A few years back, a well-known university president wrote a book called “Where Have All the Dreamers Gone?” The title made me think of various things, such as: why the shortage of godly leaders in the church? or where are the men and women willing to break out of the mold and dare great things for God? And on a lighter note, the answer struck me: ‘Where have all the dreamers gone?,’ why, they have gone to pursue their dreams! Where else do dreamers go?!
But Dr. Bill Brown had another point in mind: where are the young leaders who are willing to be examples to their generation. In essence, that is partly my question in this post. Christian youth race to get the best spots in the most sought-after universities and colleges, hoping to get a professional degree, from a reputable institution, so that in turn they will land a good job. But, I ask, are they turning a deaf ear to what was once considered the most demanding, the most adventurous and the most risky “profession” of all: giving up all to be a career missionary.
I have been asking myself the following question for the past ten or twelve years: “where have all the servants gone?” I can see that Christian colleges and universities reach new heights in numerical stats (for example, Liberty University, aiming to be the largest Christian university in the United States, already claims of 12,000 students), while falling to new lows in the number of the students who choose to prepare for long term missionary service. From where do I get my information? From living on the receiving end of the missionary studies programs. In other words, from the mission field itself.
During the past 10 years in Chile, South America, the flow of new missionaries to the field, (other South American countries are also facing a similar picture) has all but trickled to a stop. While our mission agency, ABWE (www.abwe.org), is one of the most growing faith agencies in fundamental circles, both Argentina, Chile, and Peru receive only one to two new missionary families every four to six years. If that statistic continues for the next 15 years (at which point I could formally retire), the number foreign missionaries in those three countries will have reduced to half the number presently in Chile. Where have all the servants gone?
Part of the issue lies at the feet of the higher institutions for learning, in my thinking. The two schools I am most familiar with, Cedarville University and Baptist Bible College, report steadily decreasing numbers of students declare a cross-cultural or missions major. One example stands out from the “2010 Strategic Planning and Research Fact Book” of the Cedarville University (see this link: http://www.cedarville.edu/Offices/Strategic-Planning-Research/~/media/Files/PDF/Strategic-Planning-Research/Factbook/chapter2.ashx) :
Of the present student body of 2,965 students, only 265 declare a Biblical or theological major. And of those, only 31 are in the international studies-missions program.
To put it simply: less than 9% of the student body is training for missionary service!
Again I ask: where have all the servants gone?
That is not to say that some students in the pastoral major or the pre-seminary major may not also be thinking missionary service. But, by the time they make that mile marker, their financial landscape will have changed, making it even more difficult to reach the mission field. Over 50% of Christian college and university graduates face such a huge repayment of debt that paying if off will swallow up at least 10 or more years!
Missions makes for good conferences, for dramatic stories, for heart-wrenching photos (maybe we missionaries need to lighten up here some!), but apparently it does not make for a great career! Too many other attractive and interesting possibilities. The call to missions is drowned out today by the chatter offering more lucrative options.
Let me close by asking you, our churches and our colleges, our pastors and our Christian parents, and especially our professors and our trend-setters: where are the missionary servants in your priorities of life? If you do not see teens and young adults surrendering on a regular basis who are committed to serve the cause of Christ as His sent-ones, then the answer is in the mirror you look into every morning. A servant learns by watching other servants carry the torch to reach those without hope, outside the reach of your present circumference of impact, to penetrate the darkness and to punch holes in the blackness.
The cause of Christ needs servants, at home and abroad. Otherwise the work of self-sustaining, sacrificial and productive missions will soon dry up. Will you and I make a difference? Only if we ourselves live as fully devoted to the cause of EQUIPPING, SENDING AND SUPPORTING SERVANTS.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min
Missionary Church Planter