by Phil Schwas and Rick Melick
Do students have anything to offer missions in the 1970s? Some missionaries wonder if this generation can be used in missionary service.
Do students have anything to offer missions in the 1970s? Some missionaries wonder if this generation can be used in missionary service. Should evangelical students of the 70s be a compass or pointer to which missions recruiters look for guidance? At least, students think they ought to be heard; they feel they have many valid contributions to make. Let us shift our discussion, then, and take a quick glance at today’s student on the Christian campus.
WHAT ARE TODAY’S STUDENTS LIKE?
They are informed. Today’s students far excel the college students of ten years ago, or even five, in their grasp of information and issues. They are aware of social and international news and developments. They are grappling with the burning issues of the day.
This high degree of knowledgeability makes the students more critical. Students are often upset because evangelical institutions seem strangely mute when it comes to addressing themselves to such issues as the bomb, the war, poverty, inner city housing, abortion and the pill. The students are trying to find the Christian implications of these issues.
They are often disillusioned with the Establishment. Campus unrest and open rebellion against civil authorities point to a very disillusioned and impatient student generation. "Demand" and "protest" are characteristic words, very much at home with the mood of the times. Students feel as though they are heirs to a tradition-clogged system, which forces society into its narrow confines allowing little room for creativity or honesty.
Students are attracted to organizations that emphasize change, dynamic movement, a break with the past, and revolutionary methods. These movements generally relate rather loosely to the conventional church. They are drawn to inner city projects, short term efforts like Operation Mobilization, and various specialized outreaches such as coffee houses and Christian athletics clubs. The popular organizations on campus are the non-institutional ones.
Collegians are looking for fast changes in the institutional church and related bodies. They see no reason why there should be a slower rate of change in these institutions than in others. One Bible college graduate, now engaged in doctoral studies overseas, has been planning on missionary service for some time, yet he thinks that the conventional mission agency structures will not allow him the degree of flexibility for further study, for writing, and a degree of mobility that he feels necessary to be an effective missionary educator.
They are person-oriented. With the advent of group dynamics, group therapy, T groups, and action or cell groups in many organizations and campuses, students are very sensitive to the world of interpersonal relationships. They are often repulsed by the thought of being merely a number or a body of students, or by being stereotyped by such designations as "radical" or "conservative." They want to be recognized for their own merits; they want to develop a few close relationships rather than a broad assortment of contacts. They look for blunt openness from others, an honest discussion of strengths, weaknesses and failures.
They want to be seen for their gifts, not for what roles they could fill in a given organization. The worst thing in the world would be to fill a slot; what they want is to see a place of service shaped for specific men and their gifts. They are people-oriented rather than program-oriented. They also see themselves someday working with small teams rather than as pioneers. They see the frontier days as a thing of the past, and want to make their contribution as members of a joint outreach.
Their commitments are short-range. In a time when the average American male changes his job four or five times in a lifetime, students are not as interested in lifetime commitments. They are far from being preoccupied with retirement benefits or Social Security! Rather, they are interested in "trying it out for awhile . . ." The results of the Urbana Survey show that "the view of missions as a lifetime commitment is evidently on the way out . . ." The Intercristo Survey indicated that 71 percent of the students were undecided about their future but were interested in short-term possibilities.
They are activists. To students the most important time in history is now; the far future is irrelevant. Perhaps this is why the Peace Corps, Operation Mobilization, and inner city involvements seem to have gained such attraction. Students want to be where the action is now. They are looking for momentum and movement, and seldom find very much of it in the institutional organizations.
They are uncertain. Today’s Christian students generally have more questions than answers. They expect to land on their vocational field sometime in their late twenties, rather than upon college graduation, as it used to be ten years ago. They struggle during the early twenties to find themselves, their gifts and interests; their college years are generally ones of flux and experimentation. According to the Urbana Survey, 65 percent of the delegates were uncertain of their future plans; the Intercristo Survey revealed 58 percent who were undecided about their future work. This does not necessarily show a lack of commitment, but perhaps rather a more cautious approach to vocational decisions.
HOW DO STUDENTS SIZE UP MISSIONS?
The delegates who responded to the Urbana Survey generally had a very good image of missions and missionaries. Missionaries were seen as "capable," "friendly," "challenging," "alert," "creative," people with good personalities doing a vital work. However, it is significant that only five percent had decided on missionary service for their calling. Apparently most of the discussion about the bad missionary image, the problems of communication, and negative attitudes toward missions have centered on the Christian campuses. (Two-thirds of the Urbana attendants were from secular schools.) The attitudes toward missions are far more critical and negative among the Christian college students.
There are rumblings at the grass roots on the Christian campuses, but seldom do student criticisms, questions, and doubts reach print. These rumblings have been gathered mainly from student comments, unpublished papers, college newspapers, and from faculty evaluation; thus, they are tentative in nature, but perhaps the best we have at this stage.
Missions as "out of it." Many students consider missions not much more than a dead cause because missions seem so irrelevant to the issues and problems of the day. They wonder why missionaries seem so silent about the great moral and social issues that have direct relation to their work overseas.
Students still accuse missionaries of being drab. In emphasizing devotion to God and sacrifice for His work, many evangelical missionaries seem to deny certain essential aspects of personality and beauty. Because God has made us aesthetic creatures, we deny our humanness if we forget that beauty, charm, and graciousness are essential aspects of our lives. How we dress, how we keep our homes, how we serve a meal-all are indications of the type of people we are. Sensitive students, who are aware of he beauty of God’s world around, cannot but be repelled by the unimaginative drabness and harsh plainness of many foreign missionaries. . .1
Missions as traditional and inflexible. Students fear that missions strategy and policies have not changed in the last twenty years. Frequently the terminology they hear from the missionary on the campus is very much the same that they heard as children; this gives rise to the suspicion that perhaps the whole enterprise is static and unimaginative.
Students want to know: What is the mission’s attitude toward change? What is the mission’s attitude toward the development of manpower efficiency? Are furlough policies being changed? Would the mission be willing to promote a non-institutional church?
Students are also concerned about behavioral demands being placed on them in areas such as entertainment and dress codes. Some missions have imposed specific restrictions on theater attendance, and have censured men for wearing turtlenecks on the job. This type of treatment appears to be nothing less than pure legalism to many students.
Students feel it is important that mission societies project an image of willingness to seek new ways, forms, and approaches in the administration and work. Would missions be willing to help in placing non-professional workers on fields where they already operate? Would missions be willing to place a man under thirty on their board of directors? Or how about a 30-year-old candidate secretary? What about a folk music group to tour campuses on behalf of missions? How about publishing a couple of books composed of essays by students regarding missions?
Missions as nor-personal. Youth are desperately scared that they might get involved in an organization where they are just another cog, going around in circles like the next one! They are often unsure whether the mission is interested in them as whole men or merely as "missionaries." As one student put it, "Youth are not afraid to go to the field. The problem in their thinking is whether or not the established boards are successful . . . . Are they caught up in the same depersonal spirit that big business is? He is concerned about individuality . . . . He is concerned about fitting into God’s worldwide program with his own particular emphasis."
Missions as unsuccessful. The most deadening of all the impressions that students have about mission agencies is that their activities at home and abroad are basically unsuccessful. Because students question the validity of the institutional church here at home, they also question the validity of exporting institutional churches overseas. They also question the need for North American, missionaries abroad when there is a national church in existence among all ethnic groups. They have nagging suspicions that missionaries have exported more Americanism than Christianity. And here’s another honest doubt: if missions are "out of it" at home, they’re probably not doing such a hot job overseas.
All in all, many students wonder whether the institutional societies are now a thing of the past, perhaps used by God for pioneer evangelism, but not much more than a nuisance today in the face of growing churches in all foreign cultures. The students’ answer to spreading the gospel is the non-institutional movement.
THE CRUX OF THE PROBLEM
Somehow, during the past few years a gap has developed in the missions communication process. Missionaries sense the barrier but often are hard put to find ways to bridge it; students seem to be more aware of the problem, but not very fast to offer solutions.
What is the nature of this gap? Is it a simple matter of a generational difference? Perhaps this has something to do with it, but the problem seems to go much deeper. The whole concept of the missionary has become "foreign" to the students. They see the missionary as having a totally different life orientation and style. They can hardly imagine themselves in a similar role; far be it from them!
I propose that the gap is basically a communication gap that has developed from a cultural gad. Here is the problem: most missionary recruitment personnel were raised in an evangelical culture of twenty years ago. They then spent two or three terms overseas. Since arriving back in the States, they have spent most of their time in the home office and maintained little contact with current trends among students.
Unfortunately, their basic cultural orientation is often about twenty years old. They don’t see clearly the shift from a security-conscious generation to one of social concern. They still speak of material sacrifice as a major issue in commitment. They chide this generation for being complacent and unresponsive, yet students are activistic and deeply involved.
The mission recruiters seldom see the full implications of the non-institutional movement, which is so different from the Social Security, retirement, fringe benefit orientation of several years ago. They are baffled by a shift from a declarative approach in communication to a decidedly interrogative one. Then they wonder why students say, "You guys are out of it!" Now, of course, not all missionaries are victims of this old-line cultural orientation, but this is a major problem that needs facing!
Next to this intellectual gap is a mentality gap. Missionaries have reservations about the student with the beard, long hair, beads, sandals, and a "foreign" vocabulary. Thus, automatically, there is a negative response in the thinking of the missionary when he faces this arena of nonconformity. Without thinking abut it, he is repulsed by much of what he sees, and his attitude comes through to the students.
Yet, it is entirely possible that the most hippie-looking students on campus are the most relevant, because they are ministering to hippies in the city. They are trying hard to make cultural adaptations in their current ministry. These same students might be the best possible material for missionary service, because they have a degree of adaptability and relevancy that is so essential overseas. But missionaries pass them by as being obvious rebels of the whole American system (and maybe the Christian system as well!)
On the other side of this gap are the students. And they are also to blame for the broadened chasm. If students would recognize some of their basic biases and hang-ups, it would be far easier for the missionaries to have a vital ministry among them. Here are four problem areas:
1. Youth should be careful to evaluate properly mission boards and their work. In most cases, years of experience stand behind these policies and practices. The inquiring youth should be willing to accept the good as well as express concern over the bad. Further, they should exercise faith that God is working through a board, in spite of human failures.
2. Students need to realize that many times "now" is not the time to act; to act now would destroy a work that took many years to build.
3. Students need to cultivate the habit of searching the Scriptures with their complaints. The person who is oblivious to life around him is in danger, but so is the man who is so much involved that he cannot look beyond his present life. Youth must begin to relate their criticisms to basic principles of the Word. Otherwise, much of what they say will be invalid.
4. Students need to develop an attitude of helping those in need. Missionary recruiters fall into this category at times. The young person should go to missionaries with suggestions and honest, humble questions about the things that bother them. Unless communication lines are open, nothing will be accomplished.
GETTING OUR HEADS TOGETHER
Much of the key to the new surge of specialized missionary recruitment on campus during recent years has been due to close communication between missions leaders and students. To some degree at least, both students and missionaries have displayed a spirit of mutual acceptance and joint learning. Since 1964, when both the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association and the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association established their Personnel and Student Affairs Committees, there have been numerous discussions, round table dialogues, and consultations on issues relating to campus missions activities and student recruitment.
A recent development has been the advent of the full-time campus recruiter. The students have chosen to call him the "campus ministry man." These men, some six or seven in IFMA so far, have become veritable mediators in the student-missionary dialogue. They cross the lines back and forth from the mission society to the campus, and bring with them a wealth of exposure to the benefit of both students and mission executives. These men are convinced that student opinions and ideas must influence recruitment strategy, and they try their best to communicate this message within the structures of the societies.
Another exciting development has been the formation of the Inter-Regional Coordinating Committee of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship. The committee, begun at Urbana ’64, hopes to revitalize FMF groups on the evangelical campuses. The annual June Leadership Training Workshop has come about essentially through the efforts of the ICC. During this week-long workshop there have been deliberate attempts to get students and mission leaders together on a dialogue basis. This has been very healthy for missionaries and students alike.
The Evangelical Alliance Mission has pioneered in its efforts to get on the student wavelength. During Easter breaks, 1969 and 1970, TEAM flew in fifteen key students from around the nation for a weekend of serious discussion and dialogue regarding TEAM’s recruitment program and overall ministry. These were men and women from Bible schools, Christian liberal arts colleges, seminaries and secular campuses. Five of the delegates presented papers. They interacted with several TEAM leaders on every conceivable issue. The students went home stimulated and encouraged. The mission apparently was amazed that the gap seemed even broader than anticipated.
There are many other encouraging developments in the joint learning process between students and missionaries. Several missions are planning to form a team of campus representatives to tour campuses together in the fall of 1970. They are seeking to break down the "fragmentation image" of missions that is so prevalent among students. IFMA and EFMA are working together on producing basic recruitment brochures; they are seeking the counsel of students in the project. In response to a student request, IFMA and EFMA, in cooperation with the national SFMF and the ICC, have prepared a list of qualified campus speakers. This has already been a great help to campus leaders in planning their programs.
The key to recruiting missionaries for the ’70’s is a clear understanding of the current student generation. Without such understanding, it will be impossible to communicate to them a concern for the overseas opportunities facing the church. Pleas will fall on non-responsive ears, and students will find other areas for involvement.
Students need to help missions understand the current evangelical culture; also missions need to dialogue patiently with students to help them understand missions. Missions need youth, and youth need missions. The maturity of experience joined to the enthusiasm and zeal of youth is an unbeatable combination. The beauty of the gospel is that critical, impatient youth can work in a "now" situation with hesitant, cautious, traditional men and forge ahead in a coherent whole for the glory of God. The principle for successful attainment is simple: we can walk together if we agree. When men drop their critical attitudes and find common ground on which to build, then the unity of the Body of Christ is demonstrated in a powerful display that results in greater witness to the world.
1. Nat Hatch, "Meaningful Collegian Reaction to the Evangelical Mission Establishment," paper presented at TEAM ‘s Varsity Advisory Council, April, 1969, p. 1.
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