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Young Adults and Missions

Posted by 3D-Outreach on 30 March 2007


The church is charged with the task of reaching the nations. Too often believers lose the responsibility to this challenge on the grounds that ‘the church’ is involved in missions. We are the church! We should be involved in completing His desire that all men should know Him. A deeper search into young adult (YA) believers shows that they are possibly the age group that are tailor made for this task, although there needs to be a deliberate mentoring toward facilitating this process. In this paper, I will be discussing this topic and the intricacies of missions and YA, without going into the finer details of planning a mission trip per se.

The challenge

1994 statistics: –

• Number of congregations in Union – 321
• Number of YA groups – 98 (30.5%)
• Total number of young adults involved in congregations – 3533 – averaging out to 11 per congregation
• Of the churches that had some form of young adult ministry, only 3% sent out short term mission teams on a once off annual basis

“One would not have to be a prophet to know that this has serious implications for the future of the Baptist denomination” (Niemand, 2003: 218) … dare I say missions.

50 % of YA groups turn over every 6 months, 80 % of YA say that religion is important in their lives but only 25 % attend church regularly (Hershey, 1986: 53). Sadly, Gribbon (1990: 2) correctly states that “a common assumption about young adult ministry is that its purpose is to get people ‘into the church’”. Is this our sum total of reaching out to young adults? Is this not the philosophy that is leading to us failing in our YA groups on the whole?

Young adults are asking deep questions, and challenging belief structures in a deep way. Can the faith that we have be the real thing to them? Does it work? – religion vs reality. Young adults are asking whether they are committing themselves to a cause that is real.

On top of that, “we truly need courageous people who will make it their business to come to know their times and who are willing to fine-tune their ministries so that we can minister to this young adult generation” (Niemand, 2003: 219). I don’t think that it was Riaan’s intention, but it should be our concern that we are not only inward focussed with the ideal of setting up our ministries, but that we are also outward looking, to see how we can impact the world at large – living the life … the life that would be honorable to being a follower of Christ.

Sadly, when discussing ‘missions and young adults’, we are faced with the fact that “many churches simply do not feel the urgency for young adult ministry” (Niemand, 2003: 220), and similarly that missions seems to be on a back burner so that there are many churches that have minimal missions involvement.


To the believer, missions should be the most natural thing in the world – slipping on a banana skin – “a natural instinct. It’s not false, forced or even reluctant” (Brown, 1997: 22). This comes out of the way that God loves us, and we inherit His nature and love. Do we have a vision of the coming of God’s Kingdom? Are we consumed by the desire to see Christ proclaimed in the earth? – “Let the ruling class tremble at the communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win” (Borthwick, 1988: 27).

Brown (1997: 25f) goes as far to say that missions isn’t even optional, stating that it is: –

• Commanded – Math 28: 19, Mark 16: 15, Luke 24: 47-48, John 15: 16, Acts 1: 8
• The truth – Acts 5: 20, 29-32,
• A moral obligation – 2 Kings 7: 9
• A heritage to be shared – Math 13: 44, 1 Cor 4: 2

People aren’t passionate / involved in missions yet they ought to be – “missions flows out of a natural instinct to love…telling the Gospel, helping the hurting, standing with the oppressed, championing good and challenging evil. The world should be turned upside down” (Brown, 1997: 19). Why is it not? Why are we not longing for chances to share our faith? Why are we not prioritizing our time to incorporate the needs of others? Why are we not seen as “disturbers of the complacency or evil of the world”? (Brown, 1997: 19). Too often, the world hardly even notices that we exist. Brown (1997: 20) states that this is due to the fact that we: –

• We don’t realize who we are (The ugly duckling) – We have been given new natures, yet we hardly know it. This nature is one that is free of guilt or inadequacies and begins to live for more than one self. Sadly, we tend to stunt God’s traits and nature, with the result that God’s compassion and heart for the lost is not developed in us.
• We aren’t who we think we are – We think we are in God’s hands for most things (pray, go to church, change most bad habits, be kind to people etc), yet sometimes we need to ‘reclaim’ our lives whenever God wants us to do something that we would rather not do, and visa versa. 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20

The above point of missions being a normal function of a believer does not necessarily make it an easy one. Even though breathing is a natural ability, it is not always an easy function if the room is filled with smoke. Sadly, however, we allow the abnormal behavior to be the normal.

Young Adults

Gribbon (1990: v) highlights the major concern when addressing the issue of young adults and ministry in general by saying that there are “low levels of participation and high levels of professed interest”. This could be a need for major concern, as he further sites that there are nearly 80 % of college students saying that religion is important in their lives (Gribbon, 1990: v). Involvement in church (Gribbon, 1992: 38) is seen as dropping in the YA years, most commonly and averaging at the age of 18.

In what way are we as the church failing to make the transition between the feeling of the need for religion and the ultimate involvement, or is it a failing on the general mindset of the young adult person? In this way, the Christian young adult could be seen as a simple ‘pew warmer’, with little or no true commitment to the end cause, which in turn forces one to identify what this ‘end cause’ actually is. If one is truly committed to a cause, would it be true that the person would grow to the point of taking their faith to ‘the next level’. If this is so, would it be true to identify missions as the ‘next level’?

‘Running an effective YA ministry’? This is such an internal question. It has an inward focus, with anything outside these parameters seeming to be obsolete in dealing with young adults. ‘Success’ is found purely in the smooth running of our little huddle in our church. Principles are clearly laid as to effective YA leadership, functioning and reaching out to young adults, while there is almost zero emphasis placed on the way that young adults are able to reach out to others in the form of missions.

Hershey (1986: 87) correctly identifies this fact and states that one of the foundations to an effective YAM is that of serving. He goes as far to say that “nothing will kill a program faster than to let it exist for itself…we grow only as we serve” (Hershey, 1986: 87). Sadly, there are many YA that feel that they are either too busy or have nothing to give, but it is this that the Gospel allows us to simply give ourselves. The intention is to reach out to the mission people group, however, the fact is that the growth often happens to those intended to be doing the reaching out to the needy. In this situation, everyone should be functioning with each member of the body doing his / her part, so that it emphasizes “healing as well as affirming” (Hershey, 1986: 88). In having a ministry of serving, Hershey (1986: 88) concludes by saying that “the more we see our focus as outward, the more we will see our ministry defined by the needs of the community”.

Ford (1996: 222) correctly states that “xers come into the church feeling that they can’t make a difference, thinking that the church doesn’t want or need them”. On top of that, they strongly desire a “faith that works” (Ford, 1996: 174) ie. “if the Christian story is to have relevance to their lives and their concerns, it must be a story that changes lives and changes society” (Ford: 1996: 178). Christianity does just this, touching issues of racial justice, reconciliation, poverty, hopelessness, economic justice, needs / hurts of people with sexual addictions / gender confusions, exploitation such as child abuse, equality etc. In these ways, Christianity changes lives and reshapes societies. Missions thereby becomes a part of the new generation’s apologetic. In the previous era, there was a need for a logically constructed argument. The new generation needs to see “an embodied apologetic, a flesh-and-blood, living and breathing argument for God” (Ford, 1996: 178). Our faith needs to be one that “works in the conflicts, pressures and pain of their everyday lives” (Ford, 1996: 141). In converse, this era is tired of “’commercial Christianity’ … its slick packaging and insincerity” (Ford, 1996: 142).

YA and missions

3 basic goals: –

• Produce world Christians
Day-to-day disciples for whom Christ’s global cause has become the integrating overriding priority for all that He is for them” (Borthwick, 28). They think about a world beyond themselves with all that the Great commission means to them.
• Produce servants
Let them see the need for servants in the world and challenge them to be those servants. Where are our new missionaries going to come from? Dah. Therefore there is a need to broaden their horizons, so that they don’t see missionaries as either losers or super saints.
• Produce world changers
• pessimism – possibilities to change
• self concern – need to reach out
• selfish – servants

There is a need to re-orientate their priorities

After recognizing all of the above motivating aspects of missions, it is important to note that “missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t… Worship is the fuel and goal of missions” (Piper, 1999: 49).

How are we going to do it?: –

• Time
Success takes time, it does not happen over night. Ask the ones that seem to have had unending positive, successful mission experiences and they will tell you (if they are honest) of the wrong work that was done, relational conflicts, negative influences on students, flopped fund raisers, lack of interest etc. Despite these, there is a sense of growth that takes place, and over time you become better, even though it may not be as rapid as you desire.
• The value of the individual
We sometimes see our YA as irresponsible bunch of skaters, however, God loves them and delights in using their energies. Tony Campolo in his book ‘You can make a difference’ relates the story of Billy the cerebral palsy youth member – we need to be open to similar divine appointments.
• Mustard seed principle
Jesus can take the smallest thing and make it into something mighty, or take the smallest efforts and turn them into something mighty for His Kingdom. Sometimes we feel that opposing large corporations or injustices will never make a difference – not so in God’s economy.
• Modern missions history
Howard (34) states that “when students decide to act, things happen. That’s the history of missions. For the missionary movement has had a tremendous vitality often sparked by students with a worldwide vision”.

William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, Brother Yun etc
Do our youth have a vision for evangelising the world, and in turn effect / renew a much needed zeal for the completion of Christ’s global commission.

Expanding their world view: –

• Examples – church leaders, pastors, youth leaders, parents, peers, missionaries
• Exposure – in the church (reaching, sending, worship, mission education priorities) – in the youth group – expose them to missionary service, an important part in your group by speaking it, using it in programs, writing prayer letters, mission games, media, panel discussions, respond to world events, Bible studies etc
• Experiences in missions – projects get their eyes off themselves, motivate YA, they begin to see that they can make a difference – therefore – plan ahead, start small and build, pay attention to details

In doing effective short-term missions, one needs to consider some of the following aspects: –
preparation, teamwork, exposure to missionaries, exposure to new cultures, adventure, measurability, feedback, affirmation.

Results: –
LT missions is possible, so that short term trips become a catalyst to lasting effects.
Follow up – individual attention, special privileges and affirmation, involve in missions committee, actively commission, follow up projects, guide in reading, encourage correspondence to other missionaries, world wide emphasis prayer, train on discerning God’s will and spiritual gifts, recruit and send

A couple of closing thoughts in thinking about YA and missions: –

• YA ministry is no longer YP.
– there needs to be a change mentality
– YA ministry is not program based
– programs are important, socials are important, but YA’s are longing to do more
• There is a perfect match between YA and missions
• Go in teams – natural team players
• Adventure – “missions is not for the feint hearted” (Brown, 1997: 34). Perhaps this is linked to simply living the life of Christ, as Bonhoeffer is recorded as saying that “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die” (Brown, 1997: 45). We need to count the cost, knowing that martyrdom is the norm, including costs of weariness, physical threats, career challenges, family rejection, general antagonism, embarrassment,
• Contribute – over 1 billion people live in absolute poverty, 40 % of the population in the sub- Saharan Africa is chronically malnourished, 250 million children are being forced to work for their keep (Brown, 1997: 86) – Math 25: 34-40.
• Especially with regard to young adults, there is a need for assessment – is ones focus going to be a life of money, success, power, or “revoltionaries in a different cause” (p29)
• Millennial generation (Codrington, 2004) –
– attitude of “lets make the world a better place”
– extremely concerned about community and the environment
– want a job that means more than a pay cheque
– work to add to their life skills more than their bank account
– live a life that matters
– attitude to work – my work will help to change the world
– volunteerism is at an all time high
• Similarly, postmodernism holds potential
Grenz (Ford, 1996: 121) “suggests that postmodernism may well be an opportunity in disguise” – a window of opportunity.
In an endeavor to affect both of the above, one of the strategies that Niemand (2003) suggests in setting up a successful young adult ministry is to “help young adults to serve together”. Rightly so, he identifies that this includes doing short-term mission trips and being involved in the larger community.
• HOW options?!
Support missionaries and mission projects
Get involved in local missions
ST – churches / help
LT ST – year mission involvement / networks – eg. 3D-Outreach


In conclusion, missions is our responsibility as believers and followers of Christ. In many ways it is our responsibility as the church to lead our members (YA) to that point, giving them understanding and growth in the ways of His heart. There are numerous structures and functions that are available to support the successful progress of the believer.

We as the Body of Christ is tasked with reaching the world. Niemand’s (2003: 221) aptly states that “the reality of this game is that the job is too big for any single church … are we up to the challenge?”

Further reading



Borthwick, (1988) Youth and missions. SP Publications: USA

Brown, A. (1997). I believe in mission. Hodder and Stoughton: London

Codrington, G. (2004). Mind the gap. Penguin: Johannesburg

Ford, K. (1996). Jesus for a new generation. Hodder and Stoughton: London

Gribbon, RT. (1900). Developing faith in young adults. The Alban Institute: New York.

Hershey, T. (1986). Young adult ministry. Group Publishing: USA

Niemand, R. (2003). Ministering to the young adults of the Baptist Union in The South African Baptist Journal of Theology vol 12 2003 pg 217-221.

Piper, J. (1999). Let the nations be glad in Perspectives. R Winter and S Hawthorne. Paternoster: California

Towns, EL. (1972). Ministering to the young single adult. Baker: Grand Rapids.

Winter, R and Hawthorne, S. (1999) Perspectives. Paternoster: California Perspectives

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