Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

O. Jane Thayer


Problem. While reputed to be valuable, the Student Missionary (SM) experience has not been studied to ascertain how a year of service impacts the college students who serve. Furthermore, there are no studies that show what aspects of the SM experience make a year of service transformational. Most of what is known about a year of service is anecdotal and begs for systematic study of the SM experience.

Method. This is primarily a qualitative study where former SMs from four Adventist colleges and universities were interviewed. The Christian Spiritual Participation Profile (CSPP) was administered to SMs as an additional source of data. The CSPP shows the participants' dominant modes of spiritual development and their participation in the spiritual disciplines. Qualitative data were collected from a total of 113 participants, and 201 (50%) former SMs returned the CSPP.

Results. The results from the qualitative data showed that the SM experience deepened their relationship with God, pushed them to depend on God, expanded their worldview, enhanced their commitment to service, and prompted them to mature as leaders. The SM experience was a holistic learning experience where SMs perceived personal and spiritual growth occurred. The results from the CSPP showed SMs scored significantly higher in all four modes on Kolb's learning cycle.

The findings also showed four aspects of the SM experience that made the experience transformational: high expectations, enduring through adversity, collaborating with others, and participating in the spiritual disciplines. Results from the CSPP also showed that SMs participated significantly more than non-SMs in 8 of the 10 spiritual disciplines.

Conclusion. In conclusion, a year of service transformed young adults personally and spiritually. The SM experience is recommended for college students as an opportunity to serve others and grow in various areas of life. Further study is recommended for similar types of service ministries such as summer camp staff, short-term missions, and local community service events. Finally, further study is recommended on what motivates young people to serve others. Various opportunities for experiential learning are recommended to be integrated in the curriculum of churches.

Subject Area

College students in missionary work


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