Pastoral Perspectives

Millennials for Missions

In my last perspective, if you still remember, I lamented over whether it is still possible to raise a new generation of missionaries. In this perspective, I write to share a piece of good news –True Way has hope! God is still calling people to missions. We have 2 responses to heed God’s call to missions. I remember years ago when I was first called to True Way, my challenge to the leadership was to tithe 10% of our membership to missions. I hope, God willing, I will live to see this challenge becoming a reality.

Mission to the World (MTW) recently surveyed and held focus group meetings with millennials in five U.S. cities to learn how to better mobilise millennials for missions. Millennials come with a missional spirit different from that of previous generations. Generally they have a great concern for social issues, justice, and local missions rather than international projects.

The survey tells us that they hope to make a difference, be mentored, and be entrusted with leadership responsibilities. They desire to serve but first they need to hear and see international needs personally. From a mission’s perspective, they are mainly interested in short-term global mission trips and are hesitant to make long-term commitments. Millennials unanimously agree that, as believers, they are all called to missions. They are of the opinion that missions don’t necessarily have to be international, that short-term trips (both local and international) count as missions experience and that intentional outreach (especially in their workplaces) is a type of missions. Many are open to working internationally, but they want to take a job and go overseas; they’d rather not be fulltime missionaries.

The survey identifies seven hindrances preventing millennials (and those younger) from serving as international missionaries:

Millennials are changing the mission’s landscape, probably in ways that are well suited for tackling the challenges of modern missions:

The problem of good and evil: regardless how you resolve the question “How can a good God allow evil to exist?” evil still does exist, and the millennials want to do something about it. My generation might have been more content to engage “the question of evil” at an intellectual level without further involvement. Millennials are convinced that the existence of evil compels personal action. In our information-rich world, millennials trying to get attention for particular causes increasingly rely on social media as a means of building support for those causes. They urge others to “like” their posts and pages on Facebook, share Twitter and blog posts with everyone they know, and create videos or take a picture for Instagram so as to promote a certain social justice agenda. Such forms of advocacy, particularly those championed by social media, are often derisively referred to as “slacktivism” or “armchair activism.”

Our church’s approach to global missions has remained largely unchanged. Missionaries have been sent from churches through mission agencies. Their funding has come from churches and individuals committed to their vision and willing to give sacrificially to sustain it. Missionaries often enter countries on religious visas that provide legal room for their presence without demanding a corresponding social or cultural justification.

The “standard” approach to global missions is changing, and it’s changing in some ways that nicely complement many millennials’ willingness to shed the traditions of their pioneers. Today, fewer and fewer countries allow foreign workers to live within their borders for purely religious reasons. Simultaneously, many prospective missionaries are now asking how fruitful their presence in another culture will be without a culturally appropriate answer to the question “What are you doing here?”

But God seems to be doing a new thing as He inspires each new generation to carry on the work of previous generations. And whatever that new thing will look like in a century of missions shaped by millennials, we can rest in the confidence that we serve a God who is working in and through us and knows exactly who we are, even when we can’t quite put our finger to it.

Generally, I’ve always felt that our approach to global missions has not changed with time. Instead of removing obstacles and paving the way for our candidates, we put before them roadblocks and conditions beyond the basis of simple obedience to our Saviour’s call. “What do you think is the greatest obstacle to God’s desire for world missions?” It’s not other religions. It’s not persecution. It’s not resistant cultures. As far as I’m concern, I think the greatest challenge to God’s redemptive mission for the world is integrity. The “biggest threat” to world missions, in some parts of the evangelical community, is an “obsession” with statistics and outcomes that have led to “wild claims and unsubstantiated numbers”, as well as “untrue reports, manipulation and collusion in falsehood”. We cannot build the Kingdom of God on foundations of dishonesty, telling lies about our success or accepting what we know to be questionable statistics in order to access grants and funding for our projects.

The tragedy is that so many Christian leaders, including mission leaders, fail these tests of power, popularity and wealth where Jesus Himself stood firm. Before we go out to the world we must come back to the Lord. If we want to change the world we must first change our own hearts and ways. Chris Wright in the article “The greatest hindrance to world missions is God’s own people” uses the acronym HIS – three words for the church today: Humility, Integrity, and Simplicity. Are we his people? Let us then be what we should be for God’s sake, for our mission’s sake and for the world’s sake.