By Emily Drayne
An older missionary might say, “They’ll never understand how we did it.” A younger missionary might complain, “They’re so old school.” It’s a generational issue that’s probably been around forever. Leaders err, however, when they count out those from other generations simply because of age, style of doing the job, or lack of “experience.” In missions and in ministry, it seems, there are two ways to do the job. There’s the way it’s been done for years, and then there’s the way new leaders with new ideas are doing it. So how can we carry out our mission together?
If we are to be successful at missions, all generations must play a part. We need the silent generation—also called traditionalists—those born 1925 to 1945, all the way up to gen Z, born 1995 through 2012, and beyond to fully accomplish the Great Commission laid out for us in Matthew 28. There are vast differences between generations, and because of that, they all bring different skill sets. In a developing world that changes almost daily, it’s important to recognize and use all of those skills.
Many silent generation missionaries have retired or are retiring and they are passing the mantle to others. They are looking for someone to continue the work they started.
We’ve all heard of missionaries who have been working in the same place for 30 years or longer. It can be tough on them to see a new missionary with a different perspective come in and make changes. Respecting the work that’s been done over many decades while also keeping an eye on current trends is crucial when the torch is passed from a veteran servant. Along the same lines, knowing where you’ve been but understanding that times are changing is key for a veteran to consider while approaching retirement.
Understand Technological Disparities
Technology is one of the most debated topics in outreach strategy. While some agree it’s a hugely beneficial tool, others see it as a stumbling block and a distraction.
With the rise of technology, the part of “doing mission work” that includes keeping up with your supporters, receiving donations, and maintaining a website, among many other things, has changed greatly in the last 10 years. Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet are pervasive. People of all ages expect missionaries and organizations to have a Facebook page to “like,” a user-friendly website, and regular email updates about their work. This can be an unrealistic expectation to place on missionaries. Many are serving in places around the world that do not have a daily Internet signal. Older missionaries might not have anyone to teach them how to use the latest technological features.
Funding is also still a huge concern, and that is undergoing changes as well. While forwarding agents once were called upon to mail checks, now an account can be auto-drafted monthly without ever getting out a checkbook. Missionaries want to maintain donor relationships, and they want their supporting churches to remember the work they are doing in the field.But what if those avenues aren’t available to them?
Learn from One Another
I am a 29-year-old millennial, but my heart is drawn toward all missions and all types of missionaries. In my work with an international missions conference, I’ve been privileged to see missionaries of all ages. We have so much to learn from one another.
What can folks in the younger generations learn from the veteran servants, those who have given their lives in service to the calling? A quality I’ve seen in many missionaries is patience. No one would argue that veteran missionaries who have been serving for decades on the field have a vast knowledge of how to win souls for Christ. Through patience, dedication, and perseverance, they have built programs and missions from the ground up. Whole villages have been won for the Lord, people’s health has been restored, and many people now have a sustainable, livable income.
Looking at it from the other direction, what qualities and skills can millennials and other young people bring to the table that will be useful for established missions and organizations? One important quality, I think, is flexibility. When one way doesn’t work, people in the younger generations are quick to try and find alternative solutions. They keep at it until something clicks.
Another favorite quality of younger generations is the passion with which they support various causes. They want to make a difference in our world so badly, and it shows in the clever and creative ways they approach their calling. The Internet, social media, and new technology can be second nature when that’s what you’ve grown up with. These days, people with degrees in communications, marketing, and international studies are making a difference on the mission field.
One of the most exciting trends in missions today is the rise of business as mission. It’s an approach that’s successfully being carried out by all ages. A vocational approach using the skills you learned during your college experience can bring amazing and innovative ideas to the mission field.
Sometimes, depending on the vocation, it can even allow the missionary to be self-supporting. This can also coincide with sustainable missions, whether it’s aquaponics, chicken farming, or some type of business skill like jewelry making and selling.
Each of these things benefits local people in that community, while also providing them an income from their small business. There are countless options for how to use sustainable living and business as a way to spread the message of Christ. It opens doors with people in that community simply because you are meeting their needs at a basic level. Once you meet a basic need—such as with food, shelter, water, or income—you have a valuable opening to meet their spiritual needs, as well.
When all ages work together, we are most likely to make balanced progress in missions. People who are honestly and earnestly seeking a mission outreach opportunity that honors God will find it. His will knows no age limits.
The stories we’re hearing of how God is working in the heart of the mission field are so inspiring. Stories of Caribbean chicken farmers now earning an income to feed and support their families, as well as stories of a European coffee shop owner holding a Bible study in his home are the same level of importance to God. Whether your approach is old school or new school, God will use your gifts to grow his kingdom. He wants the entire world to be sold out for him, and both the old and new ways of doing that will accomplish our task of world evangelism.
Generations and trends will come and go, but the gospel of Christ remains the same. It sounds like a cliché, but we all can work together to bring this world to him. Remember, don’t count out anyone because of how they approach their calling. We are stronger when we work together!
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.