Youth Evangelism – Let It Happen
William A. Haynor
THE basic idea is to allow things to happen. The elusive “secret” of youth involvement in church activities and specifically in evangelistic outreach is just that simple and just that hard.
It is simple because the initiative for planning and action in such a concept as this is left mostly with the youth themselves. It is difficult because we as pastors and leaders are extremely program oriented. How we delight to tread the labyrinthine maze of organizational intricacies, then to emerge from our workshops to astound all at the brilliance of our planning! Instead of catalysts, as God has designed, we play too much the role of protagonists in a drama that only God can unfold. To win applause is not difficult. To gain cooperation in such an important work as soul winning is the work of God’s Spirit alone.
A conclusion we need to recognize is that what God wants to do with our youth and churches for evangelism is just too big to program! Hence, the unstructured approach. Not that no structure will emerge, for it surely will and must. What will finally appear if we allow it, however, will be an endeavor so beautiful in its spontaneity and so variegated in its outreach that in chorus will come the acclaim, “What hath God wrought!”
Anyone attuned to what God’s Spirit is initiating in the hearts and minds of our young people in academies and colleges across this entire land will immediately recognize these words to be no mere theory. God is manifestly at work this very hour in the completion of His own plan which has global significance! He invites us to be part of His plan. If we submit, as many of us have tried to, somewhat unexpectedly we will find ourselves working harder, not less. We will be praying longer, not shorter. And ironically, we will be planning more too. Unstructuredness is surely not equivalent to laziness!
The first thing we must allow to happen in this “unstructured” scheme of youth involvement in evangelism and witness is their discovery of Christ. There will be no response in witness if there is not first an experience in Christ. They must be won before they can win. It has appeared to a number of us that in this process of spiritual renewal for youth there are two gaping pitfalls that need to be avoided:
1. “Pulpit thumping.” Youth will almost always respond more to sermons they do not sense as sermons. We need to identify. Share. Not in the superficial manner of reference ad nauseam to contemporary “hip” language or favorite youth pastimes, but rather in the vital sense that as we too are found sinners in Christ we long with them for the continual satisfaction of our deepest needs and the alleviation of fear and anxiety. Is God leading His ministers? Surely He is! Then let us share our joy at least as much as we share our doctrine.
We need to be careful, of course, that in this effort to share our experience with the youth we do not scramble to describe in vivid detail every sordid event of our past. This only tends to make evil that much more attractive. “If the preacher lived through it, so can I,” say too many youth in response to this type of witness. God invites us to accentuate the answer, not the problem. Our humanity is quite convincing enough apart from a detailed accounting of our histories.
If we avoid “pulpit thumping” we need also to avoid pulpit monopolizing. It seems imperative that we share with our youth not only our experiences of joy, but also our pulpits, for they too will have an experience to share! This may be a real struggle for some of us to “sacrifice” our pulpits in such a way as this, but again, is it within our power and prerogative to make revival happen or allow it to happen in God’s Spirit? Christ pleads for room to work in our churches. Interestingly, this very thing of spontaneous sharing by youth has been done recently during the worship hour in some of our largest churches with the most therapeutic effect. And let us disdain the temptation to structure this sharing into something like a clever series of sermonettes. As the young people might put it: Let the Spirit do His thing! Be out ahead, preacher, but don’t get in the way!
2. A second snare to assiduously avoid is culture harping. And we should make no mistake about it, youth today sense themselves as part of a definite culture. Their music and dress are symbols of this identity. For many young people even of our own ranks their link through these symbols to one another is the only real ground they have found in life. We desire more for them in Christ, but we can be assured of one thing: they will never let go of superficiality until we have first shown them depth. And what greater depth can we reveal than that which God has already revealed to us in Christ the complete acceptance of us in His love?
A favorite passage of many converted “turned around” youth today is Romans 5:6-8: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It would appear that what God requires of us as leaders is to accept as He accepts. No strings attached. No questions. What we often ask our youth to “give up” they cannot give up unless grounded first in the gracious, loving acceptance of Christ. Those who have dared share in this divine experiment have found their churches turned upside down for God.
What this may mean in more specific terms is that we need first to lead our young people to Christ, not to the seam stress or tailor. First to God’s love, not to the barber. First to the altar of acceptance, not to the garbage can for their books and records. As we get our own spiritual priorities straight, God’s Spirit seems to take care of theirs. Let us not forget that God changes men and women, boys and girls, from the inside out, not the outside in.
Fanning the Flame
A strongly centralized program is quite relieving to the pastor in that after he conceives it and shouts it down from the “tower” everyone is just expected to do his part, which frequently, of course, he does not do. The unstructured approach is not so comforting, but it can be much more effective.
Both during and after the initial phases of revival, be where the youth are. Give encouragement. Fan the flame. Project a presence on a one-to-one basis. Communicate concern. Pray for and with the young people and find the joy of being prayed for by a youth “turned on” for Christ! Such should be our resolve. We may not be able to personally visit all, but concern has a way of conveying contagion.
Where are they? On the campus, in the classroom, in the center, at MV, at the social, at the hayride, in the home, and yes, in the church worship hour and Sabbath school, but don’t wait for them to come there! We must be where they are and not languish in wishful thinking about where they are not! There is just no easy way to save souls and there is no easy way to involve youth in the witness of the church. It is worth the effort, however. Some of us know this now as we have witnessed the unmistakable conversion of young hearts as they have turned from psychedelia to Scripture, from pot to prayer, from rock to rejoicing in Jesus Christ.
Channeling the Enthusiasm
But our work has just begun! As spiritual enthusiasm begins to be generated, our talents as organizers can go into full swing. We must be careful, however, that we do not in our own enthusiasm structure things right out of their hands! Youth, even converted youth, are still very suspicious of an over-30 coup. Our responsibility in what God wants to do for our youth and through our youth does not seem to be so much channeling our counsel down to them as channeling their enthusiastic witness up and out to the church and community.
Furthermore, we should not be surprised upon discovering that what most of our young people may want to do in witnessing is not the traditional evangelistic approach. Since most of them will prove not to have been won through what they see as “pulpit thumping,” their subsequent witness will hardly take that course, either. Interest may reveal itself for a “coffee house” in the city, for instance, where one-to-one witnessing can be done with other youth who come in off the street. Others may want to trek off as loosely organized bands to surrounding schools and campuses, both Adventist and non-Adventist. Let no one dare propose he has written the entire script of possibilities.
Will we cooperate with God in this work for our youth? Will we accept them as they are and with them grow up into more effective witnesses for Christ? Will we encourage their enthusiasm and channel it up and out for Christ, and not be guilty of analyzing it to a standstill? It is evident that God is working mightily in the church today. He hungers after our youth. He yearns, too, for our sympathy and support.
It is written: “With such preparation as they can gain, thousands upon thousands of the youth and those older in years should be giving themselves to this work. Already many hearts are responding to the call of the Master Worker, and their numbers will increase. Let every Christian educator give such workers sympathy and cooperation. Let him encourage and assist the youth under his care in gaining a preparation to join the ranks.” Education, pp. 270, 271. As it has been written, it is, and surely will be, fulfilled!
The above article, “Youth Evangelism – Let It Happen” was written by William A. Haynor. The article was excerpted from www.ministrymagazine.org. web site. September 2017.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”