5 ways to ensure that your kids never consider being a missionary

December 4, 2019

Christians are missionary people. Our Lord commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations, and we see throughout the rest of the New Testament that these men and women obeyed his command. Most Christian heroes throughout history took the gospel to the lost around the world; consider Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot, Bertha Smith, and many others. And yet, the missionary task isn’t just for heroes, it’s one that all Christians should participate in. 

It’s not uncommon for us to counsel seminary students and church members when they feel the call to mission work on their lives. Students pass through our doors regularly who do not have the support from their families. As people who have served overseas, we are frequently asked for advice on how to raise missional children and how to navigate familial disapproval. 

On the other hand, the thought of sending our children (especially our grandchildren!) so far from home is frightening. We know their lives will be different, as they will not understand American holidays, sports, and television shows. The news reminds us that the world is a dangerous place, and these dangers seem to be greater for Christians in some instances. We will miss celebrating holidays, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals with them. God's mission demands sacrifice and creates an opportunity for significant pain in our lives. And so many parents and grandparents ask themselves the question, “Is it worth it?”

If you take your kids to a faithful church, they will learn Bible stories about Abraham leaving home to follow God's call. They will learn about God's protection of Daniel when he lived faithfully in a foreign land and about how God sent a big fish to make sure that his missionary, Jonah, went where he told him to go. They will be encouraged by Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, and even the preacher to pray for missionaries and unreached people groups. They will also hear the challenge to follow God wherever he leads, even to the ends of the earth. The missionary challenge will be placed before your children, and they will consider leaving the United States to serve as an international missionary. 

Are we turning our children away from missions? 

However, despite all of this external pressure, parents have the opportunity to influence how seriously our kids take their faith. We may spend four or five hours a week at church, but the most important shaping environment for kids is in our homes. We can shape them to follow God’s call no matter what, or we can influence them to preserve their lives and comfort. Below, we want to give you five ways you might be raising your kids so that they never consider seriously missions as God's will for their lives. 

The missionary task isn’t just for heroes, it’s one that all Christians should participate in. 

1. Do not acknowledge the reality of God's call

If our children think that God may have a call to missions on their lives, they might be tempted to consider it. It is far better to teach them that the pursuit of money, comfort, and power will give them a better and safer life. And not only that, but staying close to family is more important than anything else this life has to offer. Teaching them to rely on comfort over the pursuit of God’s calling on their lives will certainly keep them away from the mission field. 

2. Do not teach your kids to nurture a godly life of prayer and Scripture reading

Sure, we all want to raise good kids. We want them to live right and be productive citizens. We take them to church and hope they will learn to live morally upstanding lives that honor God. However, if we teach our kids to make godly living a priority, then that might be asking for trouble. We want our kids to pray at the table and before bed, but if they start praying and reading their Bibles as a way to nurture a relationship with our missionary God, we might lose control of our plans for their lives.  

3. Teach your kids that their toys and earthly treasures are their most valuable commodities 

We don't want our kids to be too selfish or greedy. We want them to share and even give to the church and other charities. In our culture, it’s possible for us to live happy and productive lives by taking advantage of all the cool gadgets and fun toys our kids can play with. While not bad in themselves, if we help our kids prize how full and abundant their lives can be with all of our things, we won't have to worry about them being tempted to sell everything they have and live in less materialistic settings. 

4. Be protective and teach that safety is one of the highest human virtues

The world is so much scarier than it was when we were kids. We’re exposed constantly to the reality of bad people, bad germs, and bad situations. As parents, we love our kids and would never want them to get hurt by anything. Our responsibility is to protect them, after all. If we can get our kids to realize that anything dangerous is probably not right, then we will be able to keep them from considering going to hard places in the world. 

5. Don't teach your kids skills to help with life outside your home

Growing up is about developing a sense of independence. Kids wean from milk to meat, from crawling to walking, from bikes to cars. All along the way, we can help them with these transitions. These steps toward self-sufficiency show us that if our kids need us to do things like pay bills, change the oil in their cars, and navigate complicated relationship situations, then they will probably stick close by. Leaving the safety of home for a foreign land will bring unanticipated problems and confusing situations. But if they aren't prepared, maybe they will always want to stay close to home. 

Rethinking how we raise our children 

Then again, what if we took to heart what some of the more well-known missionaries have said and lived and reevaluated how we are raising our children? For example:

And Jesus, our Lord and King said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:25-26).” 

Part of leading our children to lose their lives for Jesus’ sake is teaching them to die to their comfort in order to proclaim the best news in all the world: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). 

What about you? Will you seek to raise your children so that they’d be willing to go to hard and dangerous places if the Lord called? Regardless of the plans God has for our children, may we raise them, by his grace, to always be ready with a, “Yes, Lord!”

Lesley Hildreth

Lesley Hildreth is the Women’s Discipleship Director for The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Scott Hildreth

Scott Hildreth is Assistant Professor of Global Studies and George Liele director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24