“Missionary” is not a popular word for young people today. At best, it conjures up images of khaki shorts and digging wells; at worst, it is seen as an antiquated tool of oppression.
I have found that even Christian millennials are uncomfortable with the word.
Like their secular peers, they associate the term missionary with construction projects, boring presentations during church services, and never-ending requests for funds. Given these stereotypes, is it any wonder they aren’t rushing to sign up?
The problem is multifaceted, and the solution far from simple.
Most outreach efforts today are to the third world, focusing on teaching and training local Christians, relieving poverty, or going to hard to reach places (within the 10-40 window).
Meanwhile, there is an emerging global youth culture that exists in every major urban center all over the world, representing more than one billion people. This demographic sees truth as relative and religion as a dead tradition of the past. Young followers of Jesus are natives of this culture, and struggle to see how the traditional missionary fits in. Many of them are inspired to reach their peers for Jesus, but are equally aware that the models of missions they’ve seen would never be effective in doing so.
As a church, we need to expand our idea of what it means to be a missionary. Missionaries don’t only train pastors or dig wells (though both are critical and extremely important). They also use music and art to show people who Jesus is, create films that point to the Gospel, or build online communities to discuss apologetics with non-believers.
We need to show young people that being a missionary is not about going to a specific country, or looking a certain way, but it is rather a full-time commitment to make disciples of all nations.
Millennials do, however, deserve at least some of the blame. Pride and fear are significant barriers to them entering the mission field today.
Many missions organizations have been slow to cater to a tech-savvy, image-conscious generation that, at its worst, cares more about appearance than substance. This may seem like a cynical perspective, but many young people reject the missionary paradigm because it just doesn’t look very cool to them. This form of pride is toxic, producing neither godly obedience nor eternal fruit.
Fear of fundraising is another huge obstacle. In my experience, an unwillingness to raise support has robbed many gifted millennials of being released into their calling. I am in full-time ministry and rely on the generosity of others to live, and I’ll readily admit that I too have struggled with it. Asking someone to support you is extremely difficult because in doing so, you have to humble yourself, recognize your dependence on others, and invite them to partner with you. But are any of those things really bad?
God has used the fundraising process as a sanctifying pick ax to hack away at my pride, and I am better for it.
The truth is, God doesn’t need your money, nor anyone else’s, to accomplish His purposes, yet I am convinced that it is His will for missionaries to raise funds as a means to live. Nothing else cultivates humility and invites accountability like sitting down with somebody and asking them to support you financially.
If you are willing to go through the process of building a support team, the results will be incredible. I now have a large family of devoted advocates, who I get to invite into the work God has asked me to do. My fruit is their fruit. I couldn’t do it without them, they couldn’t do it without me, and neither of us could do any of it without God—and this is His design.
Sadly, few millennials attempt to raise funds, let alone succeed at it, and this is perhaps the most significant threat to their entrance into the mission field.
Jesus desires to use young people to reach the world, but like every generation, they will need to face the barriers head-on. If the word “missionary” is unhelpful, then ditch it. Jesus doesn’t call us to a title, but to single-minded, radical devotion to reaching the lost. Call it whatever you want, just don’t let the title stop you.
I am a millennial, and have been in full-time ministry almost ten years, but I have had to allow God to kill my pride first, and then learn to depend on Him and others to live. The good news is that He is faithful, and by His grace, He can help you overcome any barrier and use your life powerfully to reach the world!