By Mike Ebert
“It changed the direction of my life,” the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary student says.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Austin Coleman doesn’t have to think long when asked how a summer in New York City as a North American Mission Board student missionary impacted him.
Coleman was part of a group of students who served last summer with NAMB’s Generation Send–a 10-week internship designed to immerse young people in ministry, missions and church planting in an urban context.
“It opened my eyes,” Coleman said. “I have felt a call to church planting for years, but not until I got to New York did I sense an urgency to that.”
This year, NAMB is celebrating the large number of young people who want to serve as student missionaries. The student missionary program has seen explosive growth since NAMB gave the program a top-to-bottom redesign in 2012.
In 2010 NAMB placed about 600 student missionaries on the field. By 2012—the year NAMB redesigned the role—that number had grown to more than 1,100. In 2013 more than 1,200 students participated. So far this year 2,000 students have been approved to serve.
“The response has been remarkable,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell. “It is so encouraging to see so many students who want to serve. But the challenge is our funds are finite, and we have reached our maximum budget for 2014.”
NAMB planned and budgeted for 2,000 student missionaries for 2014, and all of those budgeted spots have been filled. NAMB will begin considering new applications at the beginning of its fiscal year in October.
The redesigned student missionary role makes it more purposeful and geared toward training students for future ministry service. Student missionaries are now directly connected with NAMB’s Send North America strategy, which emphasizes church planting in, or near, large cities.
Student missionaries are part of NAMB’s “Farm System,” which is designed to discover, develop and deploy the next generation of Southern Baptist missionaries and church leaders. To support its goal of helping Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches over a 10-year period, NAMB is increasing efforts to recruit for the Farm System.
“We need 1,500 new church planters each year, and many of them will have to come through the Farm System,” Ezell said. “We want tomorrow’s missionaries to be the best we’ve ever put on the field. That means we need to recruit the best, and they need to be well trained and equipped.
“Student missionaries are the beginning point of our process. If we can’t expand these numbers it will put a lid on the number of church planters who will be available to meet the goal of 15,000 new churches in 10 years,” Ezell said.
NAMB is able to deploy student missionaries because of the sacrificial gifts Southern Baptists give to the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®. NAMB can send an additional 1,000 student missionaries for every $2.5 million more given to the Annie Armstrong offering.
To learn more about NAMB’s student missionary role, visit http://www.namb.net/mobilize-me.
Mike Ebert writes for the North American Mission Board.