by Paul Borthwick
How do we stimulate our youth to be concerned, aware, and active in reaching the world with the good news of Jesus? We must work to apply three principles in our churches: example, exposure, and experience.
How do we stimulate our youth to be concerned, aware, and active in reaching the world with the good news of Jesus? We must work to apply three principles in our churches: example, exposure, and experience. For the purposes of this article, I am addressing specific ways to motivate junior and senior high school youth. It is my assumption that missions interest is developed in these years.
The principal influences on our youth are models. Young people are not so concerned about ideologies as they are about practical living. It must be our first concern to keep good examples before them. The church’s responsibility is to provide the models who will exemplify godly concern for the world.
The pastor. Although the pastor does not always have the greatest degree of contact with the youth, his may be the most powerful example. If the pastor prays regularly for church-supported missionaries and mentions the unreached peoples of the world in his sermons, the students will know that the pastor has a vision that reaches beyond their own community.
Beyond the explicit, however, the pastor is a model by his personal interests. If he has a globe on his desk or a map on his wall, students who visit his office will take notice. If he goes out of his way to affirm students who are interested in missions service, students will respond.
The youth leaders. The people who have the best opportunity to stimulate missions interest in the youth are the adults who help coordinate the youth groups. Youth ministers, adult lay-leaders, and parental sponsors can be the sparks that ignite fires of interest under the youth.
Perhaps the greatest example that these leaders can set is their own willingness to consider missionary service. When young people ask the candid question, "Why aren’t you a missionary?", the leaders had better have a reply. If the leader hems and haws or has to search for an answer, students will write it off as yet another incident of hypocrisy. The youth leaders who will be able to influence students to be missions-minded are those who know with conviction that their call is to their own culture.
The parents. Parents have the greatest amount of time with their young people, and some of this time can be used to arouse a missions interest in their youth. The parents’ personal interest in world missions is the greatest example that is available. Conversations at the dinner table, prayer together as a family, and an expressed openness of the parents about missionary service will have lasting effects on the children.
Visiting missionaries. The final group of older adults who are models before the youth are visiting missionaries. Missionaries who take the time to know (and be known by) a few students could leave a tremendous impression. Young people want to know "what it’s really like." They need to know that missionaries are real people who hurt, fail, and yet triumph in Christ. Missionaries are also crucial in affirming the youth and letting them know that God can use them as cross-cultural missionaries.
While examples must flow out of people’s lives and should not be contrived, there are certain planned exposures to world needs and opportunities that can help motivate our youth.
The usual practice of churches and organizations is to have brief, highpowered missions emphases at which people receive intense exposure. While these functions are useful for the dissemination of information, they are not the best environments for initial decision-making. Some of these spontaneous decisions to pursue missionary service are stimulated by guilt or excitement. Such decisions often come to naught.
The best decisions that can be made at these conferences are the result of consistent exposure to the need and the call throughout the year. At the end of our ten-day missions conference, over fifty high school and college-age students responded to the invitation to pursue missionary service. One veteran missionary commented, "This is not the result of a conference; it is the result of year-long exposure to the missionary vision."
Consistent exposure. If we desire to create a missions -motivating environment for our youth, how can this exposure be provided?
In the church at large. To stimulate young people regarding missions, the whole church must work together to keep aware of needs, opportunities, and situations around the world. Bulletin boards, church newsletters, and missionary profiles in the worship service are excellent means of exposure.
If young people are involved on the missions committee, they can be responsible to communicate information to the youth group. Perhaps the youth group could have their own missionary or their own country for which to pray.
Budgetary priorities will also maintain a high level of exposure. Supporting youth on summer teams, helping the pastor to travel, and assisting financially in crisis situations will help keep the church exposed to needs and opportunities world-wide.
In the youth group. Visiting missionaries who participate in Sunday school classes provide first-hand exposure to missions work. Students who have traveled should give reports to the whole group. Quizzes, skits, and fun activities can all be part of the exposure to the missions process.
Exposure in the youth group should provide opportunities to respond to the needs. Challenging a young person about the plight of the hungry without giving some type of opportunity to respond will result in frustration. Such responses might include fund-raising, research assignments, or life style decisions.
Additional exposure is available through films and educational resources (see resources). All of this exposure may be one way- that God works to direct students in their decisions about their futures.
In the home. Young people spend more time at home than in any other place. This fact indicates that the home is a crucial place for the exposure to missions. The home can be the context where projects can be undertaken to study a specific country or to financially support a specific need.
Many parents will not feel comfortable trying to talk with their teenagers about such an intense decision as missionary service. There are, however, alternative solutions. Starting a conversation at the dinner table with a question like, "What is the capital of Mongolia?" might start a discussion about reaching the unreached. In any event, it communicates to the youth that mom and dad think about more than just car payments and inflation.
Subscribing to National Geographic, buying a world map for the family room, or making family vacations "missionary" adventures can be part of the best exposure that a student can receive.
The models provided by older adults can stimulate our youth to think about missions. The consistent exposure to world needs can educate our youth about missions. It is the experience of being a missionary, however, that can confirm in our youth their desire to pursue missionary service.
There is one problem with typical short-term opportunities: they are usually reserved for those who have completed at least one year of college. While this is the best arrangement for the missions organizations, it is unfortunate because it neglects the junior and senior high school student-students who are very moldable and perhaps more easily influenced than college students.
First-hand missionary experiences do not need to be expensive. A mindset for missions is formed when youth enter needy situations with the attitude of serving,. Taking a suburban, middle-class youth group to serve in an urban church or a rural farming community will instill missions attitudes in the servers.
Whether it be at home or five thousand miles away, the motivation of youth towards missions requires that we carefully blend certain ingredients in service projects. Effective experiences that teach youth the rigors, responsibilities, and rewards of missionary service demand that we plan for the following:
1. Make demands in the preparatory process. If students do not have to pay (out of their time or money), they will ascribe little value to the project. Preparation might include research projects, Scripture memory, or registration fees.
2. Plan for teamwork. One of the realities of some missionary work that we do not want to affirm is the concept of the loner missionary. Service projects should be done by teams, and these teams should be made to understand that they must work together regardless of any lack of personal affinity for each other.
3. Give the broadest possible exposure to the people for whom we work. Service projects are the best way to destroy stereotypes that students may have about Christian service. If at all possible, we need to ask the people for whom we work to brief the team as to their life styles, the demands of the ministry on them, or the unique problems they face in serving.
4. Give the broadest possible exposure to the culture. Again, work to destroy stereotypes. If we take a suburban group to the inner city, we need to make an effort to show the positive aspects of the city. We must work to make sure that students do not return from projects with confirmed negative stereotypes. Broad exposure to the culture in which they serve will enable students to see that God is at work in more settings than just their own. They will learn to see the hand of God in every situation.
5. Make the project an adventure. Long, boring missionary reports have at times communicated to youth the message that missionary service is dull. A motivating experience in service should include some level of adventure. It might start with the adventure of seeing God provide the needed money. It could include a climb to the top of a mountain or a climb to the top of a skyscraper.
6. Make the project measureable. If students are going to get the sense that "God wants to use me," they need to see their efforts reap visible results. For this reason, painting, cleaning, and other manual labors are the best service projects. If students go on a project and can return home knowing that they painted a house, washed a room, or raked a field, they have tangible proof that God used them to meet a need.
7. Allow for feedback. If ‘we send our youth on service projects, we must follow up these projects with questions. Young people need help in articulating what they have learned and experienced. If we wait too long, the experience may be forgotten. Immediate follow-up of a project by questioning students and by forcing them to describe what they have learned will brand these experiences on their memories.
8. Affirm them after the fact. If young people venture out to serve on special projects, they should receive proper recognition after the fact. Interviews with students during the worship service, articles about them in the church newsletter, or appropriate applause from the pastor or missions committee will tell the students that they did a good job and that the church is proud of them.
MEASURE THE RESULTS
How do we measure the results? It should first be noted that youth work is a long-term investment. Few of our results will be immediate. The following results, however, are the measures by which we evaluate our effectiveness.
Servanthood. The most measurable result is servanthood. If students are exposed to missionary service, they should begin to understand that God has called all Christians to lay down their lives for others. If students are growing in their motivation to serve, then we are doing a good job.
World-awareness. The healthy bombardment with the vision for reaching the world should result in students who are thinking about life from a broader perspective. As a student’s vision for the world is expanded, he or she should start showing greater interest in international affairs or increased willingness to reach out to students outside of his or her own cultural group. In addition, a student’s understanding of the greatness of God should grow.
Missionaries. This, of course is the highest goal – to develop young men and women who will be selfless enough to dedicate their lives in service to others. If we can communicate to our youth God’s burden for reaching the world, the result will be people who, through full-time and tentmaking ministries, will go into the world as witnesses to the reality of Jesus Christ.
Bread For the World Educational Fund, Inc., 207 East 16th Street, New York, New York 10003, (212) 260-7000. This is the educational arm of Bread For The World, the Christian organization that lobbies for hunger-related causes. The Educational Fund has several packets that are very useful with high school students. The best two are the "Action Packets" and the "When I Was Hungry" course and teacher’s guide.
Inter-Christo, P.O. Box 9323, Seattle, Washington 98109, (206) 623-0715. This organization has several resources that are useful with youth. The "Futures" program is a guidance- related tool for high schoolers. It helps them examine their interests and abilities, and then it shows them how these might be used in missions-related service.
Mountain T.O.P., P.O. Box 23536, Nashville, Tennessee 37202, (615) 452-1098. Coordinated by the United Methodist Church, this program involves youth from all over the eastern United States in week-long work teams in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee.
Teen Missions International, Inc., P.O. Box 1056, Merritt Island, Florida 32952, (305) 453-0350. This is the best and most elaborate teen missions program. TMI gives students (junior high and older) exposure to fund-raising, training, practical work, and team ministry. Projects go all over the world; most are eight to ten weeks long. In 1980 over 800 staff and students were involved.
Voice of Calvary Ministries, 1655 St. Charles Street, Jackson, Mississippi 39209, (601) 353-1635. This organization has special programs to coordinate volunteer teams. Teams can come and gain exposure to high quality ministries while they do skilled and general maintenance.
World Vision International, 919 West Huntington Drive, Monrovia, California 91016, (213) 357-1111. The Love Loaf and Planned Famine programs are excellent service projects for youth groups. These and other World Vision programs give students a project that can be done at home, yet will have a world-wide effect. Both programs are free to the youth group, and both provide high-quality informational materials and resources.
How to Plan, Develop, and Lead a Youth Missionary Team, by Paul Borthwick (Grace Chapel, Lexington, Mass. 02173);$2. Gives both the theory and practice of a model that has been successful in one local church. Carefully detailed.
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