By Chad Stillwell and George Siler
Does your student ministry have a strategy for missions—or are your efforts random?
Let’s be honest: Sometimes we do things in ministry because we are “supposed” to do them or because others are doing them. We choose where to serve on mission based on what’s most available, not what’s best.
But if you develop a coherent missions strategy, your students can have a global impact in their witness. You can lead students to engage in God’s mission as a lifetime pursuit.
A good starting place
Let’s start by identifying some key assumptions about missions and student ministry.
1. Missions is a priority for every church, regardless of size and resources.
2. Discipleship and missions are inseparable. Christ’s call is to follow Him and become fishers of men.
Missions isn’t an extracurricular activity or an “above and beyond” call extended to special believers.
3. Student missions should complement the mission work of the church as a whole, not act as an independent initiative.
4. Student missions work best when the priority is the receivers, not the spiritual growth of the goers. Spiritual growth will result, but the call is to go and make disciples of others.
Consider these steps to build a missions strategy for your students.
Step 1: Evaluate.
Spend some time in an honest assessment of missions in your ministry.
How do you define mission? Our theology profoundly affects who we are, where we go, what we do, and how we train. It’s essential to have a biblical understanding of missions and to clearly articulate that understanding across your organization.
The gospel shows us the heart of mission is rescue and redemption. Evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting are essential activities. Your definition of mission activity can be broader than this, but it cannot be less.
What are you doing now that fits this definition? A clear, biblical understanding of missions allows you to assess your efforts—or the lack of them.
What specific gifts, passions, and possibilities in missions already exist in your church? While all churches are called to a gospel-centered mission, each church has its own identity in fulfilling that calling. What do you see as the God-given possibilities and potential for your church?
Step 2: Set goals.
The next step is to “begin with the end in mind”—to set goals for your missional engagement.
How do you want students to view the world before they graduate from your ministry? Will you let them default to the mindset of a tourist or will you cultivate the heart of a missionary? Will their main source of information about the world be the news or the Bible? Will they be driven by fear or by faith?
What experiences and abilities do you want students to have so they can live missionally? If you want them to be able to share their faith with a Muslim, then show them how. If you want them to be comfortable reaching out to different people, teach them to cross cultures.
What defines the win in every missions activity and trip? The adage, “Aim at nothing, hit nothing,” applies. Always go with a plan, but also allow the Holy Spirit to change the plan.
Translate your answers to these questions into action points, and you will be well on your way to developing a road map for your mission strategy.
Step 3: Teach students the mission of God.
God’s heart is to rescue all of us. It is the bottom line of Scripture.
Help students see that the whole narrative of the Bible is missions. From Genesis to Revelation, God is a missionary God and Jesus is the ultimate hero of every Bible story. As Christians, we are the missionary people of God—it is part of our identity.
Inject missions education into your ministry at every opportunity. Add a “missions moment” to worship experiences. Lead a refugee simulation. Choose Bible study curriculum that includes good missiology.
Introduce unreached and unengaged people groups. Require mission teams to go through extensive spiritual training. In missions-related announcements, explain the “why” as much as the “what.”
Step 4: Get students engaged with the lost.
It’s hard to make missions real from a classroom. Students need real-world mission experiences and practical engagement.
Beat the Christian quarantine. Even in a secular society, students can get insulated into a Christian bubble and lose meaningful contact with lost people. While there is a need to shelter them from wrong influences, there is also the need to send them.
Help students think like missionaries. When missionaries arrive in a place, they study the culture. They find ways to build relationships with people and share their faith.
As they lead people to Christ, they disciple them. Missionaries aren’t afraid of culture—they penetrate it with the gospel.
Encourage students to find where God is at work. This means slowing down long enough to see needs and
then being available. It means praying for awareness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Step 5: Develop partnerships in missions.
The days of “one-and-done” trips and quick results are over. Long-term effort is required to reach long-term results.
Choose effectiveness over variety. The “world tour” approach to mission trips can be exciting, but it lacks the depth of ministry that can happen when you go to the same place again and again. Good relationships take time.
A long-term commitment leads to more trust and credibility, better use of resources, and the chance to truly invest in a community and its people.
Connect “over there” with “right here.” God has brought the mission field to our doorstep. Quite often the people group you may seek to reach overseas can be found in your own city.
Many church groups have been able to find local opportunities to match with their global efforts.
Step 6: Lead students to pray for missions.
Prayer in God’s kingdom is key to the mission. As you engage students in missional prayer, lead them to be focused, meaningful, consistent, and creative.
Empower them to pray specifically. Give them good information and detailed requests. Focus on an unreached people group or a particular place.
Help them pray meaningfully. Offer them real relationships and heartfelt connections with people and situations. Use technology to “bring missionaries” to your meetings. Provide updates and report on results.
Guide them to pray consistently. Missional prayer should be a regular and important part of your worship, small groups, and communication.
Engage them to pray creatively. Use social media, special prayer events, visuals, prayer walks, video calls, and prayer stations.
What could be?
Nick is a recent high school graduate who has embraced missions as an integral part of his life.
Missions got into his bloodstream early—from hearing sermons and Bible studies about the heart of God to attending missions camp, then tutoring kids at a local Hispanic church plant, then going on missions projects overseas, and finally falling in love with a particular people group in the Philippines.
By the time he graduated from high school, Nick had already spent a month in the Philippines helping to lead a youth camp. Most recently he has been studying abroad and leading a youth ministry overseas in two churches.
There are hundreds more students like Nick who are the beneficiaries of an intentional missions strategy of their church. How would you like to add to this number? What might God do through your students in the years ahead?