Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Missionary Call - from a Member Care Perspective PART II - generational differences in defining "The Call"

The missionary call as perceived by three generations

Most Christians affirm the existence of a missionary call even if they differ concerning its exact nature.

Theological differences are not the only differences, however, which emerge when defining the missionary call. Demographic differences appear as well.

William Taylor, drawing on the statistics gained from the monumental Reducing Missionary Attrition Project I, charts how the last 3 generations of missionaries have each viewed their “calling” differently.

In his chart entitled, “A Generational Perspective on Missionary Issues,” Taylor demographically displays how three different age-groups (Boosters are over 50, the Boomers are 30-50, and the Busters are under 30) view missiological issues differently.

Taylor states that Boosters describe the missionary call as “mystical.” These Boosters, born between 1927 and 1945, “responded to a clear, definite, firmly held call by God to a specific country or people group. They went for life.”

Boomers, in contrast, would describe the missionary call as “the best job fit.” These Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are described as follows:

[They] emphasize their God-given abilities and special training and expect fulfillment in their work and continuing professional development. If these expectations are not met, they will leave the field, being deeply discouraged, frustrated and angry first-termers. They are prone to first try out missionary service as short-termers before becoming committed to it. They keep the option to return home open, should things not work out for them according to their tastes and expectations.

The Buster generation, born 1964 to the present, sees the missionary call as being influenced by relational realities. Busters assess the “best mission” as the one that is “most caring,” a place to feel valued. It is no surprise, therefore, that concepts of team ministry are growing in popularity today.

Below is a summary of inter-generational differences regarding the missionary call:

For boosters the specific, clear call by God is their chief motivation for going cross-cultural/overseas and for staying there for life, come what may. Boomers and busters don’t talk about a specific “call,” but rather making their own decisions after enquiring about the job description fitting their gifts and training best.

Another fascinating change in the perception of one’s calling is that “Calling to a geographic location, region or country is relatively rare today. Instead, calling is more often to a people group.” This change in paradigm from a country focus to-wards a people-group focus has also affected how people perceive the call of God upon their lives. Also, “Calling increasingly refers to the use of a skill or vocation, gifting or experience in God’s service, not unlike the parable of the entrusted talents (Mt. 25:14ff).” Whereas in the past, missionaries were often ordained generalists, today’s missionaries are often un-ordained pilots, mechanics, nurses, linguists, who feel called to a narrow and specific task.

In short, it is vitally important from a member care standpoint that the missionary perceives that they possess a strong missionary call, even if their definition of that missionary call varies. Missionary retention is married to missionary call.

The later REMAP II study sums it up this way:

It appears to matter little (as far as retention is concerned) what the call is to and what is consists of. What is important for retention is to have spent time (individually and with others) being certain of God’s desire for you to do something and/or go somewhere, to the extent that you can look back to that experience and hold on to it during hard times.

Kelly O’Donnell further sums up the importance of the missionary call in this way:

Missionaries, likewise, must have an unwavering trust in God and obedience to His call. Understanding and obeying one’s calling is a central issue in the missionary’s life. The experiences of veteran missionaries testify to the importance of maintaining one’s sense of call given by the Holy Spirit (Johnston, 1983).

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