It’s been estimated that 3 out of 4 laborers come straight from the college campus. The next generation of pastors and missionaries will come from college ministries. Lord willing, these laborers will see the Great Commission fulfilled.
So what’s stopping this flood of laborers from being sent out from college campuses?
Overwhelmingly, there are two barriers holding college students from being sent into full time ministry:
- Money (student loan debt and fear related to raising financial support)
This post will focus on parents.
“The possibility that Christian parents are the number one hindrance to world evangelization is truer than we would like to admit.”
Dr. Todd Ahrend in the book “In This Generation”
Over 100 years ago, John Mott led the greatest missionary mobilization the world has ever seen – the Student Volunteer Movement.
John Mott considered parents to be the primary obstacle standing in the way of missions mobilization:
’If God permit,’ not if my parents permit. There are very few of us whose parents do permit; they rather must submit. I was talking to a young man less than a week ago, and he said, ‘The moment that I speak of going as a foreign missionary it seems to me that a thousand chords are pulling me back….my parents begin to plead with me; my friends begin to plead with me.’ It is not if man permit; it is if God permit.
100 years ago, what was the parents’ chief concern? They had worked hard to send their son or daughter to college and going into full time ministry was seen as a waste of a valuable college degree. Sound familiar?
It somewhat comforting to know that this is not a new obstacle.
“If we seek for excuses to stay at home we can find plenty of them” Robert Wilder, 1898
There’s a VERY helpful article on Desiring God about how parents are the Biggest Barrier to Students Going to the Mission Field.
The article is written by a parent, Kim Ransleben, and she explains parents’ legitimate concerns:
We haven’t been with them much of the time while they’re in college, and the truth is, many of us don’t hear a lot from them while they’re gone. If they’ve grown, parents don’t necessarily hear about it. Add to that, most of us had to work hard and pay a lot of money for them to get their degree. Even if unconsciously, many parents are expecting some sort of return on that costly investment.
Then there’s the impression we get from their lives on social media . . . a lot of coffee pics, sports, and of course, selfies. And now all of a sudden, they have a passion for the unreached? Yes, some parents are skeptical, and some for good reason. How do we know our kids don’t just want to delay getting a job for a few more years?
Here’s why parents’ disapproval is crippling to today’s students.
Millennials value their parents’ opinion above anyone else. Past generations experienced growing separation of parents and kids over the teen years and into college. But the majority of millennials remain very close to their parents. The term “helicopter parent” has been widely used to describe their parents’ close involvement.
89% of Millennials receive advice from their parents, 77% on a regular basis. And 87% view their parents as a positive source of influence. Parents are more influential to Millennials than their friends. In fact, “there is nothing more important to Millennials than family” (source). 52% of emerging adults contact their parents every day or almost every day!
Heavy parental involvement is not unique to our students in college ministry. Fortune.com recently reported on its effects on the workplace:
Millennials’ reliance on and close contact with their parents continued even through their teen years — ages when prior generations experienced far greater intergenerational tension. Today’s young adults see the process of seeking advice from their parents as a logical, well-considered opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of trusted advisors. As millennials have entered the workplace, they continue to turn to their parents for guidance.
The Wall Street Journal reports that some Millennials are bringing their parents to job interviews. They report on how some companies are adapting to very engaged parents:
Northwestern Mutual “does everything it can to accommodate the parents of college-aged interns, including regularly inviting them to the office for open houses and some managers call or send notes to parents when interns achieve their sales goals” One intern remarked, “My parents were unsure at first, but seeing the office firsthand allowed them to be that much more confident with the company.”
Companies like Google and LinkedIn have started having an annual “Take Your Parents to Work Day.”
This is the new normal of super-engaged parents and students who really value their opinion.
So when parents are opposed to students going into full time ministry, it is no small obstacle. It is devastating to students.
So what we can do about it?
- Communicate to students that ultimately it is not the parents’ decision but a personal decision to serve God in full time ministry. “We must deal delicately and humbly with those who love us the most; boldly pursuing His desires above all else.” Dr Todd Ahrend
- Realize that God can use obstacles for His glory. Where parents are resistant or completely opposed to their kids going (whether on a Summer Mission or into full time ministry), in most cases I’ve seen God uses the conflict and step of faith (by the student) to radically transform both the student AND parents. This story from Ali Enos (Cru staff at LSU) is very typical of what we see happen with parents:
- I still remember the day when I was an LSU student trying to explain to my parents why I wanted to go on a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ—my mom thought I was involved in a cult!
- My parent’s skepticism about summer project was only an appetizer compared to the questions and concern that came when I shared with them a few years later that I wanted to go to work with Campus Crusade for Christ full time after I graduated from LSU.
- Now, 10 years later, my parents could not be more proud of me. They have both begun personal relationships with Christ and love what I do. (there’s a great video of Ali’s parents sharing their journey and doubts – great to use with student’s parents who are resistant.)
- We need to help students learn to communicate with their parents about the life change they’ve experienced. Students go home to family and friends that don’t get why they’ve changed or why they are living for Christ.
- Do a weekly meeting talk teaching students how to communicate their life change with their parents (especially before Christmas or Summer break).
- Do a discipleship lesson on what it looks like to “honor your father and mother” while following God’s will of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth
- “The way to Biblically heed both of these commands simultaneously is to listen to parents’ advice, speak with them in an honorable way, but still follow God’s will over our parents’ will when the two are in contradiction.” Dr. Todd Ahrend
- “It is true that God wants us to honor our parents and love our friends, but He has also made it clear in His Word that this honor and love must not exceed our love and obedience to Him and His calling on our lives. We should always try our best to explain God’s call to our families, lovingly and patiently, but the bottom line must be that we will obey Christ no matter what the cost (Mark 10:29). – Keith Green
- Coach potential STINT’ers and Interns to be prepared to talk with their parents:
- Expect your parents to have a lot of questions (whether it is a Summer Mission or internship or long term staff).
- Your parents’ questions/grilling are a genuine expression of love and concern.
- Do your homework and anticipate what questions they might have:
- Will you have insurance?
- How much money will you make? Can you live on THAT?!
- How will you possibly raise all that support?! (“Cru offers extensive support raising training that is the best in the world…”)
- Encourage students to keep their parents updated on their spiritual growth.
- Kim Ransleben gives 5 really good tips on dealing with parents that are all worth reading, but her first is a brilliant insight I hadn’t thought of before: Let your parents in on the journey early and often.
Your desire to serve overseas shouldn’t be spontaneously announced like you do when you’ve decided to drive to the playoff game or change your hair color. Your parents don’t want to suddenly hear, “Mom, Dad, when I graduate I’m moving to Cambodia.” Share the journey as you walk through it, even in the earliest stages.
If you read a blog post that impacts your perspective on global missions, send it to your dad with a note about why you loved it. If you hear a sermon that stirs you, send your parents a link and tell them about it. Don’t worry about their lack of response to it. This isn’t about convincing them. It’s just showing them what you see. When you come to them about what you want to do, it should not be a surprise but simply the next step in all God has been doing in you.
And what if they’re unbelievers? Share it all anyway.
- Invite parents into your ministry. If the parents see your ministry for themselves they are WAY more likely to let their kids go to Winter Conference, or on a Summer Mission, and even work in full time ministry.
- Have every student leader invite their parents to your Fellowship Dinner. It’s always nice if they give, but the MUCH bigger win is them seeing what their kid is involved with. We’ve found that even non-Christian parents really appreciate Cru after they come to our dinner.
- Florida Cru has had a Parents Weekend – They move their weekly meeting to a Friday night (on a big home game in the fall) and ask their students to invite their parents to come to the weekly meeting on Friday night. They then have a Giving Brunch the next morning. 70-100 families attend (and give a lot of money!).
- Develop a way to communicate with parents. The easiest way would be to have a page for parents on your website. The Traveling Team has a great page of parent testimonies.
Some Helpful Resources:
- Dr. Todd Ahrend’s book – In This Generation – chapter 18
- Web pages:
How have you helped students talk with their parents about going on summer missions or into full time ministry? Students, what has been helpful for you in talking to your parents?
photo courtesy of Petras Gagilas