The 20s: The Defining Decade for Missionaries?

“In almost all areas of development, there is what is called a critical period, a time when we are primed for growth and change, when simple exposure can lead to dramatic transformation…. Afterward, things are not so easy.
The twenties are that critical period of adulthood.”

Meg Jay, PhD - The Defining Decade

There is something very special about the twenties. It’s a time of massive growth and vocational development. I got to the field when I was 23, and those first seven years were hugely formational for me. I learned to get comfortable in a different culture, get encouraged and strengthened in prayer, talk to people very different than me, and live a life of explaining Jesus to people who never got to hear about him before.

Many of my friends who have flourished in evangelism and discipleship in unreached places also cut their teeth in their twenties. Most moved overseas in the 21-24 range. Before they got married or settled down, they had a lot of time and freedom to get out and about with the local people. They travelled to different villages and saw God do wonderful things. They gained a faith and an appetite for miraculous connections and opportunities to share Christ. Their young brains were imprinted with the ability to interface with lost people in a different language, and they gained a natural rapport (“identity capital” as some would say) that laid a foundation for deep relationships and dicipleship for the years ahead.

It’s not impossible for people to learn some of these things in their thirites, forties, or even sixties, but it can be a lot harder. I do know amazing people who went to the field and were used in much later years, and I praise God for calling and using people at all ages. But I still do believe there’s something so special about spending the twenties on the field. For Jesus’ sake we should strive and fight to get them out there with him.

Young potential missionaries don’t need good jobs, seminary degrees, or families of three. They need to get out there and be exposed and transformed during these especially formative years. As Meg Jay said, “simple exposure can lead to dramatic transformation”. They just need some community, encouragement, and above all a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

From what I’ve seen, a 23 year old with two years of experience on the field will have exponentially more missiological knowledge and wisdom than a 32 year old with four years of seminary training.

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