I was talking recently to a young woman who’s been serving the Lord in France for a few years.  In the course of conversation I enquired whether she’s thinking of doing missions long-term.

“Long-term!” she exclaimed, aghast.  “I’m postmodern; I don’t do long-term.”

Which raises an interesting question: how do people who don’t do long-term engage with missions that do?  Which one changes?  And how? Or can the two approaches be brought together?

The traditional missions model thinks of ‘terms’ of 3-5 years with a break in the home country in between.  I’ve heard it said that in your first term you start learning the language, in the second you start to appreciate the culture, and in the third you’re just about ready to start doing some useful work.  Add in the time you spent preparing to go, at Bible college, raising support and getting other training, and it could be nearly 15 years before you’re actually getting bedded in.  That’s the equivalent of nearly two careers for a postmodern!

It seems likely that in future, more people will do missions as a phase of their life rather than make it a long-term career choice.  This has huge implications for those organisations which stress language acquisition and cultural familiarisation.  But maybe postmoderns with their global perspective will actually integrate much more effectively than their predecessors, who may speak the language fluently but may also have a tendency to isolate themselves in homogeneous micro-communities.

We need to accept that increased turnover is a fact of life.  People come and go.  We can loathe that or we can embrace it.  It might mean that young people don’t stay with us for life, but it also means that older people can join in at a later stage in life than they might previously have done, bringing life skills with them.  The important thing is that we greet people well, and say goodbye well too.  Moving on is neither a lack of commitment or a failure.