Student pastors have a unique opportunity to raise up missionaries from within their student ministries. During the 2019 Student Pastor Summit at Midwestern Seminary, I had the opportunity to address a room chock-full of student pastors on the topic of how to help students take their first steps toward missions.
Student pastors must be intentionally taking steps to identify and develop prospective missionaries. If we don’t, then we won’t see them rise out of our student ministries. But how are future missionaries identified and developed from scratch? Just as we would prepare a young man to be a pastor by giving him opportunities to lead a small group Bible study or preach on a special occasion, we can prepare students to become missionaries by giving them opportunities to be involved in missions now.
“Just as we would prepare a young man to be a pastor by giving him opportunities to lead a Bible study, we can prepare students to become missionaries by giving them opportunities to be involved in missions now.”
Here are ten simple ways to identify and develop future missionaries from your student ministry.
- Read the Bible in ninety days.
Challenge your students to read the Bible in 90 days. Why such a short time frame? Students can do it! Even more, reading this much, this fast highlights the interconnectedness of the story in ways the mind is unable to recognize when reading at a slower pace. This will help them to see the overarching narrative of the Scriptures, which is God’s plan to redeem sinful humans to make a glorious people for himself.
- Read missionary biographies.
Give away books on Jim Elliot, David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and Amy Carmichael. The stories of these heroes of the faith have reinvigorated my zeal for the nations.
- Read books and listen to sermons that cast vision for missions.
Books such as Radical and Let the Nations Be Glad! have challenged innumerable young Christians to consider giving their life to Christ’s glory among the nations. Encourage your students to listen to missions sermons from pastors who are passionate about missions.
- Pray for unreached peoples and places and the missionaries seeking to reach them.
If your local church has sent a missionary or adopted an unreached people, make this your first priority. You can also use resources such as IMB’s prayer list, Operation World, or a local prayer guide for the peoples in your city.
- Give to a missionary.
One way we participate in the missionary task is through supporting missionaries. Show your students how to leverage God-given money for God’s fame among the nations. Make it your first priority to give to a missionary sent out by your church or give directly to a sending organization or partner with another local church to support a missionary.
- Participate in local cross-cultural ministry.
Most cities and even rural towns have refugees or immigrants in tight-knit communities. God has brought the nations to us. Lead your students to participate in an ESL program or other outreach strategies to engage them where they are.
- Partner with long-term missionaries.
Avoid the temptation to create only a fun experience for students overseas. Let a romantic view of missions die and allow the hardships of global missions to be on full-display as your students partner with long-term missionaries in their fields. As you communicate with these missionaries, ask them how your students can be a genuine help to them, even if it’s not glamorous.
- Introduce your students to other students who have already gone on mission.
If you don’t have a student from your ministry who has gone overseas, ask around and invite a student from another ministry to come. Many students begin to consider missions as a realistic option when they see a peer do it first.
- Provide experiential learning.
It’s difficult to grasp the concept of other worldviews until you’ve stepped into a Muslim mosque or a Hindu temple. It’s difficult to grasp the concept of unreached peoples until you’ve stepped into an ethnic shop or worshiped with Christians from other cultures. Open your students’ eyes to missions by providing real experiences with other cultures. Research your city to find a Middle Eastern grocery store, West African restaurant, Hindu temple, or Muslim mosque that is open to public visitors. Partner with a church in your area that is made up of people from another culture who worship in a different style and language.
- Do evangelism today.
There is no more important step toward missions than evangelism. While missions is more than evangelism, it is never less than that. Model evangelism by taking students out to share in bold, public ways. Share the gospel in every sermon and lesson you give. Have your students practice sharing the gospel. Be specific about who they’ll share with and when. Follow up. Remember, the best gospel tool you have is the one you use.
“While missions is more than evangelism, it is never less than that.”
No one knows exactly what it was like when the Holy Spirit told the leaders at Antioch to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2 NIV). But he certainly continues to set aside some of the church for the missionary task. And often he is setting them aside through the prayerful, proactive work of pastors.
Many young missionaries serving in hard places today wouldn’t be there except for a faithful student pastor lighting a flame for the nations in their hearts. It is the responsibility of church leaders to identify and develop tomorrow’s missionaries today. If we’re not leading our students to take steps toward missions, then we’ll forfeit the future joys of sending missionaries.
Erik Odegard serves at Spurgeon College as the director of Fusion, which equips and sends students to make disciples in hard places alongside IMB missionaries and NAMB church planters. He holds a BA in Christian ministry (cross-cultural studies concentration) and a master of theological studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Erik has served as an elder of Cross Fellowship Church since 2018. He and his wife, Morgan, have been married since 2014 and live in Missouri with their dog, Finn, and a house filled with Fusion alumni.