by Don Parrott
Through contact with thousands of Boomers across the U.S. who are considering a future in missions, five significant obstacles seem to be common: faith, finances, fit, family, and fight.
I found out I didn’t have as much faith as I thought I did. I only had this much faith,” she said, extending her arm straight out in front of her. “Enough to take the next step, but not enough for the whole journey.”
These words, spoken before a crowd of other Baby Boomers, captured one of the primary obstacles many of us face as we consider a possible role in missions. Faith. Can I really trust God with my future? But faith is not the only obstacle we face.
Through contact with thousands of Boomers across the U.S. who are considering a future in missions, five significant obstacles seem to be common: faith, finances, fit, family, and fight. The purpose of this article is to elaborate briefly on these five areas, then offer suggestions on how to engage this unique generation in extending the Kingdom of God worldwide.
Overcoming the Obstacles
Faith. Faith has to do with whose viewpoint we choose to trust—our own or God’s. One of the reasons we struggle with trusting God with our future is because we have a past. We quite naturally evaluate the unknown future in light of our known past. In so doing, we usually come up short when we compare our abilities with future challenges.
The powerful advantage of faith is that we are choosing God’s viewpoint of the future. Foresight is God’s specialty. He sees it all as if it were in the present. Our incredible privilege is that the very God who created it all and sees it all is simply saying, “Trust me. I can see where your next step should be. Have faith in my directions.” Not faith in our abilities or past experiences; rather, faith in the one who can see the next step he has purposefully designed.
Finances. “In January of 2007, we made a decision that changed our entire paradigm for earning a living—moving from a lifetime of salaried work to the faith-stretching challenge of raising personal support. I would like to say the decision was made quickly and easily. Not so.”
So begins the testimony of another Boomer, reflecting the obstacle of finances. What will I do for a decent income if I become involved in missions? What about benefits? What about retirement (whatever that is!)? Will I have to raise support?
As it turns out, this issue is closely related to the issue of faith. Whom do we trust for our financial needs? Our employer…a regular paycheck…the projections of economists? When our “trust” is in something visible, it seems easier. When it is in God alone, with no visible check-writer, we may become nervous.
To overcome this obstacle we need to be clear on the source of all funds. God is that source, regardless of what channels he uses to provide for them. This so-called obstacle can really be a benefit. It focuses our thinking, helping us come face to face with the object of our trust, and there is no one, anywhere, who is more trustworthy than God.
Fit. “Is there a place for me in missions? I’m not sure my skills and experience qualify me for such a role.” This question, posed by a Boomer, reflects the third obstacle many face. After working many years in a career, we may feel we do not have the training and experience normally associated with being a missionary. So what could we possibly do?
The great news is that none of this has taken God by surprise. Those promptings of his Spirit, causing us to consider missions, are because he has had us in training for exactly the kind of future ministry he has designed. In a manner of speaking, corporate America has been training us for kingdom work…we just didn’t realize it.
The training and experience we have developed can be door-openers to work and ministry opportunities allowing us to be the presence of Christ in dark corners of this world where the life-giving message of freedom and forgiveness are desperately needed.
Family. “What about my aging parents? I’m not sure my kids are going to appreciate the fact that we’re going overseas. I don’t know how I can be away from my grandchildren!” These are real issues that can be obstacles to taking steps of obedience.
When it comes to dealing with family issues, there are many right answers. Put another way, there are no pat, one-size-fits-all answers. Each situation is different and those who will be affected by our move into a mission role need to be able to speak into the situation. That does not mean others will tell us what we must do, but we do need to seek their input. If God is calling us to a ministry role that will demand a physical move, the responsibility is ours to initiate the conversations with all who will be impacted.
That may mean a gathering of the siblings to talk about the care of aging parents. It may be a meeting with our adult children to explain our desires and being willing to hear their affirmations or objections. If we have teenage children still at home, they will need to be part of the decision-making process.
Not all of these meetings will have easy outcomes. There may be tears, frustration, even anger. At times, they serve to surface issues that haven’t had to be faced before, and even though difficult, they may bring healing to relationships. Communication is necessary. Face the issues; answer the questions. And always keep your focus on what God is leading you to do.
Fight. We may not always be on the frontlines of a battle, but we are always in the war. Once we make it known that we intend to extend the Kingdom of God (whatever that may look like), we can be assured that we will be attacked. It’s not if, but when.
Our enemy will use the circumstances of life to throw up barriers to our ministry effectiveness. It can be health, economic challenges, relational issues, political decisions, terrorism, work issues, children, and family difficulties…any number of obstacles to keep us from following through on our obedience.
Many of us live with the assumption that if we are doing God’s will, things will smooth out and go well for us. As it turns out, quite the opposite is true for those making an impact for the kingdom. A quick look at the Apostle Paul’s life will illustrate the point. If anyone had a clear understanding of God’s will for his life, it was Paul. Yet his life was riddled with serious difficulties. He was making a difference, and the enemy didn’t like it.
James 4:7 states that we are to resist the Devil. Not try to fight him, not turn and run, but to stand firm on what we know God has put before us. Obey, stay the course, stand firm!
Engaging Boomers in Missions
Why do we need to focus on Boomers? Their sheer numbers. Between 1946 and 1964, 78.2 million babies were born in America. Approximately 12 million are Christ followers. From the time Boomers hit the college campuses, even until now, most institutions have not been ready for the increased numbers coming their way. This includes mission agencies.
Their coming tsunami. Half of the Boomers have passed this mid-50s stage, and the rest will pass through it by the end of 2019. That means every day for the next nine-plus years, there will be more and more Boomers looking for ways to make an impact with their lives. Will we be prepared to receive and channel them into kingdom work or will they surge past us and either miss the opportunity or form their own structures?
Their desire to make a difference. Built into the generational DNA of Boomers is a desire to make a difference in their latter years. They are looking for ways to have a lasting impact, wanting to make good use of all the experience they have developed.
Their decision-making criteria. Mid-life adults, usually around their mid-50s, move into a new level of self-understanding. Two key characteristics of this phase of life are: (1) they don’t need to prove themselves anymore and (2) they begin to make decisions based more upon their personal values than on life’s necessities. This second characteristic has a profound impact on their contribution to missions.
How do we effectively communicate with Boomers?
Ask questions. Everyone likes to tell their story. Many times in the telling, we are actually discovering where we are and what we’re thinking. Ask people what is taking place in their life…what God has been saying to them, what they are learning from his word. Ask about their family, their work. Give them time to talk.
Listen. This can be assumed from the previous suggestion, but we need to make a point of listening. A common tendency in a conversation is when we hear something with which we are familiar, we jump in and tell our similar story. Our intention is usually good; we desire to relate to what we’re hearing. But it is actually a devaluing moment. We send a message that we’re more interested in telling our story than listening to theirs. Instead, we need to listen and resist the temptation to talk too much.
Don’t try to recruit them. None of us likes to feel pressure to act on something we don’t fully understand. When people we are talking with feel the pull of recruitment too early, they will naturally begin to pull back.
Be interested in their journey. Let them know we are more interested in them discovering what God has for them than we are in getting them into our organization. Seek to help them form a next step, encourage them to take it, and offer to be of help.
Pray. Always pray with them. Along with praying for their next steps and discovering God’s will for their future ministry, pray regarding things you’ve picked up as they’ve talked about their life, their family, and their challenges.
Try to have a Boomer connect with another Boomer. As much as possible, have a Boomer (preferably one who has moved through the mid-fifties and understands the values-driven motives of Boomers) speak with another Boomer about possible ministry. A younger person may have great communication skills, but there tends to be a disconnect. Likewise, seniors have a different mind-set and do not relate well to Boomer motivations.
Always call or meet in person first. If you have not met this person, always, always, use the phone as your first contact, not email. Email is convenient and serves well for follow-up communication, but not as the first contact. Do it in person or by phone.
God has been uniquely preparing the Boomer generation for his purposes at this time in history. They will change the way we do missions from North America and that has not taken God by surprise. We tend to look at this generation from economic, political, and sociological perspectives. Those viewpoints give us valuable information, but we need to look at Boomers from a kingdom perspective as well. What is the Lord of the Harvest doing? The events that shaped this generation’s values and impact were not just happenstance. God is at work…always. What does he desire for this coming tsunami of workers?
Don Parrott is president of Finishers Project. Prior to that, he was overseas for ten years with OC International and later served as OC director of mobilization. He also led Paraclete Mission Group for five years. He and his wife, Ele, have four children and five grandchildren. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 104-107. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.