Many young followers of Jesus think about entering college to prepare for what they will do when they graduate. Yet, not all of them take time to consider how to prepare for who they will be when they finish school. This kind of mindset is particularly important for those who want to leverage their lives for the sake of the gospel among peoples and places where Christ is not known.
Whether you are entering college for the first time, continuing in college, or considering whether to attend college at all, the decisions you make during the next several years will shape the rest of your life. That is both exciting and scary! Exciting because all the potential God created in you is beginning to become reality. Scary because the decisions you make today can limit your future opportunities.
Here are three questions to help guide younger followers of Jesus in these pivotal years.
1. Are you preparing for a lifetime of following Jesus?
Read and study the Bible as if it were precious to you. Resolve that by the time you are twenty-two, you will have read through the Bible more than once. There is no better education than that found in God’s Word. And the established discipline of Bible reading will prepare you to follow Jesus for a long time.
Your soul needs more than a parachurch Bible study can provide. You need the church in all its fullness as described in the Bible. I know that’s the case because I need the church: in fact, every Christian needs the church. The church is God’s gift to you and is essential for your growth in Christ.
You may say, “Well, my Bible study seems to do a better job than my church at helping me grow.” To that I would suggest three things. First, not all churches are healthy. So, you may need to find a healthy church—one that takes seriously the traits of a healthy church as defined by Scripture. Second, you may need to do a quick assessment of your own health as a church member. Often, we are the ones who are failing, not the church.
Third, you need the whole church, not just people your age, in your stage of life, who think like you. Your soul needs the benefits of the biblical traits of the church, including accountability and discipline. Find a healthy church where you can “connect deeply and serve liberally.” Find two or three Christians that you respect and trust, and commit together that you will help each other deal seriously with sin in your lives. These brothers or sisters should be the same gender as you and should desire your holiness more than your friendship. Meet with them regularly and often. Sin grows in the darkness. It won’t go away without some intentional work (Rom 8:13), and God wants you to deal with it now. Yes, it’s painful to come into the light and have our deeds exposed. But, in light of eternity, there is nothing better than walking in the light alongside Christians who will ask you direct questions, guide you with biblical wisdom, and pray for you.
2. Are you specializing in fields that are in demand across the world?
Today, Christians are leveraging their careers by intentionally living in places where residents have little access to the gospel. Many sound but small church planting efforts in major cities around the world simply need more Christians like these to join them. These Christians work hard in the international jobs they find, join healthy churches in megacities as active members, and contribute to the gospel work. They are able to multiply good relationships with national business people and their families in very natural ways. These Christians are thriving in areas few missionaries could.
Choose a field that is in high demand throughout the world. Over the next several years, you have the opportunity to shape your vocational identity through the field in which you specialize. Specialization can occur through jobs people pay you to do and through education you receive. Certain fields are in higher demand across the world than others. As you think about who you will become, keep in mind that you can choose a field that opens many options for you or a field that immediately limits where you can serve. There are websites that can help you understand which fields provide the most open doors for international service. For example, software developers, engineers, medical professionals, and accountants can live and serve in many countries.
As you choose your field, consider those who have little access to the gospel. Websites like Joshua Project can help you discover people and places where basic gospel infrastructure is needed. Pray for them. Gather your friends to pray for them. Research the most-needed job skills in that country’s major cities. Are there healthy church planting efforts that you could join, even if only for a short season?
3. Are you developing your “missionary” skills?
International mission work is just a broader version of mission in general: making disciples and multiplying healthy churches. There is a strong connection between making disciples in your neighborhood and making disciples internationally. In international missions, Christians are crossing large boundaries like oceans, languages, and very foreign cultures with the gospel.
In the New Testament we repeatedly see disciples of Jesus entering new places (entry), proclaiming the gospel to those around them and inviting them to respond with faith in Christ Jesus (evangelism), teaching new believers how to obey everything Christ commanded (discipleship), forming new disciples into communities of Christians called churches (church formation), appointing elders/pastors/overseers to lead the churches (leadership development), and entrusting the work to healthy local churches (exit). We call these activities the Missionary Task. This is what missionaries do. They enter a place where the gospel is needed and they evangelize, disciple, form churches, and develop leaders, all with an eye toward exiting so they can move on to other places where the gospel is needed, entrusting healthy churches to continue the gospel work there.
Both here in the United States and in other countries, followers of Jesus perform the same tasks because the ministry that is needed is the same internationally as locally. You might not cross large boundaries, like oceans and languages, but your neighbors still need to believe the gospel, follow Jesus as growing disciples, and join a healthy church.
A gap year program could be a good option for many prospective college students. Radical will soon be offering a program that will target each of these three areas for development. You will develop spiritual disciplines, learn to make decisions about your future with the nations in mind, and develop your disciple making skills in cross-cultural settings.
Regardless of what God might have for you next year, devote yourself to making disciples and multiplying churches wherever you are. Like others who have gone before, you’ll find that there is a cost, but like them, you’ll also find that the cost is worth it.
Upon completing his college education, William Borden, heir to the Borden empire, rejected a life of wealth and prestige in order to make disciples among Chinese Muslims. His friends said he was “throwing his life away as a missionary.” Borden decided to stop in Egypt on his way to China so he could learn Arabic. There, he contracted spinal meningitis and died one month later. “A wave of sorrow went around the world” with nearly every American newspaper carrying the story.
During his college years, Borden wrote this in his journal: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.” That’s how he lived his life for his Lord. His gravestone concludes: “Apart from Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”
May these words be true of all our lives.
This phrase is taken from Greg Mathias.