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Youth and Evangelism (Chris Folmsbee)

posted by Scot McKnight

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?



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Rick

posted March 19, 2009 at 7:37 am


“Evangelism includes helping students see themselves in light of the imago Dei, helping them discover their identity and calling.”
A recent IMonk (Michael Spencer) podcast (#127 I think) he talks about observing the importance of stressing and helping youth find their “identity in Christ”. He said that this (as opposed to just emphasizing other things, such as rights and wrongs) connects deeper with the students, providing a deeper and long-lasting spiritual walk with God.



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Joey

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:22 am


I think I’m relearning what evangelism is and what it looks like today. This happened in stages for me:
1. Being evangelized to and hating it.
2. Taking a course on evangelism, and not looking forward to it.
3. Being surprised by the course and finding myself challenged by the content, heartbeat, and purpose being presented.
4. Avoiding evangelism because of the confusion left after the previous three points.
5. Going into ministry and honestly desiring that students step into Kingdom living and invite others to do the same.
I think my avoidance has been largely because of the rhetoric associated with evangelism. If people are evangelizing but getting the information wrong, is evangelism worth it? Chris makes the point that, “2) it doesn’t separate the soul from body (and ultimately a Kingdom society).”
I think this is important. Just last night I had a student ask me probably 20 questions about going to hell and legalism. He was scared because he knew that he sinned and didn’t want to go to hell, but he also knew that every time he “prayed the prayer” he would still sin afterwards. This gave me the opportunity to sit with him for about a half hour and we got to reframe his understanding of following Jesus. The shift went from “Am I going to heaven or hell?” to “how can I be participating in God’s Kingdom right now?”
I think that is a reality, and a rhetoric, that is worth inviting people into because it allows who we are today to be impacted by God’s Kingdom here and come.



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T

posted March 19, 2009 at 10:24 am


Joey, Amen.
Wow. So many important points and questions. Joey touches on this, and I see it everywhere: So many people who think of evangelism as important in any way (often evangelicals) have very little practice thinking or talking about the gospel in a way that does not come accross chiefly as a legal loophole instead of a new Way of life to follow with others. We think of the former as ‘gospel’, the latter as ‘after.’ But as Scot has argued previously, our conception of the Problem is the problem, and the transition from our former understanding to a broader one can be hard and long. Joey’s story illustrates that we’ve obviously taught that the gospel has to do with dealing with the judgment (after life) problem, and less, if at all, with the living a fractured and fractur-ing life problem (resulting in judgment). The Problem is not merely that we’ve sinned, tripped the wire, and now judgment awaits absent a legal solution. The problem is that we are stuck in a life that is fractured and fracturing others, we’ve worked against Love and Life and continue to do so. We are bulls in a china shop, and the china shop is our families, our co-workers, the creation. We are either learning to trust and follow Christ into a healing, restoring kind of life, becoming part of the Solution, or we just continue to fracture things and people further apart. Jesus invites us into the former.
Our evangelism problem is that while evangelicals care about evangelizing, they are also the ones that have become so myopic around the legal loophole kind of gospel. It is going to be a long transition into a gospel that is more focused on Jesus, the new healing, cross-shaped Way of life–entering his Administration on earth as an apprentice; rather than just or primarily Jesus the legal loophole, the get-out-of-hell-free-card. The former is still the gospel. It’s still/also gospel! (Read the gospels!) We’ve got to get comfortable with a gospel that has to do with this bigger, transformative, picture.



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jon

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm


I think there are two keys to evangelism to youth today.
1) Relationship- no longer is sitting on a street corner with a megaphone and tracts effective. It hasn’t been effective for some time. In a world where truth is being viewed more and more commonly as subjective, the only “truth” street evangelists share is one of distanced intolerance and alienation. This definitely does not sit well with youth who are seeking belonging.
2) Identity- not only is adolescence a prime time for identity formation (giving us a language framework to describe what happens in the transformation God provides), it is neglected by the rest of the world. I increasingly see students who identify themselves as anything but adults. Chap Clark describes this to be the consequence of systemic abandonment. By providing a home in the Father’s family and identity as a son/daughter of the King, evangelism can become a natural conversation.
Will we get huge numbers like we used to at huge events? Probably not. But were those numbers true repentance or were they emotional hype? In other words, are we trying to help students transform or be simply informed? (transformation implies information, but not vice versa).



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Joel

posted March 19, 2009 at 3:07 pm


The biggest shift in evangelism I’ve experienced in junior high ministry is moving from the Gospel as a one-time event (i.e. I believe in Jesus, prayed a prayer, and now I’m waiting to go to heaven) to the Gospel as a process of transformation (i.e. I believe in Jesus, which changes my identity and who I am becoming as a person, affecting every aspect of my life). It’s not that there isn’t a moment in time where they chose to follow Jesus. But the very word “following” implies movement, rather than viewing the Gospel as a sort of ticket to an invitation-only party.
To answer Chris’ question, it’s not that evangelism is less important now in youth ministry. It’s just that evangelism is no longer the big crazy outreach event where we slip in the Gospel at the end and ask students to raise their hands if they’ve accepted Christ. We’re just still figuring out how to communicate the richness of the whole Gospel in an ever-shifting culture.



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Rebeccat

posted March 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm


It’s so refreshing to read the comments here. I’m not sure how quickly this sort of thinking is percolating to the ground where people are dealing with these issues, but it is hard for me to imagine that even 10 years ago one could find people who think of themselves as evangelical talking in terms of process, kingdom and love rather than heaven and hell. Not too far into my Christian walk, I began understanding that the “what would happen if you died tonight” sort of evangelism was a mockery of the Christian walk, but this did leave me without a good way of evangelizing to people. When I could I would talk about my faith in the terms I understood it in which the afterlife was simply the culmination of who I had allowed God to form me into during this life. But mostly I didn’t know how to put things into a way that might create an actual invitation to others to join me. I very much look forward to hearing about new developments in how we present the gospel message to the world.



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beckyr

posted March 19, 2009 at 5:56 pm


keeping in mind the igens and their already over inflated sense of self esteem.



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T

posted March 19, 2009 at 10:40 pm


beckyr,
I’m not exactly sure what you mean. Are you saying that we need to focus on the heaven/hell/afterlife aspects of the gospel in order to prevent catering to igens’ inflated self-esteem? I think we can do that by focusing on the after-life even more easily than by focusing on the call to discipleship. By definition, no one who thinks they’ve got things pretty nailed down in life becomes someone else’s disciple, though even a proud man of the world might pick up a little fire insurance for the after-life. Tell a man he can’t do the afterlife without Jesus, he might agree with you easily enough if he believes in such things. Tell a man he can’t do life without Jesus, you’ve definitely increased the assault on his pride.



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Nick Hill

posted March 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm


I am currently employed as a youth evangelism guy in one of the most multi-cultural areas of Toronto (over 40 nations are represented in the high school across the street from our church). We do evangelistic Bible studies (currently the gospel of Mark) with unchurched youth from various religious backgrounds: Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, etc. I also engage in “walk up” evangelism with youth at the bus stops near the high school, whereby I ask them a series of questions: “What grade are you in? What’s your religious background? In your opinion, who is Jesus Christ? If you could know God personally would you be interested? Can I go through a small book until the bus comes on how we can know God personally?” Youth are interested in learning about Jesus and are often very thankful, but most of the youth are post-Christian, meaning patience, prayer, faithfulness, are key. They are not coming with a Christian background and many have never even opened a Bible before. So in some ways we need to teach more than we did before, but also we need to practice hospitality more than ever before and be a community that points to the transforming work of the gospel. I think in one sense the emerging youth pastors get it wrong on the one side saying we just need to embody the message, because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” I think that because we are surrounded by many religions and many perspectives, it is harder to share the gospel, but at the same time it is the greatest opportunity to reach the nations of the world starting with the kids in our cities. Let us be bold like Paul and the apostles who among the thousands of “ways” stated that there is only one way, and one Lord. It will take courage, but it will be worth it and many of these youth (and their families) will be worshipping the risen Christ for eternity.



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Ethan

posted March 26, 2009 at 10:12 am


Positive:
– no more scaring kids from hell (though we must continue to teach on the reality of hell)
– from “bring all your friends” to sending out disciples
Negative:
– false gospel (moralistic therapeutic deism)



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hibroon khokher

posted January 22, 2010 at 5:49 pm


You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14
Dear Fellow worker,
Greetings from “Prayer Warriors of Universal Gospel Assembly Pakistan ”
This is Hibroon Khokher (Prayer Warrior Leader) we really have enjoyed visiting your web site. We are pleased to see your plans and purposes for the propagation of good news in Christ to the whole world. God is in control and He has directed us to make contact with your ministry.
God has given us burden for youth of Pakistan, God is using us with his mighty hand, in area (Azam Basti) where 75% people are drug addicted (mostly young boys), Praise God! He has changed many young boys, through our prayers and evangelism, we arrange street meetings, seminar for revival in our area. God our Lord is using us as weapons and special tools to save lost souls but as you know that we are living in Islamic country where the majority is of Muslims and we Christians are just like salt in the flour but God our Lord has given us courage to spread His powerful and inspired word among the Muslim people.
No doubt that we are facing all bad situations but this is quite encouraging, to listen Paul “what can keep us away from the love of Christ”. So thank God instead of having lot of problems and hindrances we are stead fast in our aims. Pakistani Christians are under-pressures and infixed by the Muslim majority. Therefore we alone cannot handle all things and we need your love and support in every way to save people specially to convert Muslims and Hindus from the valley of death to the River of life.
Dear Heart in Christ, You are prayerfully invited to Pakistan as God has put in our heart. Yes, we like to see your ministering in Pakistan. Bible says “The Harvest is plenteous but Laborer is few”. Pakistan needs your concern. We would be glad to know more about your global vision, especially for Pakistan. We believe that God is going to bring a great revival through your dynamic ministry and people will see great works and glorify the Father in Heaven.
Your impressive ministerial work should be introduced here in Pakistan so as to reduce the tension among Spiritual Field workers and in this way the work of the Lord Jesus Christ would grow more and more. So please prayerfully consider your fellow workers in the Holy Field.
I look forward to hearing your heart burning desires and vision. You are in the center of our prayers. We love you. May God bless you and keep you in His love Care! Amen
In His Service,
Hibroon khokher.



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