‘Okey Doke’ Not OK with Younger Generations
By LORETTA FULTON
The Barna organization was commissioned to “research how young Christians’ perspectives on missions are different from older believers.’”
The Southern Baptist Convention, which commissioned the research project, could have saved some money by asking Travis Craver instead.
“This younger generation, they’re not OK with the ‘Okey Doke,’” said Craver, who is director of chapel and spiritual formation at Hardin-Simmons University.
In urban slang, “Okey Doke” means being lied to or having someone try to pull a fast on you. The older definition means “OK.” Neither definition is OK with younger generations, who view “missions” and “evangelism” differently from older generations.
It’s no secret that church attendance among mainstream denominations has been on the decline for years. And, according to another Barna survey, six in 10 Americans of all ages view “evangelism” or trying to convert someone to your faith as extreme.
Those two factors together could spell trouble for the future of the church and missions. But people who work with local college students aren’t that concerned. Craver thinks it’s great that the younger generation isn’t satisfied with the “Okey Doke.” They want something better.
“I love their enthusiasm,” Craver said. “I love their moxie.”
Craver isn’t alone. Those who work closely with the religion programs at Abilene Christian and McMurry universities are seeing the same attitudes as Craver. Hardin-Simmons is affiliated with the Baptist church, ACU with the Churches of Christ, and McMurry with the United Methodist Church.
Following are the observations of Craver, ACU’s Dodd Roberts and Larry Henderson, and McMurry’s Marty CashBurless and Julia Puac-Romero.
HSU has a first-year seminar called FYSM: Gateway, which introduces students to the Christian liberal arts education where faith and learning intersect. Hardin-Simmons students, like students at many other Christian universities these days, are encouraged to integrate their faith with their career.
“Your calling is your ministry,” said Travis Craver, director of chapel and spiritual formation.
In chapel, in career counseling, and in conversation, three fundamental questions are explored:
- Who Am I?
- Who are You (God)?
- What About My Neighbor?
Fewer young people today are willing to commit to long-term missions, Craver said, for various reasons. Instead, students, with the help of adult leaders like the campus chaplain, are taking a more holistic approach to missions.
That means they are incorporating “missions work” into their everyday lives by serving where they are. Emphasizing the three fundamental questions and getting students to really think about them has proved to be effective.
“It’s been very helpful for us to challenge them in that way,” Craver said.
ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY
With a much larger enrollment than either Hardin-Simmons or McMurry, ACU has a number of missions-related programs. There are opportunities for short-term and long-term missions and a newer program designed to connect students with their purpose in life. A series of conversations was developed to help students understand that their purpose is “to be on missions,” said Dodd Roberts, director of ACU”s Halbert Center for Missions & Global Service.
“You are God’s Plan A to reconcile the world,” he said.
Many students, whether they identify as Christian or as a “none,” meaning no religious affiliation, have a heart for social justice, Roberts noted. It is the job of people like Roberts and other adult leaders to help students understand where that desire comes from.
“The reason that is in you,” Roberts says, “is God.”
Larry Henderson is director of WorldWide Witness or WWW, which operates through the Halbert Center. WWW offers summer mission experiences that average 10 weeks. Henderson and Roberts noted that fewer students are interested in long-term missions than in the past.
In July, ACU had 1,000 freshmen enrolled for the fall. Of those, 434 indicated an interest in missions, and of those, only about a dozen are missions majors.
But that does not indicate a bleak future. Instead, it means more students are seeing missions as a part of their life, no matter their career. ACU’s emphasis on purpose in life is designed to help them learn how to do that.
“How do we meet students where they are?” is the question behind that emphasis.
Students come to college today with a more liberal concept of salvation and most don’t see a need to evangelize, Roberts said. Some still hold to their parents’ or grandparents’ more traditional views, but not many.
“Those students exist,” Roberts said. “They’re just the minority now.”
Both Roberts and Henderson, who was a missionary in Thailand for 35 years before returning to work at his alma mater, are encouraged by what they see in today’s students–even if current views about church and the mission field differ from the traditional. Henderson told a story to illustrate the point. A shoe salesman was sent to an area where people don’t wear shoes. Instead of being discouraged, he had a different perspective.
“What an opportunity,” he said.
Marty CashBurless is a 1978 graduate of McMurry and serves as the university’s chaplain. She is assisted by Julia Puac-Romero, who joined the team two years ago at age 27. CashBurless praised her assistant for ably reflecting the views of today’s college students. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down just about everything in 2020, affected traditional mission trips, but didn’t seem to have an effect on the number of students going into religion fields, CashBurless noed.
“We have not seen any particular difference in numbers,” she said.
The campus outreach numbers have dropped a little, CashBurless said, but that can be blamed partly on the increasing cost of those trips. That reality has caused a change in thinking.
“We are looking at finding better ways to fund these trips,” CashBurless said, “to ensure that any student who wishes to serve on a mission team can do so.”
The pandemic also had an effect on how students view missions, Puac-Romero, assistant chaplain at McMurry, said.
“It also challenged our student population to rethink what mission opportunities can be done in an isolated setting,” she said.
As for the word “evangelism,” Puac-Romero noted that it has long been associated with notions of colonialism and imperialism and oftentimes is associated with denominations that have a particular set of values. Deconstructing the word ‘evangelism’ can be tricky, she said, with its historical and sociological backgrounds.
“Our religiously affiliated students tend to enjoy the concept of public theology and do well in living out their faith through their own personal life and witness,” Puac-Romero said.
The term “public theology,” she noted, shouldn’t be confused with old ideas about evangelism.
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene