7 Lessons from the Student Volunteer Movement

The last in a series of posts on the greatest student missionary movement in history. We've seen is rise and its fall. Here are a few thoughts on the enduring lessons for us today.

1. History is made by people who don’t know any better.

The break throughs in the renewal and expansion of the Christian movement always occur on the fringe. One of the greatest Protestant missionary movement was launched by a group of students meeting informally over the summer to study the Bible.

2. Faith moves nations.

The brother and sister team of Grace and Robert Wilder became convinced that God going to do something great among the students of their day. They believed and prayed until that vision became a reality. God took the initiative and they responded with faith and obedience.

3. Serve a great cause.

Everything the SVM stood for was summed up in their watchword: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” It was unrealistic and simplistic, and twenty-thousand workers responded to the call. Behind the watchword was a confidence in the power of the God to do the impossible.

4. Keep fit, fast and lean.

The SVM embodied its cause in structures and forms that added momentum to its advance. Student run groups were formed in every college campus. Leaders for the organization were raised up from within. Most of the work was achieved by volunteers. Traveling secretaries linked the groups and kept them on track.

These lean structures enabled the movement to expand rapidly without centralized funding, control or bureaucracy.

5. Narrow the focus to widen the impact

The SVM knew its boundaries. It did not get involved in the complexity of sending and supporting workers on the field. Its unique contribution was the recruitment of workers for existing mission agencies.

6. Beware the failure of success.

As quickly as it had risen, the SVM fell. At the peak of its success it embraced another gospel that was more in tune with the spirit of the age. The SVM betrayed its reason for existence: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.”

7. God has the last word.

The SVM survived for decades as a failed organization and then voted itself out of existence. Meanwhile, on the fringes, God was raising up other student missionary movements to take the gospel to the ends of the world. . .