“Would you please talk with him? He wants to make disciples in that country and is ready to drop out of college to do it.”
Those were the words shared by a concerned family member with me over lunch. Her relative sensed the Spirit’s leading to the Middle East and was ready to quit school so he could plant churches. He heard the call and was ready to go. But was college a barrier to his future Kingdom labors? He thought so. He asked himself, should I quit college to become a missionary?
Does Jesus call some to forsake college and go to the nations? Yes, but in my experience this calling is not for the majority. A call to go is a call to prepare. And college is one of the best training grounds to gain experience in cross-cultural disciple making, church planting, language learning, and cultural acquisition as you work toward that undergraduate degree.
Here are some practical things to consider.
If College is an Option, Go For It!
The overwhelming majority of the world’s population will never attend college. To do so makes one among the most educated people in the world. A college education for the Kingdom citizen is a great trust. It is more than just a diploma. College teaches you how to think, interact, and process God’s world around you (Psalm 111:2)—skills needed for cross-cultural disciple making. College helps you to understand yourself as a person and others who are different from you. It is a time to prepare for your career.
Prepare for More Open Doors
Education is a powerful thing. We must be wise stewards with it. Yes, some of the Twelve were ordinary, uneducated men who had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13), but the apostle Paul was educated (Acts 22:3) and had been with Jesus too (Acts 9:5-6). Opportunities were apparently opened for Paul to share the gospel simply because he was an educated man. He knew how to speak properly to the public (Acts 21:40; 26:1), and he knew how to speak to common people. It is generally easier for the educated to gain a hearing from people across classes but more difficult for the uneducated to speak to the educated and elite.
Reach the People on Your Campus
Don’t wait until graduation day to begin carrying out your calling. Don’t say, “I am hoping to one day go to the nations.” Go to them now! For example, connect with Chinese students on campus. Begin learning conversational Mandarin. Befriend Saudi Arabian classmates. Teach them English. Learn Arabic and culture from them. Share the gospel. Teach new believers how to obey Jesus in small groups. Send them to the nations. Lead groups to covenant together as local churches. Raise up leaders. Such activities will both allow for the gospel to spread among the unreached now and make you a better missionary candidate later.
Choose Your Major Prayerfully and Wisely
Selecting a major is one of the most important decisions you will make. Much prayer should be given to this decision. Your major will likely set the course of your vocational direction for decades to follow.
Churches should be proactive and assist their members with vocational guidance. It is sad, but few do. Students often base degree selection on secular guidance counselors, family tradition, or hobbies and general interests. While none of these guides are necessarily bad, they often fail to consider the mind of Christ and the advancement of His Kingdom.
Also, hobbies and interests are great and should be used for making disciples and possible vocational direction. However, the wise Kingdom steward takes into consideration the marketability of a degree. This does not mean that you have to pursue a career that makes yourself miserable or study and work outside of your passions, gifts, and talents. It simply means that all degrees are not of equal value and worth in the marketplace.
For example, certain degrees and vocational choices can significantly limit where you may go in the world and serve. Few job options and little income will make paying off educational debt a challenge. Some jobs are limited to certain regions of the United States and Canada and will keep you within North America. A good question to ask when selecting a major is: Where do the global marketplace needs overlap with my passions/interests/gifts/abilities and with the greatest needs for disciple making and church planting among unreached people groups—in North America and throughout the world?
Be Faithful with the Time
“But we are not promised tomorrow, Jesus could return. I don’t have time to go to college.” While the theology of the imminent return of our Lord is correct in this statement, the truth is that Jesus could return 6000 years from now. College is not a waste of time for the Kingdom citizen; it is an opportunity to both make disciples and plant churches now, and prepare for the future (James 4:13-15). Much can be gained for the Kingdom, both for now and later, through a college education. If Jesus has called you to avoid or quit college, then you are to obey. It would be sinful to do otherwise. However, if the opportunity is available, go to school, reach the nations on campus, graduate, and then reach the nations wherever the Spirit leads you with your degree and the ministry experience obtained as a student.