We need to surrender some smaller ambitions and guide our youth into missionary service.
How can churches provide an atmosphere in which young people are motivated to involvement and interest in missions?
If students are to catch a vision for the world, the church first must provide models who have such a vision:
The pastor. Young people will notice when the pastor prays for missionaries or mentions unreached peoples. A globe on his desk, a map in his office, or an affirming word to students who are interestested in missions will demonstrate that he has a vision beyond the local community.
The youth leader(s). The youth minister, lay leaders, or sponsors can provide the greatest example by their own willingness to consider missionary service. When teen-agers candidly ask, “Why aren’t you a missionary?,” they had better have a reply.
The parents. Parents have special opportunities to set examples of world concern. Conversations at the dinner table, prayer as a family, or expressed openness about missions can give parents lasting (although not always visible) effects on children.
Visiting missionaries. Missionaries who take the time to know (and be known by) church youth can leave a tremendous impression. Young people want to know “what it’s really like.” Seeing missionaries who hurt, fail, and yet succeed through Christ show youth that God uses normal people in missions service.
The usual practice of many churches is to have a high-powered missions emphasis once a year. Although useful for disseminating information, these do not always provide the best environments for initial decision making regarding missions. The best decisions young people make at these conferences are the result of consistent exposure to world missions throughout the year:
In the church at large. The whole church must work at keeping aware of needs, opportunities, and circumstances around the world. Bulletin boards, church newsletters, and missionary profiles in the services are excellent means.
In the youth group. Regular information can be provided by students on the missions committee. Visiting missionaries can provide firsthand acquaintance with their work when they participate in Sunday school classes. Quizzes, skits, and fun activities can all be part of the process.
The youth group should also provide opportunities to respond to needs, such as raising funds, or assigning research projects concerning life decisions. Films and educational materials can shed additional light.
In the home. Learning about missions at home might mean studying a specific country or contributing to a specific financial need. 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 a student can receive.
There is an abundance of summer and short-term mission opportunities in missions, but most are limited to youth who have had at least one year of college. This unfortunately neglects junior and senior high school students who are more readily influenced than college students. The challenge to the local church is to give these young people missionary experiences during their teen years. With such experiences, students can enter college or vocations with an understanding of world needs and opportunities and a sense that “God wants to use my life; I can make a difference.”
To make maximum use of these service opportunities, the following ingredients should be blended in the planning:
1. Make preparation demands. These might include research projects, Scripture memory, training seminars, or registration costs.
2. Plan for teamwork. Teens encounter their best growth experiences when they understand they must serve together as a team, regardless of personal affinities.
3. Introduce them to missionaries. Discussion and interaction with missionaries will help destroy stereotypes about Christian service and the people who do it.
4. Acquaint them with the culture. Broad understanding of a new cultural setting will enable students to see God at work in people and through cultural expressions much different from their own.
5. Make the project an adventure. Students’ experience in serving should include some level of adventure. It could start with the adventure of seeing God provide the needed money. It might include a mountain climb, or a ride to the top of a skyscraper.
6. Make the work measurable. If students are to sense that “God wants to use me,” they need to see visible results. If they return home knowing they painted a house or planted a field, they know God used them to meet a specific need.
7. Allow for feedback. Young people need help in articulating what they have learned. Follow-up requires asking questions and making evaluations that will help engrave the experiences on their memories.
8. Affirm them after the project. Interviews in a worship service, articles in the church newspaper, or appropriate praise from the pastor or missions committee will tell the students they did a good job and the church is proud of them.
Assuming that we are praying and working to motivate our youth toward world missions, how can we measure the results to see if we are accomplishing our goal?
Servanthood. If young people understand world missions, 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” of vision for reaching the world should result in youth who view life from a broader perspective. As this enlarges, there should be an accompanying increased concern for international affairs and for others outside the students’ cultural group.
Missionaries. If we can communicate God’s burden for the world, the long-term results will be people who, through full-time and tent-making ministries, will go into the world as witnesses for Jesus Christ.
It is said that Saint Francis Xavier challenged the students of his day to give up their “small ambitions and come … preach the gospel of Christ.”
The challenge today is not to the students as much as it is to the church. We need to give up our small ambitions to see some of our youth venture out in missionary service.
Mr. Borthwick, minister of youth at Grace Chapel, Lexington, Massachusetts, has coordinated 19 youth mission teams to eight countries.
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