Students learn to lead in missions
"I felt God was saying, 'You are a missionary. You have to go. You have to do this,'" said the freshman at North Carolina State University.
"I had it all planned out," she said. "I wanted to become a teacher, get married and have kids. But Tom said that control is an illusion, and God is the only one in control. That really opened me up. I felt like Tom was talking right to me."
Davidson heard from Billings during a July 9-13 retreat at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, N.C. She joined four other high school and college students for a week of missions leadership training and hands-on missions. The week marked the culmination of year one for students in the inaugural Next Generation Missional Journey (NGMJ) class.
Sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's (BSC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships, the training initiative is part of a three-year effort to help raise up passionate missions leaders. In addition to the summer retreat at Caraway, students read assigned texts and attend three one-day training sessions throughout the year. They learn from pastors, missionaries and missions strategists.
Michael Sowers, BSC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships, started the initiative out of a burden to help train students to be strategic missions leaders. He said he hopes they will have a renewed burden for the lost and a strong biblical missiology that will allow them to help lead their churches to engage people groups that have never heard the Gospel.
"These students can lead the way," Sowers said. "If they are willing to do the hard work, others will see that they can do it, too.
"Instead of focusing on the masses, we need to model this after Jesus and focus on a few and really pour into their lives and their missiology," Sowers said. "We can enhance what a small group can do by investing in them and coming alongside them as they go and serve where God calls them."
As year one of the training is focused on underserved and unreached areas of North Carolina, the students spent two days in training at Caraway and three days serving in North Carolina. They worked alongside BSC Asian, Hispanic and African-American church planting consultants to identify people groups, survey people about needs in their community and share the Gospel throughout Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.
These three cities are included in the Triad metro area, one of the state's top eight metro areas. About 75 percent of North Carolina's population lives in one of the eight metro areas.
During the week, students met people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, such as Sikhs and Muslims. They had an opportunity to share their faith, one day in an Asian market, another day in a mosque.
"I had never even seen a mosque before," Davidson said. "We were able to witness just by asking different questions."
NGMJ students are learning how to develop strategies to reach different ethnic groups with the Gospel and how those strategies will vary depending on people and context.
"We usually just have events at our church, or we pass out flyers about one of our events," Davidson said. "Churches often think that's all they have to do to get people to come to church. We don't try to go to them."
As students visited neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the Triad, church planters taught them to observe the culture around them and to always be ready when God provides opportunities for spiritual conversations.
Students said they learned they don't have to take a trip somewhere to engage in missions -- God is bringing people from nations all over the world to North Carolina. They also learned that if a church isn't willing to change and do whatever it takes to reach the people in their community, the church eventually will die.
The students are working on creating a strategy to reach people in one of the Triad communities they visited. At the end of the three years, they will have developed a strategy to reach an unengaged, unreached people group with the Gospel.
"We have to get over ourselves and get out of our comfort zones," said NGMJ student Rebecca Nivens. "It's not just a one-time conversation. You have to invest time."
Each NGMJ class will spend the first year learning about church planting in North Carolina and their responsibility to help fulfill the Great Commission.
In year two of the journey, students focus on North America and spend three weeks in the summer serving in New York City. In their final year they learn about reaching the ends of the earth and serve in Southeast Asia.
Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. NGMJ students are eligible to earn 13 credit hours from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.. Spots are still open for the fall. Applications are available at ncbaptist.org/gcp.