I am often approached by teenagers or young people who are called into missions asking me what they can do now to prepare for a calling into missions. I decided it might be helpful to compile my answers from those private conversations into a larger post.
1. Don’t take on student debt.
The biggest reason I can’t get people to come to join our team is not lack of passion, but student debt. For some reason we’re selling young people the idea that if they don’t go to a private Bible college they will be ill-equipped to go into missions. It’s simply not true. I have met people in their mid-30s who are still paying off their seminary degree and have wanted to go into missions since they were 5 years old. In my organization (and I imagine in many missions organizations), a large debt load is prohibitive in being approved or the ability to fundraise.
I recently spoke with a pastor who told me his 16-year-old daughter felt a call into missions. I told him this first thing – don’t let her take student debt. He explained to me that she had her heart set on a large private Christian university and that she believed if God was calling her there, God would provide the funding. My challenge to that would be to look at it in reverse – if God provides the funding, it’s confirmation of His calling. Otherwise, find a cheaper way to study whatever will best prepare you for your field.
Please remember this if you remember nothing else. Fight and claw your way to a debt-free graduation. Work your tail off, go to a cheaper school, do what you have to do. If you have already accrued some debt, put the brakes on now as best you can. (Note: I have NEVER met anyone, especially in ministry, who is glad they have debt. Some of us had no choice but to take it on, and that is understandable – but do everything you can to graduate with as little as possible.)
If you are a teenager or young adult, ask yourself this question – how old do you want to be when you have the freedom to go to the field you are called to? If the answer is your 30s or 40s, don’t worry about the debt. If the answer is ASAP, do everything you can not to take out loans.
2. Travel – and not on missions trips.
This is not meant to undermine the value of missions trips (I’ll probably talk some about that in a future post). But for me, the decision to move to Paris didn’t come from a missions trip. It came from a trip I took to Rome that wasn’t a missions trip.
I spent about a week in Rome in 2007 with a friend who was studying abroad there. We meandered down the streets. We caught a jazz show in the basement of an old building. We ate at a leisurely pace. We explored cathedrals. We observed passers-by and simply involved ourselves in the day-to-day wonderful life around us.
I am a firm believer in travel. In surrounding yourself with people different than you. Missions trips provide you a carefully curated experience with a culture – someone else decides where you will go, what you will eat, who you will meet. When you take it upon yourself to travel, you get to experience the local culture in a much more personal way.
I encourage young people who feel a call into missions to travel either by themselves or with a friend and not with a large group. If you can find a missionary or friend to host you in a region near where you want to end up, all the better. Missions is not a 7 days a week human video frenzy. It’s a day in, day out, integration into a local culture that you just can’t get a taste of on a missions trip alone.
3. Serve at your local church
If you want to go into missions, you need to be sent. You need people who are excited about the work you are going to do and who will support you in doing it. If you want to go into full time ministry, you need to start off learning to serve.
And I will say this – if you aren’t serving at a local church because you can’t find a church that is ‘good enough for you’ – or if every church you go to has some flaw that is so glaring that you can’t bring yourself to get involved – you probably shouldn’t be in missions. Part of working overseas in a ministry context is learning to worship with people who have a very different cultural norm of worship than you do. If you can’t bring yourself to worship with people in your own community, it may not be a great fit for you to try to do so overseas.
Learn to serve well under someone else’s authority. Learn to be part of a community that is contributing to your spiritual growth. Learn to contribute to a common vision. Learn to ask for accountability and accept correction. If you cannot do these things, you should not be an overseas worker.
Let me say this too – don’t be constantly asking your community for money. If you are planning to go into missions long term, don’t start asking for money to go on a missions trip every summer. If you want to go on short term missions trips or other church-related trips, work hard and save your money. Save your big ask for when you need to raise a support budget.
4. Give to Missions
I currently personally support five missionaries. I believe in the work they are doing and I am excited to partner with them. And I *feel* a partnership with them in the work they are doing.
If you want to someday build a team of support, I believe it is important for you to start sowing into others financially. You cannot be greedy and be a missionary. You cannot be selfish and be a missionary. When you give, you kill the seeds of greed and selfishness that grow in all of us. You remind your heart – and your bank account – what your priorities are.
Everyone can do something. Everyone can give something. If you plan to one day ask people to invest financially in the work God is calling you to do, you need to start putting the same thing into practice in your own life. Start getting behind people as they walk in obedience. Start advocating for others to succeed.
I am sure I have more to say about this topic, but that’s all I got for now. If I come up with more stuff I will do a part 2.