Chris Folmsbee has already offered us two posts about youth ministry, and this is his third. Along with Marko’s new book we have two posts today about youth work. This post about evangelism is very important to me. I’m working right now on an evangelistic book for young adults.
Chris: Over the last couple of weeks I have been in some terrific
conversations about youth ministry and evangelism. One youth worker
from a church in Toronto asked me, “Where did evangelism go? It seems
as though evangelism is way less important as it was 10 years ago when
I began working with teens and their families.” I responded by asking
this youth worker, “Is it less important to you?” “No!” He shouted
back. He continued by saying, “It isn’t less important, I just don’t
know how to do it these days! Students are just so different.”
Personally, I don’t think that youth ministry has forgotten about
evangelism or that it is less important. I do, however, wonder what it
will take for us to feel like we know ‘how to do it these days’. Maybe I am wrong. Has evangelism become less important in youth ministry?
Or are our traditional methods no longer effective so we, therefore,
await a more effective approach? What might a more effective series of
approaches look like?
I have observed, from my limited vista, that youth ministry in North America has been making wonderful shifts. I especially have enjoyed observing and participating in the shift from what is often labeled an attractional approach to what is commonly referred to as a missional approach. Specifically, I have noticed that within this missional approach we have allowed our view of evangelism to be as much about embodiment as it is about proclamation. This is good. But, just like proclamation without embodiment is incomplete, so embodiment without proclamation is incomplete. Perhaps this is what my youth worker friend in Toronto meant by evangelism being of less importance.
I can’t quite wrap my arms all the way around the issues related to new perspectives on evangelism and that frustrates me. However, I have come to personally conclude that the articulation of the gospel story today must be related to people’s lives — it cannot be just a rational argument. The gospel story must be holistic in the sense that 1) it isn’t merely about the accumulation of knowledge and 2) it doesn’t separate the soul from body (and ultimately a Kingdom society). To effectively and faithfully articulate the gospel story today it seems important to proclaim and embody it in a community that exists as a hermeneutic of the gospel. Too often the end is to make converts, not invite students into a community of disciples interested in the ongoing work of God’s transformation.
To this end, we have to also articulate how our students’ stories connect with the story of God. Evangelism includes helping students see themselves in light of the imago Dei, helping them discover their identity and calling. In what ways can we more deeply connect our students’ stories to the imago Dei? What do we need to start doing, stop doing or do differently in youth ministry to guide a generation to articulate the gospel story in both action and word? How do we train and equip our students to articulate the gospel story?