The students in my youth group have all been so excited about the mission trip we just completed and are already working on plans for next summer’s mission trip. They have such a strong desire to serve, witness, work, and go out of town.
So I decided to take things up a notch. I spent weeks preparing a lesson on how to be a missionary to their schools. I told the students all about ways to serve and grow in their very own school. I told them how they could reach out and make a difference in people’s lives. I gave them an opportunity to stand up and proclaim that they were willing to work for God in their school.
Want to know how many students responded to that? How many were ready to proclaim the Gospel in their schools? How many were not ashamed to witness to their friends? Out of twenty-six youth in the room, there was a big whopping zero.
I was stunned. I was disappointed. But mostly I realized that I had been approaching missions all wrong with these youth. I took them out knocking on doors, walking through parks, and going out of town to share the Gospel. And they excelled at all of those things, but I left out an important aspect of missions – missions start at home.
Sure, I had told them that before. And they were even okay with that, as long as “home” meant people that live close by but are ultimately strangers.
There is definitely a fear involved with witnessing to people you know; especially for teenagers. In school we learn that image is everything. Just look at the labels that are put on people. There’s jock, emo, band geek, prep, nerd, popular, unpopular, several that aren’t appropriate to mention…oh and the Christian kill-joy. No one wants to be the outcast. It is devastating to be made fun of, to face ridicule in school.
There can be a high price to pay when you decide to stand for what is right; when you unashamedly proclaim the name of Jesus. It is hard enough as an adult. I struggle with it daily. But, it is nothing compared to being a teenager.
I remember a time when I was in seventh grade. I had just sat down to eat lunch in the cafeteria. I was sitting alone, minding my own business. Then, I bowed my head to pray. The next thing I knew something wet was running through my hair and this guy behind me was saying something about goody-goody Christians. He had spit on me while I prayed. I was mortified. I quickly got up and went to the bathroom and washed my hair as best I could. I never “told on him.” I never even knew who he was really. Here’s what I do know: the rest of that year, I prayed with my eyes open.
I understand the difficulties teenagers have. I’ve been there. But, I also understand that we have been given an assignment. We are called to be missionaries everyday. It is not enough to go on a mission trip once a year. It is not enough to put on our happy face when we go to church.
Matthew 28:16-20 says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Most everyone is somewhat familiar with the great commission. It calls us to make disciples of all nations. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to see the word “go” and think that it is referring only to going away. When Jesus was speaking to the disciples about this, in the original text, we see that he actually was saying, as you are going. You see, everywhere we go we are to preach the Gospel.
For teenagers, a vast majority of time is spent at school. That means it is up to us to teach them how to minister at their school. No one can reach a school for Christ as effectively as a fellow student.
So, how do we accomplish this? I think it starts with prayer. As youth workers, parents, and ministers, we should be constantly lifting up the teens in our lives who are faced with tough decisions every day. We should pray that they become bold and confident. Then, we teach them how to witness. We show them how important prayer is in witnessing. We show them how to “bring God up” in their conversations. Last, we keep lifting them up and encouraging them. It is not enough for us to tell them once. We have to stay constantly involved. We have to be there to support them when they face trials. We have to remind them that they are not alone.
What is the call to missions? It is a call given by God to all Christians, all the time.