Editor’s note: While you’re overseas, there’s a 100% chance you will at some point be baffled by either the size or (slow) pace of the Great Commission.
You may arrive longing to make a difference, only to become acutely aware that you will likely not be the global worker closing the deal on every tribe, tongue, and nation.
But what is also true? Some generation in the future will be that generation. (Don’t miss our post, The Generation Who Can: Reaching the Unreached with News They Can’t Live Without.)
And in light of the truth laid out in verses like “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6), you may be mobilizing the people who will water seeds God’s empowered you to plant.
Maybe you’ll be
- hosting short-term trips.
- teaching in a classroom.
- mentoring interns.
- welcoming youth from your host country, or missionary kids.
- raising your own goofy, 100%-human kids.
- speaking to young people on your return trips to your passport nation.
Either way, your role as an existing global worker serves to empower the next.
You are part of the bridge between this generation’s calling–and the next. How will you be the bridge? Who will be the Timothy to your Paul?
So today, though you may not see yourself as a mobilizer just yet, we’re welcoming Dr. Jolene Erlacher, international speaker and author of Mobilizing Gen Z: Challenges and Opportunities for the Global Age of Missions.
(Maybe her story could even be your kids’.)
Stepping out of the doors of the airport, a text message from a new number pops up on my phone. It says to look for a silver SUV.
I glance across the line of cars where people are loading suitcases and greeting one another outside of baggage claim. A familiar mix of anxious anticipation and excitement fills my mind. I rehearse the names of the individuals I am about to meet.
As the SUV pulls up, several individuals get out to greet me. They collectively whisk me to the event where I will be speaking. I smile confidently and begin chatting comfortably.
Growing up as a TCK–working with and interacting with people from many different backgrounds– prepared me well for my career as an international public speaker.
I grew up as the oldest of six kids in a missionary family. We moved to the field when I was eight years old,. My parents have now been on the field for three and half decades.
I consider growing up as a TCK one of the greatest gifts of my life.
While not always easy, the unique experiences helped prepare me and my siblings for the work and ministry we do now.
When reflecting on what my parents did that helped me thrive in cross-cultural work, I recognize so many of Gen Z (b. 1996- 2010) need the same guidance and opportunities as they consider how to engage in missions.
Gen Z: The EPIC Generation
Author Tim Elmore explains that young people today are an EPIC generation. They learn and engage best when teaching and mentoring are EPIC–that is experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connected.
I was a teenager when my dad was asked to go pray for a young woman who was experiencing severe trauma. Dad invited me to come along and pray with him.
I will never forget experiencing both the intensity of that situation and the real and evident presence of God as he worked in the life of that young lady, bringing healing and restoration.
My parents’ willingness over the years to let me and other young leaders experience hands-on ministry gave us confidence in trusting God to use us.
Gen Z has been inundated with information almost constantly. They’ve become skilled at skimming what they read, hear, and see to find what is relevant or applicable in that moment.
Experiences, on the other hand, allow them to focus on a situation or topic and see what is relevant and important.
They can see results, consequences, and needs; and develop skills by practicing and applying them firsthand.
Training events for pastors, leaders, or church members were a regular part of my life growing up.
When I was nine or ten, I helped serve the coffee and wash the dishes. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was helping prepare materials. And by high school, I was leading training sessions.
Participation is key to the growth and engagement of young leaders. And that participation empowers Gen Z to understand processes and people, too.
Views on authority have changed: Respect is no longer given based on title, experience, or education. Rather, respect is earned today through engagement.
Gen Z needs to participate in ministry to see how others care and to understand that their skills and input are needed and valued. They also gain confidence when they see how God can use them.
As a kid, the murmur of Dad’s voice as he walked around our house praying was a familiar sound. Dad didn’t just teach and preach about prayer. He lived it, padding around the living room or kitchen.
Prayer was part of life at our house. Every day started with prayer. Difficult situations were immediately responded to with prayer. And together as a family, we regularly witnessed and celebrated answers to prayer.
You could say we had a powerful image of what a life of prayer should look like.
With access to devices from a young age, social media feeds, and instant access videos providing constant visual stimuli, pictures convey a lot more to this generation than words.
Guessing I’m not the only one who’s watched as teenagers carried on entire “conversations” via messaging apps with only pictures and emojis.
So our interactions with the next generation must include visual components.
But if you’re low on budget? Realize this might be as simple as being a role model, like my dad, who demonstrates what concepts and ideas look like when they are lived out.
As global workers, my parents were intentional to create godly connectedness and community for young people, sponsoring youth events that fostered godly community for the next generation, They’d cart groups of teens or young adults to camp, or host youth camps at our church.
Their hospitality toward our connectedness gave us a place to learn, grow, and discuss what God was doing in our lives.
Gen Z doesn’t learn in a vacuum.
While they may spend hours on their devices, they are viewing and responding to others.
The constant access to media has resulted in a dynamic where they do not often sit and reflect. So processing with others what they are experiencing helps them reflect and understand what they are learning.
Engaging Gen Z: Hands-On, Visual, Connecting Missions
Growing up as an MK, my parents actively engaged us in ministry. It was not something they did; it was something we did.
I believe the EPIC missions experience we received–as well as a lot of prayer–contributes strongly to me and my siblings loving and serving God today.
Missions provides a powerful opportunity for EPIC engagement.
In my new book, Mobilizing Gen Z, I look at unique challenges and opportunities we face as we engage Gen Z in missions. What we know is that EPIC learning is key to engaging young people in missions, whether that be TCKs who are growing up overseas, short-term student teams, or students and young adults considering or serving in missions.
So let’s ask ourselves how EPIC our parenting, discipleship, teaching and training, and leadership are as we engage Gen Z in missions.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher grew up as a missionary kid. She has spent the past decade studying generational trends in ministry contexts.
An author, speaker, and coach, Jolene works extensively with churches, mission agencies, schools, and other organizations on engaging the next generation. She also teaches graduate courses at North Central University and Bethany Global University.
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