Young people have always led in sharing the reality of Jesus Christ around the world.
So what’s stopping someone right now from going overseas as a missionary?
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the barriers young people face as they consider missions.
According to my research, which was based on focus groups, academic journals, interviews, books and dissertations, and qualitative research analysis (wow – that’s a neat word), these are the 4 biggest barriers young people face when considering going into missions for a week, a month, a summer, a year or a lifetime.
1. Understanding the Will of God
This one surprised me, though it is common with students from all kinds of churches and campus organizations that I spoke to. The biggest barrier to missions for a student is this: How do I know this is what God wants?
I like to tell students that God wants to be in a relationship with them. To enjoy Him. To abide and obey Him. As you focus on this simply go and do what you want.
I’ve received considerable pushback on the simplicity of knowing God’s will, “Shane, there’s more to it.” My simple and honest reply? “No, there’s not more to knowing God’s will. If you walk with Jesus and make your decision, you will please God and make Him happy as you obey.”
Other research overwhelmingly supports this in interviews I had with other missions mobilizers. Books have been written about it. Dissertations. All kinds of sermons. We all over-analyze what we think God wants from us. We are way too specific.
Walk with Him. Period. Then do what you want (as St. Augustine said).
2. Too Little Money
College students today graduate with an average of $27,000 of school debt. On top of that, the average student leaves school with over $4,000 of credit card debt. These students will spend up to 1/3 of their paychecks on loan repayment. There is $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the United States. 66 percent of students graduate with school debt.
3. Struggles with Purity
Consider these staggering statistics from America alone: 40 million Americans regularly visit porn websites. 2.5 billion emails each day contain the word porn. 25% of all search-engine related topics are porn related. Sex is the number one topic searched on the internet. 70% of 18- to 24-year-old men in America visit pornographic websites each month. 66% of men in the 20s and 30s also report of being regular consumers of pornography.
In addition, Christian college students can struggle with physical boundaries with the opposite sex. Without supportive community that seeks to live out God’s commands in grace and truth, many fall prey to the influence of hookup culture as portrayed in media and lived out on campus, rather than living as “temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This addiction to porn and other struggles in the area of sexual purity sidelines our young people who could become world-changing missionaries.
4. Family Tension
This one is a bit sensitive. It’s just plain difficult for most young people to tell their parents they want to be missionaries. “Hey Mom and Dad, I’ve decided to not take over the family business, or not follow the dream we’ve spoken about before I went to college. I’m going to ask people for money so I can go be a missionary and make very little money myself.”
Yeah, that’s a totally fun and easy conversation.
This is difficult for any student, especially minorities (who can often make the best missionaries).
What’s fascinating is that family tension has always been an obstacle for young people as they’ve considered missions. I’ve done research all the way back to the 1800’s and we see university students write of their difficulty of going overseas because their parents, or other family members, were unsupportive.
I’ll finish with this quick story.
Bruce Olson was a 19-year-old college student when he went to Colombia to live in the jungle with the Montilone Indians, against his parents wishes. The Montilone Indians had no written language and had never heard there was a God that loved them and desired to know them. Fast forward a few decades and Olson had written and taught them to read in their language, translated the Bible, taught them how to farm, taught them health measures, and so much more.
He was a student and God used him to radically change the eternal course of a people group.
Who is on campus today and wants to be used by God to impact the eternity of a person, or even their entire family, or possibly an entire culture?
Is it you?
Perhaps you’re a minority student who is struggling with your family’s reaction to your heart for missions. Maybe you’re a student who is struggling with pornography. Perhaps you’re hammered with credit card or school debt. You might think these barriers will keep you from going to the mission field to help people understand Jesus.
Stop thinking that.
Please remember this friends: These do not disqualify you as you consider sharing the reality of Jesus Christ with students around the world. Not at all. Let’s recognize them and tackle them together.
The best way to get started as you pray about investing in missions is to go. Go for a week, a month, or a summer. Perhaps God may even be calling you to go as an international intern with Cru, your church, or another organization for a year or more.