by Charles H. Troutman
Fact No. 1: For the first time in sixty years, missionary books are again on the best seller lists. Students are especially interested in them.
Fact No. 1: For the first time in sixty years, missionary books are again on the best seller lists. Students are especially interested in them.
Fact No. 2: After the "silent generation" of the 1950s, students are coming alive again. Unrest is confined neither to California, nor to secular campuses. It exists at Christian colleges as well.
Fact No. 3: Thee is widespread enthusiasm among students for the Peace Corps, as well as for church- and mission-related projects overseas. These projects appeal to their higher motives.
Fact No. 4: There is genuine student enthusiasm behind the Urbana missionary conventions sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The grassroots response is greater than the promotion.
Why can't we add "Fact No. 5" to this list?—"Students are volunteering for full-time professional missionary careers in unprecedented numbers." Why, in fact, is the reverse true?
The common answer seems to be, declining spirituality in the young people and in the churches. This answer appears to account for the decline in missionary recruits. But does it?
ANSWERS NOT ADEQUATE
Such a blanket answer is not adequate because it resembles too closely the emotional reactions that difficult, complex or disproved. It doesn't ring exactly true, because it does not allow that perhaps missions must share part of the blame. It rather places the blame outside the missionary body.
Another general explanation for the decline in missionary candidates is secularism. However, in dealing with young people, we must remember that the current state of secularism is, to them, normal. They expect to live and witness to Christ in the midst of this atmosphere, for they know no other.
If we may be allowed, for the moment, to conclude that both of these reasons are inadequate (the four facts mentioned at the outset would, of course, also tend to argue against these reasons), where can we look for more adequate answers? Before suggesting some alternatives, I want to make it clear that my perspective is pro- not anti-missionary, mission boards, mission executives. I write as a friend and supporter of missions for many years, deeply concerned that our fine, keen, spiritually qualified young people-from both Christian and secular college and university campuses-are not finding their way to the mission fields of the world. I write also as an intimate observer of student life and thinking over a span of thirty years.
YOUNG PEOPLE SPEAKING
This article is an attempt to uncover certain reasons that, because they may not be immediately recognized as relevant, too frequently confuse both the potential missionary candidate and the candidate recruiter. In the points that follow, the young people are speaking. Their voices are not those of critics of missions. The young people whose thinking and questions I have tried to capture and summarize here, are for the most part those who have felt the tug of God's Spirit toward missionary work.
True, many of them do not have an intelligent understanding of missions. Their image largely comes from either a romanticized past or a present caricature. We don't have to agree with them, but if we are to help them, if we are somehow to harness them for Christ on the mission field, the very least we can do is to listen to them.
Some mission leaders perhaps will feel that anyone who asks such questions doesn't have what it takes for service overseas. This is a misunderstanding. These searching questions of students parallel the intense inquisitiveness that William Carey had about India, that Hudson Taylor developed about India, before thev first sailed. The problems addressed here are with those who, through their own spiritual experience, have been led to consider God's call to service overseas. Why don't they get into full-time professional missionary careers?
The following prevailing attitudes seen by students inmissionsarc crucial issues in their minds. These attitudes can confuse their thinking long enough to postpone fatally their personal involvement in the missionary task. The students' bewildering array of questions can be summarized under five headings, which I have chosen to describe what students think they sense to be the current status of missions. I call them "obstacles" to missionary recruiting, for in the minds of students that is what thev are.
I. THE CLOSED DOOR PSYCHOLOGY
The psychology of the "closed door" has so permeated missionary thinking that it is now taken for granted. Expulsion of missionaries from China produced an immense amount of constructive thinking, but it also brought an emotional reaction, all the more important because it was often unconscious. The present student generation has grown up during this time of readjustment, and the "closed door" mentality has left a deeper mark on young people than is usually recognized. The stories they hear of missionary triumphs are often from an age before they were born, and, if current, the story is impregnated with a sense of haste before the day of opportunity ends. There are two indications that this fatalistic attitude is communicated to young people, even unintentionally.
1. More Interest in Secular Schools. Why is it that for the past ten years there has been more foreign missionary interest in secular colleges and universities than in Christian colleges? One reason is that students in these latter institutions have had more exposure to missionaries than their counterparts in secular universities, and thus more contact with the "closed door" mentalitv.
2. Pessimistic Prognosis. The average Christian student has a pessimistic prognosis of international relations. In spite of this, he will speak of his "call from God" and then go on to illustrate his confusion by asking whether there will be any doors open for him when his training is completed. He needs more than newspaper headlines and the "closed door" approach to help him respond to God's call.
Coupled with this attitude is the more damaging concept of "closing doors." It is not easy to avoid such an attitude, especially when it is a means of conveying the urgency of missionary work. Is there not a more biblical way? Think of the effect on the student who is concerned that his life count for God!
This past year two forward-looking mission leaders spoke to student audiences, each presenting a general missionary call through the specific situation of his own field. Each man used the term "closing doors" three times. Why should any serious student (considering the long preparation ahead) respond for service that will probably be denied him? Such a realistic presentation may be done in the name of honesty, or it may be used as an antidote for a wrongly-held idealism. But think of the confusion created by urging obedience to the Great Commission through a closing door.
This confusion cannot be spiritualized away by observing that God often asks the impossible, or that His servants often have to wait upon Him in darkness to sort out their dilemmas. This is true, but it certainly is not the responsibility of the potential candidate to work this one through. It is not the problem for young people in their late teens or early twenties to solve. It is the responsibility of those who are asking them to volunteer.
Perhaps there is no simple solution, but failure to present clearly the issues of the dilemma reflects on the capability of missionary leadership.
II. The Uncertain Commitment
The second obstacle to missionary recruiting is closely linked to the first. It undoubtedly arises from the uncertainties of the world situation and from the shadow of nuclear destruction. The present generation knows nothing of life without a cold war and an H-bomb. Whatever the cause, the general uncertainty is evident.
Butthere isanother, more bewildering, matter that never seems to be explained satisfactorily to potential candidates. It is the presence in the United States of so many able-bodied exmissionaries. It does not matter why they are at home; the student has discovered too many of them. He wonders what his chances are of a full life of missionary service.
Call vs. Facts. No one holds a mission board responsible for the Congo situation or the war in Asia. Actually, the student is probably less optimistic about the international future than his elders. What causes his confusion is the difference between the "call to missionary service" as it is presented, and the facts of life.
The call of God to a life of sacrificial service overseas is usually presented out of the New Testament pattern. It is also implied, and rightly so, that the policy of the society operates within these broad biblical principles. A student sees this without too much difficulty, although he may have a struggle with his own will. But the gulf that exists between the ideal and the actual bothers him. Why should he, an untrained young recruit, volunteer, when so many experienced personnel either cannot or will not return? It is a short step from this question to wondering whether mission executives are responsible leaders.
Short-term Plan Valuable. In this area of confusion, short terms have their appeal. They are neither a means of avoiding long-term commitments, nor experiments to determine suitability. A short term is rather an opportunity for a person to discover for himself whether the ideal for which the mission stands is compatible with the actual situation. In other words, do the mission leaders know what they are doing? Most young people are prepared to "use up" two or three years of their lives in order to gain confidence in a society with which they may make a lifetime association.
For this reason, short-termers resent the second-class status to which they are often relegated. They are often keenly disappointed in candidate school. They find the attitude of fulltimers difficult to live with, and resent the strong but indirect pressure to enlist for life, especially when it is urged for "spiritual reasons."
Unwillingness to volunteer at once for full-time service need not be a great problem. It can be largely overcome through clarity and mutual understanding. If it is highly improbable that a candidate will have a lifelong ministry to one language group, or in one type of work-as is the image of the pioneers-then the missionary challenge should be presented accordingly. It should include the possibility that the candidate may have to work in several places, learn different languages, suffer interrupted planning, or have a premature retirement at home. He should know what the society does with its members who are forced home. But above all, he should be helped to understand how he may, even through the most adverse circumstances, make a solid contribution to the local body of Christ. Young people respond to honesty and accuracy of this sort. Perhaps in some cases the problem lies at a deeper levelin the principles and practices of the mission.
In any case, since the implications of the "spiritual challenge" often do not seem to fit the observed facts, the normal reaction of students is not to question the New Testament ideal, but to conclude that the missionary speaker is irresponsible in trying to hide something important. They do not feel it is right to commit themselves to such leadership.
Reluctance to Be Specific. Another factor that produces uncertainty in students is the reluctance of mission boards to be specific about appointments in advance, either for types of work or location. There is, of course, the rightful suspicion that a candidate secretary, may have toward a volunteer who knows dogmatically the place and nature of his future work. The confusion does not lie here, but in the areaofvocational preparation.
As an illustration, there are a number of societies that need general missionaries rather than specialists. They need jacks-of-all-trades, often a better description. Yet seldom is a candidate advised to train as a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, be is urged to go to seminary or Bible institute-usually a mandatory requirement. It is somehow assumed that if a luau has his hihlical or theological requirements, he is prepared to be a jack-of-all-trades. It is not the requirement of Bible training that puzzles the students, but the fact that it is assumed to be adequate. It sounds to them like magic.
A student raised this question at Urbana. He went to the display of a mission in which he was interested, where a representative described the life and work of a general missionary. The student understood that one-fourth of his time would be spent on household duties, another fourth on keeping his car going, the third fourth tinkering with his radio, and the remainder of his time in travel, preaching, desk work, evangelism, counseling training, etc. The mission representative had undoubtedly detected unreal idealism as he talked with the young man, and he wanted to emphasize the down-to-earth aspects of missionary life. The student quickly got the point, and was expecting suggestions for further general training outside his own field, electrical engineering, which would obviously include Bible training. Instead, the impression was given that to prepare for this jack-of-all-trades life, he should go to seminary before applying to the mission. This appeared so completely irrational that the student walked away.
Clash of Two Worlds. Here was a clash of two worlds-each misunderstanding the other. Young people, whose whole educational life has been spent in a utilitarian educational philosophy that exalts specialization, honestly feel that an attitude such as the one represented by the missionary above is superstitious. To them, it indicates irresponsibility, and they are not prepared to squander their lives. The solution to this impasse may not require the reorganization of the mission. The misunderstanding could be cleared up by a realistic presentation of missionary work and life overseas in the thought patterns of youth. This is best illustrated by the fact that the combination of intensive linguistic training plus on-the-spot jungle camp is a program that makes sense to most young people.
III. THE NATIONAL CHURCH
A notlier obstacle to enthusiastic missionary volunteering is the faulty impression given of the relationship between the missionary society and the national church. Many missionary addresses leave serious questions in the minds of young people, and mission executives come under special scrutiny because of a mistrust of anything that may be labeled colonialism. No amount of enthusiasm for the indigenous church will conceal the relationship that is revealed, not so much by what is said, as by what is not said. Students are not looking for detailed descriptions of field relationships, but for an attitude. Being only students, they are often mistaken, but it does not make recruitment easier by ignoring the basic question for which they are seeking an answer.
This image, or lack of image, of the relationship between the national church and the mission society is formed in several ways:
Stories Raise Problem. Through the stories a missionary tells. This is inevitable. Communication must be interesting, ideas must be illustrated, and the biblical injunction requires a report of "all the things the Lord has done." This raises an unfortunate problem. The most interesting stories are usually about some outstanding convert, a special intervention of God, an amazing victory of some kind, a revival, or a similar event. Perhaps this is a hangover from the nineteenth century, when the appeal of the pioneer was irresistible. To young people of the 1960's this appeal isnotnecessarily valid. They are looking for something quite different.
The difficulty lies in the fact that most stories require the missionary or the mission society for their background. How very few require the national church for their setting! Are we subconsciously fearful that unless we promote the society and its personnel, there will be little reason for giving or volunteering?
2. Consideration of Assignments. By the "strategic nature" in which missionary assignments are considered. There seems to be a compulsion to give each task a significance that will set it apart as unique and important. Somehow, we feel a missionary must pioneer, and this means he must find new "lost tribes," seek out new unoccupied social levels, move into the universities, or work with some similarly important group. Why is it that a missionary merely working for the national church is at a disadvantage in the homeland? For one thing, he is only doing the kind of work he would do at home anyway. Anyone so "assigned to assist the local church" knows the pressure he feels at a missionary convention to "juice up" the story of his work in order to gain audience response. It is true that the Christian constituency responds best to the unusual but most young people are seeking something else, and at this level they are inquiring deeply.
3. Standpoint of Mission. By speaking almost entirely from the standpoint of the missionary society. Messages, newsletters, and articles tell of the movement of missionaries, the plans and problems of the society, the results of preaching the Gospel, and the work of the nationals connected with the mission. This is perhaps inevitable, and perhaps necessary, but in recruiting it has become woefully deficient. Any prospective candidate knows that there are other societies working in the same area, and, except in pioneer regions, there is probably some kind of a national church. He is also vaguely aware of the possibility of nonprofessional missionaries being somewhere on the scene. The absence of information on these matters leaves the Christian student with an uncertain feeling that he is not getting the whole picture.
It is in this point the relationship of the missionary society to the national church, that the modem young person is particularly interested. This has come about largely through the presence of international students on every campus. These overseas guests are making changes in the colleges and universities, changes so great that some educators believe we have entered a new era, where political and religious intolerance can no longer exist. This is undoubtedly too optimistic, but the change is still radical, especially among Christians. As Christians, they feel some sense of spiritual responsibility, although they may not know how to exercise it. Very few, certainly of the missionary-minded, are without some international friends. This friendship is accomplishing several things:
1. New Perspectives. The Christians are receiving new perspectives on other countries, and certainly on their own. It is coming to them directly and personally from intelligent, informed nationals, probably from the middle and ruling classes. It is based primarily on friendship. Likely as not, this new understanding is more akin to his studies and the newspapers, than to his impressions from most missionary magazines.
2. Different Point of View. Christian students are absorbing a different point of view on missionaries and missions than they have received from their churches. Anthropologists, whether antagonistic or friendly, are at least sharply analytical. Their attitude creeps into every corner of college and university life. Some international students bitterly hate missions and all they stand for. Even those who are not antagonistic to missions will express a different side of the missionary enterprise. Even Christian internationals look at missionsthroughdifferent eyes.
3. Missions Questioned. This impact of international students on young Christians causes them to question missionary methods. Naturally, they become critical, without an adequate understanding of the hiblical imperative, field strategy, or local conditions. Ail N recruiting that fails to recognize this attitude, and face it squarely, will be ineffective.
4. Confronts Non-Christian Religions. The most profound effect of overseas students on the prospective missionary is this: before a candidate is twenty, he has come face to face with great non-Christian religions. Without much knowledge of doctrine, lacking the support of missionary friends or the maturity another ten years will bring, he has made this personal confrontation. Perhaps the representative of this religion lives on the same floor. Without doubt he will stand for the best and highest in his system. He may even be the Christian's roommate.
Knowing that some missionaries in the past have been so captivated by the values of these religions, that they have lost their distinctive Christian message, is it any wonder that students are shaken by this impact?
The Effect Is Not All Negative. Such friendships, and the understanding they produce, give the Christian student an intelligent interest in a whole country: primarily its religion, but also its social, political, and economic aspirations and problems. The shortage of food production is not the least of them. The fortunes of a particular American mission seem small coolpared with the burdens and the challenge of a whole nation. The Christian student cannot help but pick rip the patriotic hopes and visions of his overseas friends, and because of his own background of freedom and democracy, he becomes very sympathetic to their strong nationalism. He develops a sensitivity to any threat that he feels missions might make to this national integrity. Sharing these national concerns, Christian students do not intend to substitute a social for a redemptive gospel, but they are committed to the first priority of building the body of Christ through the proclamation of the New Testament Gospel. Consequently, when a missionary speaker fails to mention the relationship of the mission to the country's church, or churches, and to the nation as a whole, the potential candidate feels that too much of significance is missing.
Teamwork Concept Deeply Rooted. There is another factor that throws light on the current interest of voting people in serving the national church. The typical student is less interested in becoming a heroic leader than he is in sacrificial service as a member of a team. This concept of teamwork is now deeply rooted in our society, and rapidly becoming more so. Most students expect to spend their lives as team members rather than as individuals. This is not to justify the team member as against the entrepreneur, but to observe an attitude of those to whom the call of God is coming. The contrast is not to be understood as one between leaders and followers, but between individual leadership/service and team leadership/ service. The appeal of the early Student Volunteer Movement to the heroic finds little response. It is considered mere bombast.
Is it possible that behind some appeals for missionary service there lies the motive of offering to candidates the possibility of Christian leadership in another culture? At least students often feel they detect this, but they do not want to become leaders in a foreign country. They are not unwilling to dedicate their lives to serving, but they want some assurance that by so doing they will make a solid contribution to a local cause. The Peace Corps exemplifies this. The Corps offers no possibility of leadership in another country, but it does provide a framework through which a constructive effort can be made in the lives of real people. The popularity of summer work projectsoverseasindicates the same thing.
Such is the broad background that potential candidates have in showing their interest in the national church. It is not an evasive tactic; it represents a deep conviction that is iii keeping with their whole life's pattern. When the impression is inadvertantly given that a mission is more important than the local church, the suspicion of betrayal is unavoidable. The policy of some missions to include nationals on their mission staff-is understood by the present generation. It is a first step. Perhaps the time will come when missionary societies will be the vehicles to convey invitations from the national churches to potential candidates.
IV. NON-REVOLUTIONARY MISSIONS
TIiis obstacle to missionary recruiting is the most difficult to describe, and certainly the most difficult to capitalize on in recruiting. It is not subject to statistics, and it is seldom understood by young people themselves. It is based on a mood, often unconsciously. As with all trends, it will pass in time, but for the present this mood is increasing, and it will become dominant in the coming generation. Because of this, it is pervasive and consequently difficult to work through. It can best be described as a revolutionary attitude in modern young people. Since this word has so many connotations, it is necessary to be more descriptive. This mood is shared by Christian and nonChristian alike, and thus cannot easily be dismissed in recruiting. Too frequently we assume that the term "revolution" refers to non-Christians only. The present student generation makes no such distinction.
This mood affects Christian young people more seriously than their non-Christian counterparts. The non-Christian, following the general consensus that life is probably without meaning, is robbed of an incentive for action. The believer realizes that no matter how impossible the task, something must be done. He knows intuitively that protest without responsible action is not only ineffective but nonmoral. The stronger the revolutionary mood, the more urgent is the need to do something. This attitude appears in students of both major political parties; it is far more than a left-wing phenomenon. It is strong enough to precipitate sit-ins, public protests, riots, and racial action. Most of this action invokes considerable personal risk. It is a far cry from the student veterans of the 1940's with their haste to get settled. It is the opposite of the "silent generation" of the 1950's and its search for security through the organizational man.
Young People of '60s Impatient.The young people of the 1960's have finally become impatient. All their lives they have been told by the older generation that the vast problems of a complex world are too great for solution. Christian students arc assured that little can be done except to wait for the personal intervention of the Second Coming. Instinctively, students resent this as fatalism, since it seems a far cry from the Lord's command to "occupy until." To them, it seems ,pore like an argument for the status quo. To them, problems are challenges. In Young Republicans, Democrats, Birchers, Christians, and non-Christians alike, this spirit of determination to do something is working – a true revolutionary spirit. Consequently, there is an instinctive response to the rebel, and men like Ben Bella, Castro, and Lumumba are admired. The campus heroes are no longer the football stars, beauty queens, or the Big Men On Campus. We underestimate Christian students if we do not realize the extent to which many of them are influenced by this mood.
Just because this student revolutionary spirit has not taken violent forms, as it has in other countries, is no reason to deny its influence in missionary recruiting. Practically, this means that when a young person begins to consider a particular mission society, he looks for something of the same spirit. Heissuspicions of tradition, and feels that no matter what the consequences may be, the future lies with new movements and with new approaches to the world and the Christian church. He is skepical of present solutions and is confident that new ones are demanded, because of the advance of science and the population explosion. He is anchored sufficiently in the past to believe that in spite of all of this, Jesus Christ is the answer, but not in the same old way. Right or wrongly, he feels that most missionary leaders resent and oppose the winds of change in a desperate struggle to maintain the present situation. Unfortunately, be has gained this impression from listening to missionary speakers. His impression is that whatever success the society may have, it is far from the mainstream of national life, and and may perhaps be irrelevant. His reasoning is probablv illogical and certainly uninformed, but the remedy lies with the mission society, not with the potential candidate.
Utilize Revoluationary Spirit. This revolutionary set of mind is not just to be overcome, but to be utilized. It is a spirit that God has often harnessed to His glory in the past. It should be all to the advantage of the cause of missions if we are prepared to face it. There is plenty of ammunition. The transformation of tribes brought about by the Gospel, the penetration of non-Christian cultures and religions, the work of national believers in their society-tlicse are approaches that make sense. But to be understood, these approaches must include more than adjectives and generalizations. Another effective approach to recruitment is to present a study of church growth in relation to various missionary methods. This is the classroom way of instruction, and Christian students will be quick to draw New Testament parallels and see their own possible involvement. Still another method of presenting the Great Commission is through an unsentimental but thorough-going explanation of the place of a particular mission in the life of the national church in an emerging, or static, country.
Few Christian young people are prepared to invest their lives with an organization that maintains what the students think is the status quo. They are allergic to something that may possibly be a dead end, or be by-passed. This is a spiritual principle with them. We underestimate the present student generation. They are prepared to take considerable risks for something that has a fair chance of making a contribution on the field.
V. THIRD-RATE IMPRESSION
TIiis last obstacle to missionary recruiting is the attitude of keen Christian students, who honestly feel that they will be restricted in serving the Lord by becoming a missionary-professional or non-professional. Among many of the finest of them, it is assumed that missionary work is third-rate work for thirdrate Christians. It is similar to the attitude a university graduate would take if he were urged to become a day laborer. He would riot despise such work -especially as a Christian, but he would not naturally seek it.
This devaluation is partly due to a false ordering of priorities in Christian work. For over a century we have operated under the false assumption of a Protestant hierarchy of spirituality. At the pinnacle was the foreign missionary, then the home pastor, followed by the Christian worker, and, in descending order, the doctor, teacher, nurse, businessman, and, finally, for women who could not do much else w