What About Parental Opposition?

By Paul Borthwick

Paul is a noted author on youth and missions and serves as Senior Consultant with Development Associates International as well as teaches at Gordon College in Massachusetts.

Working over the past decade or more with the Urbana Student Missions Convention, I’ve encountered many ready-to-go-to-the-hard-places young followers of Jesus.

They leave the conference having taken interviews with groups like Pioneers or Frontiers or Overseas Missionary Fellowship, and they return home ready to take the next step towards service in China or North Africa or South Asia.

And then they share their intentions with their parents. Some parents respond with joy; for devout Christian parents, hearing of their child’s call into missions is an answer to years of prayer. Other parents, however, are not so enthusiastic.

Some respond with direct opposition: “We didn’t work hard to send you to college so that you could be a missionary.” Others choose the silent treatment, registering disapproval by ignoring the comments of their son or daughter.

Still others – often Christian parents who don’t want to let go of their kids – try planting the seeds of rationalization in their college-age children: “But if you go to Med School and stay here to build a successful career, couldn’t you support many others as missionaries?”

When you face this type of opposition, what do you do? Consider these principles as a foundation for your response:

First, be careful how you present your “call”. Your zeal-to-go might be seen by your Mom or Dad as just another of your wild ideas. If you bring to your parent-child relationship a history of you being erratic or impulsive, you can expect your parents are going to respond negatively.

Perhaps you’re wiser – at least at the outset – to share a sense of your life direction rather than some sense of final life decision.

If you come across to your parents as having some sort of radical “Jesus told me to go and I’m not listening to anyone else”, you can expect that they might offer some opposition.

Second, evaluate what you can learn from your parent’s words. Whether we like to admit it or not, our parents know us, and their responses often have something to teach us about ourselves.

If they question your disregard for the amount that they paid for your education, is that because they’re being stingy or because they perceive you as irresponsible with money? Take time to reflect on the nature of the opposition and ask God and other mentors, “What can I learn from this?”

Third, put yourself in their shoes. Your parents brought you into the world, took care of you and raised you up so that you can now consider a global missions calling. Be empathetic towards them. To you, your decision sounds like exciting, radical obedience and devotion to the glory of God.

To them, your decision might sound like “my kids are going to be poor” or “my kids are going to be killed by extremists.”

… ACTION STEPS. Here are five action steps that you can take in response to parental opposition.

Pray and recruit prayer for yourself. Prayer puts you in the place of listening to God so that he can teach you – even through your parent’s reactions. Getting others on your prayer team can help you be sure that there are others joining you in a battle that’s bigger than you can handle.
Pray and recruit prayer for your parents. If your parents are Christian, your sense of call can be used by God to deepen their faith because letting go of you will be a deep experience of obedience and sacrifice for them. If your parents are not Christians, your call can be the witness that might bring them to faith – and this witness needs to be surrounded by prayer.
Share your call with older adults who can help you. Other older leaders can help you be more empathetic towards your parents. Older people can help you see which advice from your parents is really “God teaching me.” And older Christians can serve as your advocates.

I have students at Gordon College whose parents are resistant to their going into missions work. I’m 52 years old, and when I talk with these parents and give my evaluation of a student’s readiness to go, the parents might listen to me.
Build bridges as best you can. When you’re young, the temptation is to consider parental opposition as faithlessness. The radical, ready-to-go-die-for-Jesus young person simply wants to “shake the dust off his feet” and move on. Be careful. It’s far better to build bridges.

Communicate with your parents. Invite their advice. There might come a day when you need to abandon them to follow God’s call, but try first to get them on your team.
Exercise patience. When you’re 22, waiting 3-months can seem like an eternity. For a parent, that amount of time seems like a blink of an eye. Be patient. Persevere. It might be wiser to be patient and go into missions with your parents on your team.

Remember – your experience with parental opposition may simply be God preparing you for the long-term, tough relationships that you’ll face in the hard places of the world where He’s sending you.

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