by Jim Reapsome
The question of why young people choose a missionary vocation ranks near the top of our concerns.
The question of why young people choose a missionary vocation ranks near the top of our concerns. It’s important because of the scope of the opportunity and need overseas and because of the splendid efforts being put forth by schools, churches, mission agencies and parachurch youth movements. Following Urbana 79 and Edinburgh 80 there are signs that young people themselves are taking a major role in the future of the world-wide missionary enterprise.
Lest we be accused of pure pragmatism-more people to do more work-we need also to keep in mind the youth themselves. We don’t believe they are highly enamored of missions as an institutional thing, but rather skeptical instead. Therefore, when missions agencies seek to recruit them, they need to be careful about priorities.
It is easy to fall into the pitfall of chatting a personnel goal: we need so many people because we need so many teachers, doctors, houseparents, printers, evangelists and so on. There is nothing wrong with determining personnel goals on the basis of slots to fill, but that should not be our prime concern when it comes to the young person himself. He is not a warm body to fill a slot on someone’s chart. He is an individual whose personal worth to God is supreme, regardless of whether he ever volunteers to be a missionary or not.
Therefore, our chief concern on campus and in churches should be the individual’s welfare and the best way he can discharge the stewardship of his gifts to God. Jesus commands us to pray for laborers. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with adding to our prayers wise counsel and specific information about the work that needs to be done. But we must convey sincerely that we are seeking what is best for the young person, above everything else, even above getting someone to fill a critical need in the mission.
We are grateful for both the significant research that is being done, to determine why youth decide to become missionaries, and the practical tools, such as summer projects that are being used to help them decide. It is important to note the fact that in the survey of Biola College graduates short-term exposure was the greatest influence, because this ties in precisely with programs being used effectively by colleges, churches and missions.
These findings need not dictate limitations on other factors, of course. For example, just because reading missionary biographies ranked low on the scale of motivators is no reason to stop telling kids to read them. In fact, we think they ought to read more than they do. We also appeal to publishers to keep them on the market and to add some new ones about more recent personalities.
In this research-minded age we also need to be wary of eliminating the mystery of God’s sovereignty in a person’s life. Certainly there is an important place for vocational counseling and testing. That’s part of finding one’s God-given strengths and interests. But no one likes to be programmed. We must leave room for the wind of the Holy Spirit to be heard, even if we can’t see it. Perhaps in the past the "call" was too mysterious, but we believe the history of past student movements reveals a strong element of the unexplainable. No amount of research would have determined the consequences of the "Haystack Prayer Meeting" at Williams College 175 years ago.
It’s too early even now to give final explanations for the growth of student participation at Urbana and the grassroots upsurge of missions interest at many churches and colleges. Some observers wonder if this high degree of interest will continue. Regardless, this is not the time to coast, but rather to seek to be more effective in communicating God’s plan for the world-wide mission of the church to junior and senior high youth, as well as to college students.
We must continue to give them practical exposure to missionary work and to missionaries themselves. Colleges, churches and mission boards must take a hard look at their emphasis on platform ministry and build in time for youth to get next to missionaries informally. Those who take to the pulpits in conferences and chapels must be severely honest in the content of their messages, so that youth get a clear picture of both the needs and the outstanding advances by pastors, evangelists, missionaries and theologians from the churches in the countries for which the speakers are recruiting more U.S. missionaries. The laborers Christ is seeking today are not self-confident, cocky, know-it-all, intellectually sophisticated Americans with all the answers for a poor, lost deprived world, but rather servants and teammates and helpers and learners who just might be able to assist and work under an Asian, Latin American, African or European believer.
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