the shape of leadership

Will You Go?

Preparing young adults for cross-cultural ministry

Kent Ingle on June 5, 2023

Will you go?”

Many of us have heard this question at the end of a missions service — it’s a nudge to fulfill the Great Commission. Every year, thousands of students at Southeastern University gather for a week to hear from speakers who have a heart for missions. It’s a time filled with messages geared toward cultivating a passion in students for impacting the nations and applying it to what God designed them to do.

The week ends with a call “to go” by participating in a missions trip in the U.S. or a foreign country. This year, we had a record number of students wanting to be a part of a missions trip. It’s a continual reminder that young people have a genuine desire to make a difference in the world around them. There’s something about being a part of what God is doing overseas.

A missions-minded focus also changes how young adults see their future careers. One young adult shared how a missions trip impacted her life and altered the way she viewed the profession she was entering. She no longer looked at it as an occupation but, rather, saw it as her mission field.

As we encourage young adults to be a part of the Great Commission, we must prepare them to first be cross-culturally minded at home.


Serve in Their Communities

There’s often a misconception that ministry does not start until you arrive on the mission field. It’s like thinking our dream job will be offered to us after college (for some it happens, but for most it takes years of preparation before that opportunity arises). In the same way, young adults should be preparing today for what they want to do in the future. If called to evangelize overseas, they must start sharing the gospel where they are.

To do so, we must encourage young people to get plugged into ministry through their local churches. They can learn so many invaluable lessons that will equip them for the future. In ministry, they learn how to cultivate relationships, how to do something new, and how to work with a team.

Ministry requires putting faith into action. Through the highs and lows, young adults will discover the importance of dedication, building upon their faith, persevering through difficulties, and relying on Christ. While part of a ministry, they can develop compassion for the marginalized and recognize the needs within their communities. It also demonstrates the importance of being connected to a local church so that the ministry outlasts their time of service.

When young people serve alongside us in the ministry, it’s vital we support them, pray over them, and recognize their acts of service. As Psalm 31:3-4 says, we can remind them that in difficult times of ministry — whether at home or overseas — they should turn to Christ for He will guide them, and He will be their rock and fortress.


Step Out of Their Comfort Zones

A professor once shared with me how he required students to attend a religious service of a different faith in one of his theology classes. He talked about how the experience helped shape students’ perspectives, requiring them to get out of their comfort zones and teaching them firsthand about other religions beyond what they learned in a textbook.

As we encourage young adults to be a part of the Great Commission, we must prepare them to first be cross-culturally minded at home.

For young adults who have a heart for cross-cultural ministry, it’s imperative they learn about the major beliefs of the countries or people groups they want to share the gospel with because religion transcends into cultural values.

To step out of their comfort zones and to build upon their cross-cultural understanding, young adults can attend religious ceremonies of different faiths, participate in nearby cultural events, or meet people from other countries.

When young adults engage with people from different countries, encourage them to reflect on how the cultures differ from their own, notice what behaviors are valued, and see how it influences people’s views on the world and their future goals.

Challenge them to dive in as much as they can by asking questions, trying new foods, and participating in any activities. This teaches them how to develop cross-cultural skills and embrace uncomfortable situations. If they aren’t willing to step into new territories in their home country, it will be difficult for them when they’re overseas. 

As a missionary, Paul recognized the importance of understanding the cultures of the places he ministered. 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.”


Embrace Humility

Cultivating a learning mindset requires humility and acknowledging we don’t know everything. When it comes to ministering cross-culturally, we must help young adults recognize their way of living is not always the best or right option. They should be open to learning new ways of doing things.

Humility helps a young person learn to be patient and flexible while engaging with people from other cultures. It requires them to learn as much as they can about a new country — whether using Duolingo to study the language or researching the country they are going to. And it teaches them to not rely on their own understanding but to trust God through challenges.

Be sure to connect the young adults close to you with a missionary at your church who can talk to them about the countries or people groups God has laid on their hearts. This will help provide someone who can mentor them on their cross-cultural journey and give them personal experiences.

Embracing humility also teaches the importance of servant leadership. By focusing on servant leadership, young adults will discover the importance of investing in others and putting the needs of others before their own. Paul is the perfect example of someone who cultivated a servant leadership mindset (Romans 1:1) and engaged in cross-cultural ministry.

As we learned from the 2020 Census, America is more racially and ethnically diverse than in the previous decade. There are so many opportunities for young adults to be a part of a cross-cultural ministry at home before traveling overseas. While we must cultivate the desire in their hearts to serve in missions, we should challenge and help equip young adults to be a part of what God is doing here to prepare them before they go.

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