Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Mentoring for the next generation of missionaries

by Greg Fletcher

Many mission agencies are experiencing a decline in numbers as the attrition from retiring personnel is not offset by new members. The option of expansion simply doesn’t exist for most agencies these days. In some cases, the very survival of the agency is even at stake! Mobilizers must ask some hard questions and make course corrections in response.

There are many facets to this issue, and oversimplification is not helpful. However, there are indicators that solutions exist, and we must pay attention to them. To ignore them would be to our own peril.

Institutional Loyalty vs. Relational Loyalty
One key element to be considered is the current generation’s concept of loyalty. Loyalty has taken on a different form from that of prior generations. We must recognize that we cannot afford to “do what we’ve always done” and expect to “get what we’ve always gotten”.

To an earlier generation, the concept of loyalty related directly to institutional loyalty. If Junior became a missionary, it was assumed he would join Dad’s agency. Recent generations do not function that way. They are more interested in your identity and your capacity to engage the work than your history as an agency.

We must take this into consideration in the ways we choose to approach the current generation. Those bridges will have to be built afresh if the next generation is to join the agency. Their loyalty is to a relationship, not to an organization. An agency seeking to mobilize this generation must learn to honor relationship over institutional structures.

Commitment issues
The word “commitment” has taken on a new face in recent years as it applies to missions. In the early days of mission, workers carried their belongings to the field in a coffin. This symbolized their life-long commitment to a specific location to which they were called. We don’t expect or find that kind of evidence of commitment today.

Does that mean that the current generation is somehow inferior? Absolutely not! I have observed amazing commitment among today’s generation. Their commitment takes a different shape. We must take this into consideration in the ways that we approach today’s candidate.

Journeying together
There was once a time when men were expected to retain the same job for an entire career. Today, it is not odd to have several widely divergent jobs in a work career. If you spend time with a group of younger Christians these days, you are bound to hear the word “journey.” It is a beautiful thing that this generation has discovered that walking with Christ is about the journey, not just the destination.

Statistics say that it takes anywhere from 7 to 10 years for a young person to travel from their first sense of calling in mission to eventual arrival on a foreign field for service. That takes commitment. That is quite a journey! If we want to help them make the trek to the desired end, we must be patient and journey with them.

The three concepts of loyalty, commitment and journey are windows of insight into this current generation. If we are serious about mobilizing this generation, we must pay heed to these and other differences that set them apart from prior generations. In so doing, we remain faithful to the Lord of the Harvest.

See Steve Moore’s vlog on loyalty for additional reading.

Greg Fletcher has worked with PIONEERS as a Church Partnerships Advocate since 1990 and is an M-DAT board member.

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