How in the world do we know if what we are discerning is a true call? Is it only an invitation by a second party, or is it the individual’s initiative? The missionary call seems to be both an individual/subjective conviction and a corporate/objective confirmation.
We often overlook and/or misunderstand the New Testament model. From the outset, we must remember that Acts is a transitional book in the history of the church, and the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record many events in the book to highlight historical and theological themes that are significant for understanding the establishment of the New Testament church after Christ’s ascension. In other words, the narrative of Acts is primarily descriptive, but in some ways the narrative can serve as a timeless model to which we can look for wisdom.
In Acts 11:22, the church in Jerusalem sent out Barnabas when they heard that certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene were evangelizing Greeks in Syrian Antioch. There is no mention of calls for volunteers, nothing of Barnabas’ own personal subjective call. It does not mean he had no subjective call, but we should notice that the church took initiative to send him. He was a Cypriot Jewish Christian and therefore known to the Antioch evangelists (Acts 11:20), many of whom were Cypriots. He was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was a good man. His name meant, ‘Son of Encouragement’ (Acts 4:36), and he was probably a soul-mender, apparently selected according to his suitability. Sent by the Holy Spirit through the church, he was the best man for the job. Indeed, though he could have had an internal compulsion, it seemed necessary to the Holy Spirit to inspire Luke to record only these factors of Barnabas’ commission.
A year later Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary endeavor, which was not an individualistic decision. Acts 13:1-3 clearly says that the Lord guided the whole group of leaders in the Antioch church. It was a group decision. Later Paul chose Silas (Acts 15:40) who was a leader among the brethren (Acts 15:22), a prophet himself (15:32), and he was therefore qualified to aid Paul on his mission.
When they returned to Galatia, they met Timothy, ‘well spoken of by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium’ (Acts 16:2). The text says Paul wanted to take him. It does not say what Timothy felt or wanted but only that Paul took the initiative and called Timothy.