By Emily Drayne
What happens when our missionaries come off the field? Someone enters the mission field to replace them, right? At least we hope that’s what happens. We’re seeing many veteran missionaries who are ready to retire, but they are having a harder-than-expected time finding someone to take over their work. Are fewer people interested in entering the ministry as full-time missionaries? We need to pass on the importance of missions to our churches, families, and students. Here are four approaches that can help.
Highlight Your Missionaries
Churches often fail to highlight their missionaries to the entire congregation or help them understand the types of mission works that exist. When I was growing up, I knew what missionary meant, but I didn’t know what missionaries actually did. The same thing may be happening today. Even churches with very strong and healthy missions budgets struggle to find ways to incorporate missions into their weekly routine. In previous articles, I’ve suggested ways to improve. Make it a church goal to emphasize global missions more often and more effectively this year.
We need to emphasize the importance of missions early. Children are eager to soak up information about new things. Highlight missions and missionaries by introducing children to new cultures, new languages, and new foods through various activities. If missionaries visit your church, give them opportunities to talk to the kids. Try to broaden the worldview of children by giving them a better idea of their options when they get older. Take time to paint a picture of the work a missionary does. Show children that anyone can be a missionary. Show them lessons from the Bible about people giving up everything to spread the Word of God.
In 2018, my husband and I welcomed a baby into our lives. During this first year, we’ve made a list of all the things we want her to know as she grows up. It’s our job as parents to share with her all of the options she will have as an adult. I can’t wait to take her on mission trips and talk to her about my travels and people I’ve gotten to meet. Have you done that with your children? Have you done that with the kids in your church family?
Continue the Emphasis
This emphasis shouldn’t stop with kids. What about your students? Does your church go on mission trips regularly? Some of my most beloved memories from middle and high school are the mission trips we went on with our youth group. Our church went to Mexico every year and we got to know the family behind the organization really well. We looked forward to going back every year and renewing those friendships and expanding the scope of our projects.
Is there a ministry your church supports that would welcome an annual mission trip? Consider doing a semiannual service project for a local ministry or in a nearby city. I think students sometimes hear the word missionary and automatically think of a remote overseas village; they don’t understand that missionaries can live in urban cities or on Native American reservations.
It’s important for students to understand that missionaries use skill sets other than preaching and teaching. Students who major in business, agriculture, English, intercultural studies, and other subjects learn skills that can be transferred to a missions setting.
You may be thinking, Some of my students don’t know what they’d like to do after graduation. That’s OK! Programs and internships are available for those who might not know what their next step will be. Many of these programs will help these young adults hone skills or identify the thing they are most interested in.
Involve Adults, Too
At ICOM, people from area churches help with mailings and volunteer projects. We’d be lost without their help! It’s never too late to teach adults the importance of supporting missionaries through their giving, service, and prayers. They give financially, serve as advocates for missionaries in local churches, help forward their mail, or volunteer at local ministries to give back. An easy, hands-on way to engage adults is to have a mission trip every year. It could be a bigger trip than the youth go on, perhaps a prayer journey overseas.
Churches need to incorporate missions into their services. Reach out to missionaries and identify ways your church can plug in with them and stay connected. Set up a Skype session with a missionary so your church family can see and hear them. Host a luncheon featuring the missionary’s favorite American foods; have a question and answer session and invite your missions team or those interested in missions. Make it a learning time as well as a way for your adults to get to know the people they are supporting. Serving these kingdom workers in a missionary care role is an important way to meet their needs.
Every church can do better at expanding their congregation’s worldview, and we need to do everything we can to encourage those who are serving. We also need to provide information to the coming generations about the importance of missions in the lives of the church family.
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.