The Role of the Next Generation in the World

Tom Lin (InterVarsity‘s Vice President of Missions and Director of Urbana 2012) presented a talk on “The Role of the Next Generation of the U.S. Church in Global Mission” at a Leadership Consultation to Revitalize & Reshape Evangelism and Missions in the U.S.

Tom noted 3 contributions from the next generation:

  1. Global Engagement – This student generation thinks and engages globally… The world has become smaller to this student generation
  2. Communal Collaboration – there is a collaborative spirit
  3. Entrepreneurial Action

Tom also identified 3 challenges:

  1. Current financial model of American missions is unsustainable
  2. Learning how to empower and walk alongside global church partners, rather than race ahead with our own agendas
  3. Increasingly dangerous persecution and violent global anti-Americanism

Also, read his postscript at his blog. [cached at]

3 Challenges, 3 Hopes for the Next Generation

Posted by Tom Lin on May 16th, 2011

The transcript for my talk on “The Role of the Next Generation of the U.S. Church  in Global Mission” is now available on this link, along with other resources from the Orlando Consultation last month.  As a follow up piece, I was able to recently visit my old stomping grounds in Boston and speak to a group of local missions pastors, senior pastors, and parachurch ministry leaders.  It was a joy for me to learn from them, to hear about what they are seeing in the next generation.  I ended our time sharing not just about my 3 hopes, but also about 3 challenges that lie ahead for the next generation:

1.  Current financial model of American missions is unsustainable. DEBT and increased resistance to raising support by this generation’s innovative missionaries are huge concerns.  The WSJ Online reported this week that the Class of 2011 is graduating from America’s colleges and universities with a dubious distinction: the most indebted ever — $22,900 is the average student debt of newly minted college graduates!

  • Looking at large, well-known Christian colleges that have traditionally been fertile recruiting grounds for mission agencies, the picture looks even more bleak.  The average debt for a student graduating from one of these schools can be around $35,000.  And when you consider that many mission agencies have debt policies (typically driven by a value for strong member care and wise financial stewardship) that limit the maximum debt to $20,000 or $25,000 in order to be a viable missionary candidate, you begin to see the challenge that’s ahead!
  • Not just debt, but donor trends also make this a challenge.  Increasingly, American missionary budgets seem irrational to supporters, especially when compared to the perceived inexpensive cost of non-Western workers.

2.  Learning how to empower and walk alongside global church partners, rather than race ahead with our own agendas.  Leslie Newbigin accurately depicts the global reality that the North American Church and this generation are wrestling with today:  “We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power… We [need to] learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness.”

  • Working from a position of weakness has not typically been a strength for Americans, and I believe it is one of the most difficult challenges for American missionaries today.  After over 70 years, one major international agency recently appointed the first three non-expat country directors for their mission.  But shifting to these new models and structures which mobilize more non-Western workers and indigenous leaders is challenging for Americans.
  • Shifting North American identity and roles from being North Americans “drivers” of the global bible translation enterprise, to being “servants” that bring value when “supporting” indigenous leaders or when “invited in” by indigenous communities is challenging for us Americans.

3.  Increasingly dangerous persecution and violent global anti-Americanism. We certainly live in a time of growing global political unrest and violent terrorist activity.  Many believe that the number of Christian workers killed could mount up quickly for this next generation.

  • Not just limited to political unrest, but a growing anti-Americanism within certain places of the majority world church as well, as some are even saying, “send us American money, but not American people.”
  • This is a huge challenge for a Net Generation that values “playing and fun” in their work and “freedom and choice” in everything they do.  Going to these difficult places in the world might become increasingly less attractive among the menu of options that they have to consider (and they certainly do have more options than any previous generation before them!).

Having shared the above 3 challenges, I do have great hope in what God can do through the next generation.  As I interact with this student generation and see their passion and their love/compassion for the world, I can’t help but believe that they are more than equipped to meet the challenges that will certainly come there way.