I wrote these thoughts with my church family, Vision Baptist Church, in mind. I share it with you because I believe it is also the thoughts of many of my friends who serve in youth ministry.
Holding my wife and kids in my arms as they look past security to see our family headed to board a plane that will take them to South Africa is a real test of the heart. Even though this experience of not seeing our family for years is not limited to missions endeavors, it is difficult regardless of motivation. Knowing they are going for the sake of the Gospel is the only thing that keeps us from yelling, “Please stop and rethink this level of commitment!” As we drove back from the airport, I thought about my father and mother in grace (they don’t allow me to call them ‘in-law’s.) I thought about how it never gets easier for them, and rightfully so.
Filled with mixed emotions, I thought about this scenario as I began to visualize what this will look like when I take that long walk back to the parking lot with the parents in our church. I love the teenagers in our church, and I love their parents very much as well. The idea that I would encourage teenagers to act upon a desire that would cause the hearts of their parents to break is difficult to me. As a father I often think about how my friend Chuck Littlefield will feel when his little girl heads to Peru. I think about how Bret Johnson will spend Christmas on Skype, with one computer talking to China, and another device showing his daughter in Tunisia. I think about Sheri Thomas who will in a few weeks see her son off at the airport knowing it may very likely be the first of many trips for him in the years to come.
Why do we do it? Is this really necessary? In moments like these I think this question searches from the depth of our hearts to the uppermost of our minds. If we decide the answer to this can only be answered from God’s Word and not from our emotions than the answer must be, “it is necessary and it is wonderful!”
So parents, I want to express to you that I know that there is no greater cost to you in this world than seeing your children change their addresses for the sake of the Gospel. My life and children are not immune to the effects that having a church with such a strong missions culture brings. I will not be disappointed in my son if he does not become a missionary, but I will be very much disappointed in myself if he passes from adolescence into adulthood without knowing it is a very legitimate, logical, and likely choice for his life.
I also want you to know that this “thing” of missions is not a novelty to us. It is not a passing fad that your kids are being swept up in. As a church, Lord willing, we will not be moving on to another strategy, leaving your children disconnected from the church and the plan for the advancement of the Gospel unto the world. I also want you to know we have no plans to send them out unprepared. We will give our lives to helping them prepare for a life of effective, God-glorifying ministry. We will do this in many ways, but one major way is in asking the entire church to stand with us as we see these arrows launched out.
Not all of your children will become missionaries. They will be obedient to the command to go by serving as senders inside of this church or another church God moves them to. They are no less Christian or obedient to God’s command. Other organizations have the responsibility of informing them that they can make a life out of being a fireman, an accountant, a welder, or another occupation. The responsibility lies solely with the Christian family and the church to help guide their hearts towards knowing they must first yield their lives completely to Christ before taking up any occupation in life.
So what does that look like for our middle school and high school students? Being that many of them will not know exactly the course God has for them in life and that they need to become life-long disciple makers, in accordance with the Bible, many of them will speak of being missionaries when they grow up. I know this illustration is not perfect because it elevates one role above another, but it is the best I can do. As with little kids who play baseball in youth recreation leagues. Some will grow up to be umpires, coaches, supportive moms and dads, and many other roles that support the sport of baseball. However, as a young person who loves the game of baseball many of them will dream of playing it professionally. They will dream of playing at Wrigley field and with the players they see on television. So, if ministry is baseball in this story I believe as your teenagers grow in their love for the “sport”, many of them will have a strong desire to do so not in the outfield but on the mission field. I also believe that many, many of them should and, by God’s grace, will serve there. Others will not, but will not be hurt by the love for the game they learned as a kid.
Parents, I do not know what it feels like to help my son or daughter pack their bags to return to the mission field. I do have the slightest idea with what I know from God’s Word and from the experience of saying good bye to many friends. It is a joyous occasion filled with tears. We do not encourage this radical behavior to hurt you, but do so for the glory of God and the joy of His people. We have counted the cost and believe the building is still worth building! I pray that if you have never faced the reality that your child may become a missionary that you will do so and embrace it with a heart of joy.
With sincere appreciation,