Motivating Millenials for Missions, Part One

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS

volume 17, number 30, August 2, 2018

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering. . .” -2 Timothy 4:6

Motivating Millennials for Missions

Many define the millennial generation as those born between 1980 and 2000. In the United States roughly 75 million millennials were born between 1980 and 1997, which is the largest living generation in American history. By 2020 millennials will make up 50% of the U.S. workforce and by 2025 75% of the global workforce will be millennials.[1] So, it does not take a rocket scientist to see the clear implications for the future of world missions. The millennial generation must “step up.” 

But wait, aren’t they terribly lazy, self-absorbed, independent, and into social justice rather than evangelism and discipleship? After all the youtube spoofs by John Crist “Millennial International: Sponsor a Millennial Today” and “The Millennial Missionaries” are hilarious and capture so well the caricature a lot of us have concerning millennials. 

Mission to the World (MTW) recently held focus group meetings in five U.S, cities to learn how to better mobilize millennials for missions. MTW sought to understand millennials’ desires and needs, as well as the obstacles to serving in missions. By Faith magazine summarized some of the findings thusly:

American Christian millennials come with a missional spirit different from that of previous generations. They generally have a great concern for social issues, justice, and local missions rather than international projects. They hope to make a difference, be mentored, and be trusted with leadership responsibilities. They desire to serve but first need to hear and see international needs personally. From a missions perspective, they are mainly interested in short-term global mission trips and are hesitant to make long-term commitments. Many are open to working internationally, but they want to take a job and go overseas; they’d rather not be full-time missionaries.[2] 

I am not saying that I like the millennial’s take on missions. I am simply reporting what they are generally thinking and saying.

Now, here’s something which may totally shock you. It certainly did me. Recent Barna research reveals that while the evangelistic practices of other generations have declined in the past few years (in 2007 65% of Baby Boomers shared their faith to at least one person over the past year, but by 2013 that percentage had dropped to 49%), millennials evangelistic work is on the rise (from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013). In fact, millennials share their faith far more than any other segment of our society, 65% to the national average of 52%. No doubt the bar is very low. After all, sharing one’s faith once per year is not what I would call evangelistic zeal, but still, millennials are far surpassing the rest of us. 

As only one case in point, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) held an evangelistic outreach from October 1-12, 2013 called Price of Life on seventeen campuses across New York City and Long Island where IVCF students hosted more than 100 events, exposing 12,000 students and faculty to the gospel, using the issue of human trafficking as a segue into the gospel. Between 250 and 260 students came to faith in Christ during that time. And one-tenth of all IVCF student participants have come to faith in Christ while in college under IVCF’s influence.[3]   

While Christian millennials have largely bought into socialism and leftist politics,[4] they are the future of world missions. How shall we motivate them to evangelize and disciple the world? Every authority I have read on the subject of millennials says that they all value older people to mentor them. I don’t really like the term “mentoring.” It is not Biblical. I prefer the term “disciple.” They want to be discipled and we older people have the experience and time to pour into their lives the true work of the church. Millennials, I suggest, have a misplaced affection for social justice, which flows from a misguided understanding of why we are in the world. Jesus made clear that our job is to disciple the nations. Being a social justice warrior is a distraction from the work we are called to do. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 there is only one verb and it is an aorist imperative – disciple. The Greek text does not say, “Make disciples.” Rather it simply says, “disciple.” We are commanded to disciple. How? Jesus gives us three participles which explain how we are to do this great work to disciple- going, baptizing, and teaching. Reweaving the culture, making the world a better place, working for social justice are not our marching orders. The church is to disciple the nations by going with the gospel, baptizing, which assumes evangelism has occurred, and teaching or instructing them in how to live out the Christian life in a hostile world.  

So here’s the bottom line my older friends in the faith-find a few millennials and disciple them. Offer to spend time with them and give them a vision for the world. Challenge them with something bigger than themselves, which, of course, is what Jesus and His apostles did in equipping people for ministry. Paul told younger Timothy that he was poured out as a drink offering, which means there was nothing left. Model it for them. Let them see you burn with holy zeal for the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Take them with you to evangelize. 

Very practically, give a young man $200 to register and attend the Samuel Davies Conference on Evangelism which I am hosting through PEF August 15-18 . Or, I hope to take ten to twenty men with me to Uganda in January where Henry Krabbendam and I will train them in gospel work, trusting the Lord to raise up from this group a few evangelists who will be able and willing to serve in local congregations as a staff evangelist. Talk to me about this and I can give you more details. 

There is tremendous potential in the millennial generation to be a mighty force for the gospel, perhaps not unlike the Student Volunteer movement of the 19th century or like the hundreds of missionaries who answered the call to Papua New Guinea and the Amazon rain forest after the death of Jim Elliot in 1956. 

Let us pray and labor to this end. 

_________________________________

1. Why Millennials Are the Future of Missions <saritahartz.com> March 22, 2018

2. By Faith, The Online Magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America <byfaithonline.com/mtw-seeks-millennial-perspectives-on-missions>

3. Barna: Millennials Share Christ More Than Any Other Generation, Mission Network News, December 19, 2013.

4. See my Forget None of His Benefits, July 19, 26, 2018 archived at <pefministry.org> for details. 

5. Murderers are to be executed by the state, Genesis 9:6, Romans 13:4,5.

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