I believe youth ministry is facing mission-drift when it comes to missions work. Far too many of our younger youth leaders view the "missionary" as an ancient relic of a bygone era whose place is as a dimly lit picture in the foyer of a steepled church on a "Go ye into all the world" wall. Missionaries are either ignored, marginalized or viewed as a necessity to pacify older tithers in the church and keep them happy.
But 50 years ago missionaries were considered the risk-takers, revolutionaries and radicals in the church who would go into the highways and byways of foreign countries risking life and limb for the sake of the gospel. That's a far cry from today where they are often relegated to, at best, well-meaning but ineffective peddlers of Christianity and, at worst, an evangelistic brand of white colonialists trying to impose an American way of ministry on a not-so-receptive audience.
Sadly, in years past, this stereo-type had been earned in some quadrants of missions work. Yes, there were (and in some cases still are) those missionaries who've done harm to the Name of Christ by preaching the right message in the wrong way.
But these missionaries are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Most of the mission organizations I've encountered over the years are much more sophisticated, culturally sensitive and strategic than many Christians realize. Effective missionaries have moved way past trying to do things the "old way" and are adapting and adopting the best practices of what it will take to reach a people group with the good news of Jesus.
Meanwhile far too many youth leaders have intentionally or unintentionally de-emphasized missions work as an honorable and important vocation for their teenagers to pursue. For many, missions work has been replaced by social work and evangelism has been replaced by humanitarianism. Instead of social justice serving as an enhancement for evangelistic efforts it has become a complete replacement.
Ask on-fire Christian teenagers today what they want to do when they grow up and you'll hear 10 different forms of humanitarian efforts before you hear one "I want to be a missionary."
But the lack of hearing and responding to the gospel message must be seen as the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet. The poverty, trafficking and sickening of the human soul should be every believer's top priority because it was Jesus' top priority (Luke 19:10.) I love what the Assemblies of God have done with their effort called "The Human Right" (that every human has the right to hear the gospel!)
Of course this doesn't negate our responsibility on a physical level to feed the poor, rescue the trafficked and help the sick. It actually deepens and sanctifies it. That's why over the last few hundred years the greatest missions efforts have birthed the greatest humanitarian efforts. Why do you think so many hospitals start with an abbreviation for "Saint" (St. Anthony's, St. John, St. Jude, St. Francis, etc)? It's because these hospitals were birthed out of gospel advancing missions movements led by missionaries who sought to save the soul and heal the body.
But when the healing of the body eclipses the saving of the soul then it is a dark day indeed. That's one reason I'm convinced it's time to bring missions back to youth ministry. We need to "re-heroize" missions work to the next generation. We need to make becoming a full-time, gospel advancing missionary in an unreached people group a high calling again. How do we do that? Here are some ideas:
-Bring your teenagers on a Short-term mission trip. Get them to feed the poor with bread AND the Bread of Life. Have them pass out water for the body and Living Water for the soul. Get your teenagers to build houses for the poor on earth and ones in heaven too.
-Share stories of missionaries, both past and present, who have and are advancing the good news of Jesus in other countries in powerful ways. Use Google and Bing as your allies to find stories and show videos that will inspire teenagers to have a global perspective when it comes to the good news of Jesus.
-Bring missionaries into your youth group to share stories and do a Q&A time with your teenagers so that they get a real sense of the power and impact of missions work. If your church is bringing in a missionary to speak in church ask that same missionary to speak in youth group.
-Help teenagers to "gospelize" their humanitarian aspirations. Whether it's stopping human trafficking or serving the poor encourage those of your teenagers who feel genuinely called to humanitarian service to not forget the importance of reaching the souls of those they serve with the hope that only Jesus can offer.
-Raise on-going money to support missions.
-Do a youth group series on global evangelism annually.
-Bring your teenagers out to Lead THE Cause this summer. This week-long intensive led by Dare 2 Share and Sonlife is a crash course in evangelism, intercessory prayer and leadership training. It is in a very real sense a short-term missions week on steroids. And the teens who attend will get a heart for reaching the lost "across the street and around the world!"
Let's help to elevate the temperature of missions work with our teenagers. Let's make our Jesus-loving, gospel-advancing, people-serving missionaries heroes again to our teenagers!
It's time to "re-heroize" missions work to the next generation!