How do we give young people a heart for missions, and why is it important that we do?

The why is easy. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus instructed us to make disciples of all nations. Jesus reached out to the lost, drew them into a relationship and pointed them to salvation. Our lives—and those of the teenagers we disciple—should similarly reflect Christ’s love and concern for every person and every nation.

“I cannot stand aside, taking for granted the luxury of Christianity while others are desperate for Christ,” says Christine, a young woman passionate about missions. Currently involved in full-time youth work, Christine is preparing to go to Japan as a missionary with OMF. She feels we need to teach young people to have an outward focus, emphasising the great need the world has for Christ. “If we remain inward focused, we will never see the need for missions.”

Here are just some ideas (my Four E’s) on how to develop this outward-focusing heart for missions amongst the youth.

Engage them with Stories

Jesus engaged people’s hearts, minds and imaginations through story-telling. So, let us harness the same power of stories. Young people have a natural curiosity about other countries and people, so what could be more inspiring than a story of a missionary in an interesting place, bravely sharing their faith, often in the face of danger?

Try these missionary biographies:

Bruchko – Bruce Olsen

End of the Spear – Steve Saint

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret – Taylor

Mountain Rain – Eileen Crossman

In Search of the Source – Neil Anderson

Lords of the Earth and Peace Child – Don Richardson

To the Golden Shore – Courtney Anderson

The Heavenly Man – Brother Yun

In addition, consider signing up for missionary newsletters. I have found it a blessing to read stories of how God is working right now in such diverse places as the Ukraine, Malawi or amongst Turkish immigrants in France.

Encourage them to Pray

Hearing about modern-day missionaries also gives young people an opportunity to pray for these men and women. In this way they will play an important role in missionary work and their faith can grow as they see God answering prayers.

Praying for the unreached is another way the youth gain a heart for the lost. So, encourage the techno-savvy generation to download Joshua Project’s Unreached of the Day app or listen to their short daily podcast, for information and prayer pointers.

Experience a Missionary Trip

Allow teenagers to experience a missionary trip for themselves. For example, my Joburg based church, Rosebank Union, has an annual youth mission trip. This December about 40 of our teenagers are heading for Mozambique.

Natasha (19) went on several such trips and says, “I was always expectant about what God could do in and through me. My 2nd mission’s trip was to Lesotho in 2014. This was a powerful experience. Playing with the kids in the community really gave me a sense of joy. The thing that stood out from these trips is the sense of community that it brings. God showed me and others how He chases after our hearts.”

Expand the Definition of Mission

One of the misconceptions we need to avoid amongst the youth is the idea that having a heart for missions requires heading to the other side of the world. As Christine says, “Not everyone may be called to pack up and go, but we can all get involved in some way or another by praying, sending or supporting.

Also, teach young people that they can be a missionary right where they are – in their homes, schools, universities and sports clubs.  Having a heart for the lost requires that they notice those in need of Christ’s love, befriend and care for them and—when the time is right—share their faith.

In conclusion, keep these ‘Four E’s’ in mind as you disciple teenagers in your home, classroom or church. By instilling a heart for missions in young people, we give them the joy of playing a part in God’s global work.  As parents, teachers and youth leaders let us make it our collective goal to develop a generation that will, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:24).

We’d love to hear your experience and ideas on imparting a heart for missions to the youth.

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