I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the topic of evangelism. Typically, if you explore the Bible on this topic you tend to find actions words like “share,” “send,” and “go.” You think about Paul’s missionary travels or Peter going and preaching in city centers. You think about Jesus going to villages; going to the people he was trying to reach with the Good News.
Lately, I have been wondering if this attitude and example of evangelism has really been lost in our churches and even more so with our youth.
It seems to be that the idea of “going” has gotten lost on our current church cultures. Rarely are churches and youth ministries going out into their communities or teaching their congregates how to share their faith in the workplace, at school or with their families. Instead, we create special events or services where we encourage people to “bring a friend.” In youth ministry, we even offer incentives if our students bring enough friends – cutting our hair, ice cream parties or swallowing goldfish.
This flips the Biblical idea of evangelism on its head. Instead of “share,” “send,” and “go” we turn a 180 and focus on “come,” “bring” and “stay.” This I think has created some issues within the faith development of our students and churches:
1) Evangelism should be left to the professionals.
Rather than challenging our students to share about Jesus at the lunch table, at the athletic field or at home we tell our students to simply just bring a friend to church (which isn’t even a theologically correct statement). By focusing so much on “bring a friend to youth group” and creating outreach events where students can bring their peers to hear about Jesus, I wonder if we are subconsciously teaching our students that sharing about Jesus should be left to the trained professionals.
2) Students don’t know how to share their faith.
My favorite teacher growing up, Mr. Keeney who I had for math for three years in high school, always used to tell us, “Hear it, learn it once. Do it, learn it twice. Teach it, learn it for good.” And that was how he ran his classes. He would teach it to us as we listened. Then we would do a work sheet and practice it ourselves. Then he would put us in groups where we then explained the math processes to each other. Math was the only subject in high school that I got straight A’s in every year…and a lot of that was because of Mr. Keeney and this model.
When it comes to the church, we tend to do really well with the first step. In most cases our students hear all about Jesus and the Bible. In some cases, the second step is carried out as well, especially over the last decade or so as service opportunities, social justice and mission trips have gained more and more importance. But when it comes to the third step, in my experience most faith communities drop the ball. When it comes to evangelism, by putting so much of an emphasis on “bring a friend,” I think we take a huge part of the faith learning journey away from our students. Our students don’t know how to share their faith because we rarely let them have the opportunity to do so.
3) Students don’t get to experience the joy of being used by God.
Lastly, I think the church has done a cruel thing to our students because we steal the joy of sharing Jesus with other people. We as pastors get to celebrate with our staff and volunteers how many kids responded to the Gospel. We send out e-mail reports to our Sr. Pastor’s or boards with those numbers. We go home to our spouses excited about what God has done through our talks. Our students should get to celebrate this joy rather than just being happy that they brought that friend to church that Sunday. They should get to experience the satisfaction, the growth and the deeper purpose of doing God’s work.
Instead of focusing on getting students to bring a friend to church, let’s instead focus on getting our students to bring Jesus to their friends. Rather than trying to entertain students to come to an event so we can share Jesus with their friends, let’s create ways to allow our students to share Jesus with their friends wherever they are. Let’s challenge our students not to stay in our churches or programs but get them to go out into the world and be the church that God is calling them to be.