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Re-thinking Our Mission Misconceptions

NZCMS Mission Enablers, Guy and Summer Benton, reflect on the misconceptions the New Zealand young adult community has about mission and what they have been doing in response.

A Valuable Generation

While our family lived as long-term missionaries in Cambodia for eight years we learned a lot about what mission could look like in reality. We didn’t realise that some of the preconceptions we held about mission would be challenged.

Where do the ideas come from about what missionary work might be like? Is it through one-off missionary talks? Is it through history lessons at school? Is it through scrolling Facebook feeds and seeing youth mission trips?

At the end of 2017 we moved our family from Cambodia to New Zealand where we took on a role as Mission Enablers with NZCMS, working primarily with young adults. Through this role we’ve been surprised to see how many misconceptions the younger generation in New Zealand has regarding mission. And these misconceptions can often become a massive barrier to their interest in and willingness to participate in mission.

As a response to this we’ve developed a new gap year called Better World which strives to combat many of these same misbeliefs. Our hope is to show our younger generation that they can not only participate in mission but that their presence in those spaces is incredibly valuable. Young people are actually striving for significance and a way to engage in God’s work in the world. But sadly the barriers they have around mission often stops them from seeking out these opportunities and recognising that they may even be called to mission themselves.

Mission Misconception: Evangelism

One of the misconceptions we’ve encountered lies in the role of evangelism in mission. Many young people have communicated to us that they think evangelism means only preaching and teaching.  Evangelism is then often reduced down to single events of preaching the Gospel, the cross and the resurrection across cultures, often in clunky and awkward meetings with strangers.

While we know it does include those very important things, it is also much more than that. Due to many dynamics that are present in our younger generation, they often shy away from verbal evangelism for a variety of reasons including fear of repeating mistakes of the past such as colonialism, manipulation techniques and preaching a fear-based Gospel. There is also fear of appearing to embrace a spiritual paradigm that is dominant to other paradigms in the culture. When society is saying “There is no one way and all ways are fine” then it’s incredibly hard for a young person to declare that Jesus is the only way.

Lastly, there can be a lack of discipleship which often results in no real conviction that God is actually good news that’s transforming their own life. This misconception means that you have a whole generation of young adults cringing away from any idea of sharing the Gospel.

Mission Misconception: Traditional Roles

Another misconception often held by the younger generation is that to be a missionary you have to have life aspirations that fit into ‘traditional’ missionary roles of teacher, preacher, doctor, or church planter. These misconceptions are often the result of exposure they may have had to other missionaries and the type of work they’re doing. If young people don’t feel called to a more traditional vocational ministry then they often don’t think they could be called into mission. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially today. The modern mission field is filled with missionaries who are business people, lawyers, IT specialists, lawmakers, human rights activists, engineers, and artists. It’s arguable that what the world needs most is Christians who are bold in their faith and offering their unique gifts for the work God is doing in the world. We are the body of Christ and we all have a part to play in God’s Kingdom work.

The Temptation of Shallow Missions

In addition to these misconceptions, in a society built on fast-paced answers and instant gratification, there is a risk that a young person who is passionate to make a difference in the world is looking to altruistic volunteering short-term opportunities as the answer for that. Further to this, the explosion of connection and networking through the information age has created a dynamic where young people are bombarded with information about things happening in the world and, while they may feel that they’re able to engage in issues they’re passionate about, this risks a glassy-view of helping without much depth or commitment. Also, if they do choose to participate in mission work, they don’t necessarily know what it takes to thrive in that work long-term and, as a result of their individualist culture, they often go about it alone rather than surrounded by a community of support.

Better World

These are just a few of the core tenants behind the vision for NZCMS’ Better World Gap Year. This program strives to combat these misconceptions by taking young people on a ten-month journey of exposure to what God is doing, both around the world and in New Zealand, and walking with them as they discern how their personal gifts and passions may intersect that work. Our first year of Better World participants have  returned from five weeks in Fiji where they’ve already learned so much about what serving God and sharing their journey authentically with other people can look like in the world around them. And it’s an exciting place to be in as we watch God take hold of these young lives and set them on a path to serve him in the unique way that he created them to serve.

The Better World programme has recently begun taking in applications for their 2020 intake. To learn more go here or, if you want to download an application, click here.