If you died tonight, do you know where you will go? The question itself makes me shudder and not because I’m on the fence about following Jesus. It makes me shudder because I think it and other approaches like it fail miserably at drawing people into a relationship with God that has any chance of sticking.
Thankfully as a denomination, I think the Church of the Nazarene is moving away from those intimidating approaches to evangelism. What’s replacing questions like the one above? Here are a few ideas:
Offering Love Instead of Fear
Drilling someone with a question about where they will spend eternity is a tactic based solely on fear. Fear can only ever modify a person’s behavior, and that only when fear is ever-present.
Fear can never, ever, no matter how hard you try, produce a genuine relationship based on love.
Instead, the offer of genuine relationship must be given. And my gut tells me that the relationship that must come first is the relationship between the believer and the non-believer. We must always model for others the relationship which Christ has with us, a relationship in which each party loves and is loved, knows and is known by the other. We love and enter a relationship with the other, not solely because we want to “win them to Jesus,” but because they have inherent worth as one of God’s beloved children. As our relationship grows, we are inviting them into the ultimate relationship with God.
Offering Stories Instead of Facts
In a world of “alternative facts” convincing people to believe something because you can offer up a set of definitive proofs has become less and less effective. While we must present our students with the facts we know about our faith and the Bible, it’s better to concentrate on presenting our faith in story form and teaching our students to do the same.
If our faith is about a relationship with the God who created and sustains us, then there is no better medium to communicate God’s desire for a relationship with us than through story.
Our primary story is found in the Bible, as it tells of God’s constant love and faithfulness to creation despite our continued unfaithfulness. Even the parts of the Bible which aren’t specifically narrative in nature constantly remind us of the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Oh, and our personal stories are true, too, even if we can’t prove them beyond a shadow of a doubt. But then, if we could prove them, we wouldn’t need faith.
Offering A Journey Instead of Easy Steps
We all love projects that come with clearly defined steps. It just makes it easier to know that after I complete one step I must do this next step if I want to end up with the promised finished project. But life and our faith aren’t like the instructions for a microwaveable pizza.Navigating faith and life is more like the instructions that come with a chest of drawers from Ikea, poorly written, confusing, and easily messed up.
No two people share the same experiences in life or in faith. The steps that one person took to grow in their faith might not work for another person. So, as we share our faith and relationships with those who have yet come to believe, it’s important to offer to journey alongside them.
From the oldest saint at your church to the smallest child, we’re all on the same path toward an ever-deeper relationship with God that results in us looking more and more like Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m on a journey, I always like to know that someone has been that way before and can help me find the path when it’s obscured by dirt and debris.
Offering Belonging before Believing
If anything is clear about our student’s use of social media, it is that they have a deep desire to belong. Inside each of us, regardless of age, is the need to be valued and accepted by a group of people. Especially for those who lack the love and support of their biological family, the church can be a place where those who have yet to believe find love and acceptance.
Your youth group has the opportunity to be the family that someone never had.
It’s important, however, that students understand that they do not need to believe before they can belong. If we put conditions on their belonging, they’ll always disappoint us. Besides, the very best way to nurture faith and belief is through belonging. You and I are social animals; we’re wired to understand our world and structure our beliefs in the context of a close social unit.
Finally, there’s no clear method for evangelism that’s sure to work in all situations for all time. Yet, it needs to be said that if you want your students to engage in sharing the good news about Jesus, they’ll first need to have encountered that good news in radical and tangible ways. The more we share with our students the incredible gift of life, love, and grace that we’ve received, the more they’ll be compelled to share those same gifts with those around them.