once he takes his seat at the Father’s right hand. The disciples already knew they were to make disciples, but now Jesus tells them where to go:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Jesus is sending his followers to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. No corner of the world is outside of the Great Commission. Starting right where they were (Jerusalem), Jesus was sending them out to continue spreading the Kingdom of God.

Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria are real places, and Jesus was actually sending them there. But beyond the actual locations at that time, they’re also significant because they help us see where Jesus is sending us today. Notice the progression.

First, Jesus sends them across the street by sending them into Jerusalem. Next, he sends them to a place with a similar culture by sending them to Judea. Then Jesus really ups the ante by sending them to the culture most of them would have hated before coming to Jesus — Samaria (remember how culturally explosive Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan was?). And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then sends them to the very ends of the earth.

This means that Jesus’ disciples could obey his Great Commission by going to any of those locations, and the same is true today. As Ruth Ripken says, “Serving God is not a matter of location. It’s a matter of obedience.” We don’t all have to go overseas, though more of us should than are open to it. If we don’t go to another country, we are commanded to go across the street (Jerusalem), to the community next door (Judea), or to the people we would never associate with before coming to Jesus (Samaria).

And that leaves you with only one more question.

Where will you go?

Will you go across the street and tell your neighbors about Jesus? Will you go into the largest city near you to witness to the gospel? Will you build relationships with the refugees and immigrants that came to your community from unreached people groups around the world? Will you go to one of the 2.8 billion unreached peoples around the world?

The possibilities are limitless, but the mission is the same: to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Where will you go?


Here are the 4 questions and answers for easy reference:

  1. Why did Jesus come? To seek and save the lost.
  2. How does he do that? By sending us out as sheep among wolves.
  3. What do we do? Go and makes disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.
  4. Where do we go? To Jerusalem (across the street), Judea (to the community next door), Samaria (to the people you find it hardest to love) , and the ends of the earth.

The Ministry Shift that Changes Everything

What if there was a shift you could make in ministry that would change everything? Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne think there is one, and that it’s the most foundational idea in the Christian faith — discipleship. This is the theme running throughout their book The Trellis and The Vine.

What “the trellis and the vine” means

The problem, according to the authors, is that too many within the church have overlooked that foundation in search of “better” methods and programs. This is where the metaphor of the “trellis and the vine” comes in:

“most churches are a mixture of trellis and vine. The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing and tending the vine. However, just as some sort of framework is needed to help a vine grow, so Christian ministries also need some structure and support. It may not be much, but at the very least we need somewhere to meet, some Bibles to read from, and some basic structures of leadership within our group. All Christian churches, fellowships or ministries have some kind of trellis that gives shape and support to the work. As the ministry grows, the trellis also needs attention. Management, finances, infrastructure, organization, governance—these all become more important and more complex as the vine grows.”

What happens in many churches is an overemphasis on the trellis work. It’s often flashier and more pressing. The problems are right in front of you and scream for your attention. Small groups needs leading, budgets need tightening, staff needs vision, and emails never stop coming. So we keep up with the trellis work, assuming the vine is taking care of itself.

The power of the trellis and vine metaphor is striking. Its ties to biblical references only seek to strengthen its prophetic witness. Perhaps that’s why this book is so powerful, and why it broke on the scene after its release in 2009. Not many books come out of Australia and penetrate the rest of the Christian world like The Trellis and The Vine has.

And that’s for good reason. This is a good book. A really good book. And, I’m starting to think, a foundational book for pastoral ministry.

Focus on disciple-making

Here’s why: The Trellis and The Vine focuses sharply on what disciple-making looks like in a pastor’s life and his church’s life.

Marshall and Payne start where most books on discipleship start, with the Great Commission. But then the book gets interesting and starts to challenge its readers assumptions, a pattern that’s continued throughout the book. The authors make a point that’s been made elsewhere, but that’s not often talked about — which part of the Great Commission is actually the command.

“Sometimes our translations may give the impression that ‘go’ is the emphasis of the command, but the main verb of the sentence is ‘make disciples’, with three subordinate participles hanging off it: going (or ‘as you go’), baptizing and teaching. ‘Baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are the means by which the disciples are to be made.”

The more common way the Great Commission is understood is where “go” is the primary command and making disciples, baptism, and teaching flow from the “going.” But if churches have this understanding it can lead them to,

“think that they are obeying the Great Commission if they send money (and missionaries) overseas. But the emphasis of the sentence is not on ‘going’. In fact, the participle is probably better translated “when you go” or “as you go”. The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

In just these few, pointed sentences they lay down the logic for why The Great Commission is for every Christian (and therefore every pastor and church). That means each Christ-follower and their churches must focus on disciple-making as the core of their mission. (Notice I’m using the term disciple-making. I’m implying, as are the authors, that the Great Commission is both evangelism and discipleship. Disciples are to be found (evangelism), then taught to obey Jesus’ commands (discipleship).)

More than a how-to manual

But this book isn’t a simple how-to manual. Far from it. Much of the middle of it spends time examining just what God is doing in this world, how He plans to carry it out, and what it means that we are saved by grace.

The rest of the book draws these ideas out, going through the pastor’s personal and professional life, and how this plays out in the church. The authors aren’t suggesting minor tweaks in a church’s programs, but a radical shift in how it does ministry and what those ministries are:

“most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.”

By that, they mean churches need to shift some of their attention away from trellis work, and focus it on the vine where it belongs. And here’s what “vine work” means:

“This is what the growing vine really is: it is individual, born-again believers, grafted into Christ by his word and Spirit, and drawn into mutually edifying fellowship with one another.”

That has drastic implications for what pastors and churches focus on.

If God is at work making his gospel known throughout the world through disciple-making disciples of Jesus, then the pastor’s life and schedule should reflect that priority, and even come to emphasize it. This means a pastor might spend more time in one-on-one training and mentoring, or perhaps more time meeting with 3-4 men who are being trained to teach others the truth of the gospel.

It also means shifting our from making followers of our particular church or denomination to focus on making followers of Jesus. This implies shifting focus away from growing our particular churches to growing the Kingdom of God and its gospel-influence.

The heart of the shift in ministry

At the heart of this shift in ministry is a return to training. But this isn’t simply training Christians how to do certain things, such as reading their Bibles and having a quiet time (though those are obviously important). Instead, the authors say that,

“training is much more about Christian thinking and living than about particular skills or competencies.”

I like the dual emphasis on both the mind and the heart, because it echoes the Great Commandment to holistically love God.

The training section of this book is a goldmine of wisdom and practical information. Their goal is not to give you a blueprint of what to do, but convictions of what you should be doing.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s very helpful for pastors and church leaders, and foundational for church planters. At the same time, it’s for anyone in the church, because the call to make disciples doesn’t fall on pastors alone. The writing is concise, potent, and sage. If you’re looking for a book to help you understand discipleship and the implications of the Great Commission, this a great place to start.

Top quotes

  • “The first and most obvious is that if this is really what God is doing in our world then it is time to say goodbye to our small and self-oriented ambitions, and to abandon ourselves to the cause of Christ and his gospel.”
  • “The Christian without a missionary heart is an anomaly…We have to conclude that a Christian with no passion for the lost is in serious need of self-examination and repentance.”
  • “…most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.”
  • “But our view of gospel work must be global as well as local: the goal isn’t church growth (in the sense of our local church expanding in numbers, budget, church-plants and reputation) but gospel growth. If we train and send workers into new fields (both local and global), our local ministry might not grow numerically but the gospel will advance through these new ministers of the word.”
  • “But it’s interesting how little the New Testament talks about church growth, and how often it talks about ‘gospel growth’ or the increase of the ‘word’. The focus is on the progress of the Spirit-backed word of God as it makes its way in the world, according to God’s plan.”
  • “…people-growth happens only through the power of God’s Spirit as he applies his word to people’s hearts.”
  • “The radicalism of this demand often feels a world away from the ordinariness of our normal Christian habits and customs. We go to church, where we sing a few songs, try to concentrate on the prayers, and hear a sermon. We chat to people afterwards, and then go home for a normal week of work or study or whatever it is that we do, in time to come again next week. We might read our Bible and pray during the week. We may even attend a small group. But would someone observing from outside say: ‘Look: there is someone who has abandoned his life to Jesus Christ and his mission’?”
  • “The heart of training is not to impart a skill, but to impart sound doctrine. Paul uses the language of ‘training’ to refer to a lifelong process whereby Timothy and his congregation are taught by Scripture to reject false religion, and to conform their hearts and their lives to sound doctrine. Good biblical training results in a godly life based on sound, health-giving teaching.”
  • “…training is inescapably relational. It cannot be done in a classroom via the supposedly neutral transferral of information. The trainer is calling upon the trainee to adopt not only his teaching, but also the way of life that necessarily flows from that teaching.”
  • “A commitment to the growth of the gospel will mean that we train people towards maturity not for the benefit of our own churches or fellowships but for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom.”
  • “Christian discipleship is about sound doctrine and a godly life, and so to train or equip someone to minister to others means training and equipping them with godliness and right thinking, not just with a set of skills—because that in turn is how they will need to minister to others.”
  • “The Bible doesn’t speak of people being ‘called’ to be a doctor or a lawyer or a missionary or a pastor. God calls us to himself, to be Christian. Our ‘vocation’ (which comes from the Latin word ‘to call’) is to be Christ’s disciple and to obey everything that he commanded—including the commandment to make disciples of all nations. In that sense, all Christians are ‘ministers’, called and commissioned by God to give up their lives to his service, to walk before him in holiness and righteousness, and to speak the truth in love whenever and however they can.”

Buy The Trellis and The Vine on Amazon

Why Groups Should be Meeting as Missionaries

What if the word missionary didn’t just mean people that leave everything behind to share the gospel with people in Africa, India, or somewhere else around the world? What if it also meant that you died to yourself and shared the gospel with people right where you are? What if we lived as missionaries in our neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces?

According to the New Testament, that’s exactly what we should be doing already.

Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne point out that many of us put the emphasis on the wrong words in the Great Commission. They say the command (or the main verb) of the Commission is not “go,” but “make disciples”:

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 ESV)

Getting the command right makes a very important difference, as Marshall and Payne write in The Trellis and the Vine, because the misunderstanding,

“…can lead local churches to think that they are obeying the Great Commission if they send money (and missionaries) overseas. But the emphasis of the sentence is not on ‘going’. In fact, the participle is probably better translated ‘when you go’ or ‘as you go’. The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

They aren’t the first ones to suggest that “go” is better translated as “as you go.” The Christian Worldview Journal has written on the topic. And this is a more technical explanation of the Greek if you’re interested.

The command of the Great Commission, then, is to make disciples, and the context is everyday life (“as you go”).

As you go

As you go about your life, make disciples. As you go to work, make disciples. As you go to the park, make disciples.

The question isn’t what has God called us to do, but where has He called us to do it. He’s called all of His followers to make disciples as they go throughout their life. The question for you and your group is where does God want you to do that right where you are?

For followers of Jesus, this is the most important question to ask ourselves. Because if we aren’t making disciples, then we aren’t obeying His commands.

Charles Spurgeon’s famous statement on this rings truer than ever in this context:

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”

Every Christian is called to live as a missionary wherever they are. Which brings us to your group.

Meeting as missionaries with your group

Part of the normal rhythm of any community group should be to meet as missionaries in its community. That means each group should be spending strategic time at specific places in their community with the goal of sharing the gospel and making disciples.

For example, let’s say you’re in a group of young families. you probably go to the park with your kids at least a couple times a month. What if you started going to the same park at the same time with the goal of forming relationships with other families in your community?

My family has started doing this over the last year and we’ve seen a noticeable change in how we relate to our community and the people around us. We go to the same two parks usually, and while we’re there we try and talk to the other moms and dads there. Sure, some people don’t want to talk to you. But others are almost desperate for a connection and they’re tired of parenting on their own all week. We just talk to those people and get to know them. Since we started doing that, we’ve already had two other families reach out to us to get together for play dates. Our hope is that those connections turn into opportunities to share Jesus with them, and we’re ready to help them follow Jesus if that’s where it goes.

Think through what your group normally does and see if there are more strategic ways to do it. Or think about different ways to spend your time in order to live on mission. Here are 25 ways to do that (and here are 25 more).

Meeting as missionaries doesn’t mean you go someplace and just start street preaching. It means you go into a place and become part of the fabric of the community so that you can build relationships with people and show them the love of Christ in tangible ways, and then invite them into that love.

Finding the time

Meeting with your group like this is something you can do at least once a month, but doing so every other week is probably ideal because it keeps mission at the front of everyone’s mind.

Most people start groaning at the “level” of commitment at this point, but that’s because they misunderstand what it looks like to find time to live in community. They also misunderstand the importance of it. As we saw above, making disciples isn’t something that’s optional for followers of Christ. It’s the last thing the resurrected Jesus told us to do before going to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

As always, the point is not to make things into a checklist, but to intentionally work mission into your life to make disciples and be obedient to Jesus’ call on your life. Remember, the question isn’t if we should make disciples, but where we should make them.

Defining Success in Groups

The goal of being in community is never about numbers. If you’re a pastor or leader, it’s not about simply getting more people into groups. If you’re a member of a community group, the goal is not to check the boxes that you read your Bible, went to church, and attended your group for the week.

If we’re not careful though, those are exactly the things that end up defining success. But if those things aren’t the goal, what is?

The goal of living in community

In The Trellis and the Vine, authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make the following assertion:

“Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus.”

This makes sense when thinking through God’s character nature. He is, above all, holy. This means many things, but one crucial thing which flows from this is that He is to be the supreme object of our affections. He is not content to be another thing in our lives; He desires and deserves to be the main thing.

So when it comes to training disciples of Jesus, that’s precisely who we should be training them to be like — Jesus. But all too often we’re training them to wave the flag of our church, our denomination, or our “brand” of Christianity.

This is a dangerous place to be.

It will not be your particular church or denomination or movement which reaches the ends of the earth with the gospel. It will no doubt be a part of it, but it will not constitute the whole of it. God never intended it to.

It is in His name and to His glory that we make disciples. It is in His name and to His glory that we form community groups, serve our neighbors, and teach the Bible to our children.When the gospel is ushered into each people group and among every tongue and tribe and nation on this planet only one name will be exalted—the name of one man whose movement precedes all of ours and will outlast them all of time—the man Jesus Christ.

Defining success

“Success” is not simply getting more and more people into a community group or checking off all the right boxes, but loving obedience to the Great Commission and Great Commandments.

Every Christian is called to play a part in carrying out the Great Commission in their own lives and the lives of their church. At the same time, they are called to be a loving witness in action and in words to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the world around them. It could be summarized this way:

Make disciples. Love God. Love each other. Love the world.

This provides a framework for evaluating the success of our community groups, as well as any particular person we are discipling or training. Defining success, then, would look something like what you see below.

Goal

Our goal for members of our community group is to develop right relationships with:

God
  • Knows, loves and follows Christ
  • Empowered, filled and led by the Spirit
  • Studies and obeys God’s Word
People
  • Loves the church: Serves and encourages their brothers and sisters
  • Makes disciples: Tells others about Jesus and models His ways
  • Cares for others: Finds ways to practically show compassion to those in need
The world
  • Understands the brevity of life in light of eternity
  • Not in love with the things or ways of the world
  • Works hard and is content living simply

If those things are the goal and what you see above is what success looks like, then how do we plan to get there? Many, many things go into answering that question, but put simply, here is a plan for achieving the goals above.

Plan

Our plan to help members of our community group develop right relationships with God, people, and the world is to develop their:

Head
  • Classes
  • Mentoring
  • Personal study
  • Group discussions
Heart
  • Build relationships
  • Prayer
  • Attend worship services
  • Devotions
  • Discipleship
  • Family meals
  • Group activities
Hands
  • Serve the local community
  • Make disciples
  • Be the church
  • Develop good work ethic

Both the goals and plans mentioned speak to all the things you hope to see in the lives of each of the people in your community group at some point.

Defining success, however you choose to do that, is crucial to keeping your group on track and being sure everyone understands where they’re headed.

Why the Great Commission is for Every Christian

You will often hear that The Great Commission is for every follower of Christ, but you don’t always see that logic worked out. The immediate context of Matthew 28 shows us that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples before ascending into heaven:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV, emphasis added)

If Jesus is speaking directly to his eleven disciples, then how is the Great Commission for every believer?

In The Trellis and The Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne work it out in just a few sentences:

“Jesus’ instruction to ‘make disciples’ in Matthew 28:19 is not just a specific word to the apostles gathered around him at the time of his final resurrection appearance. The first disciples were instructed to ‘make disciples’ of others. And because these newly-made disciples were under the universal lordship of Christ, and were to obey everything that Jesus had taught, they fell under exactly the same obligation as the original twelve to get on with the job of announcing the lordship of Christ; as did their hearers, and so on ‘to the end of the age.’”

So yes, the immediate object of Jesus’ command is his original disciples. But since all followers of Jesus are told to obey everything he has commanded us, all believers are called to take the Great Commission personally. Which means you are called to take it personally.

So, are you?

Are you taking it personally?

Are you looking at your life and thinking through how you can evangelize and teach those around you? Are you rearranging your life to serve your brothers and sisters in the church? Are you coming together with those same people to serve your community in the name of Jesus?

Are you taking the Great Commission personally?

Because it’s not a call for a select few. It’s the primary call on your life and the life of every follower of Jesus.