Here are some thoughts on chapter 1. I enjoyed and found it thought provoking. It resonated with me as a reflection of a lot of what I’ve been thinking about regarding youth ministry and evangelism in general.
Chris starts by sharing an experience with an event driven form of evangelism (I think I know which “festival” this was Chris). Of course this is so prevalent in youth ministry. Event driven evangelism is a place where “the Gospel” is proclaimed. It is usually one image of the Gospel and therefore speaks in a limited way. He then goes on to talk about friendship evangelism. This type of evangelism is where students are encouraged to sit with their friends and either “share Christ” or invite them to an event where the people that know evangelism can actually do the evangelism. I have two thoughts I’d like to add about friendship evangelism in addition to Chris’ critique of creating an unhealthy sense of what it means to evangelize.
1) Chap Clark has written a wonderful book about a study he completed regarding adolescent development. Hurt (without going into the study) talks about a phenomenon called “clustering” that should be added to the list of critiques of such types of evangelism. “Clustering” is the acknowledgment that people, adolescents more so, spend time with people who are like themselves because it is safe. Now I won’t go further into this but if evangelism is restricted to one’s cluster then God’s grace is less often being shared with people unlike us. Clustering assumes many of our students friends are Christians in confession. This is my experience. Of course they have non-Christian friends as many of us do but they are not “safe” to share Jesus’ way with.
2) I forgot my second point. 🙂
After jumping into the topic of “bridge building,” which he describes as a means of connecting to separate points that are disconnected, he explains why this analogy of evangelism creates problems in the way he feels it should happen. Chris asks “So what does it reveal when the church needs to build a bridge to the culture?” and responds with, “It reveals a disconnection…” He says that a new kind of youth ministry is committed to compassion. He uses an analogy that involves getting into a canoe and rowing with them in relationship. He calls it “life-dynamic evangelism.”
(Now Chris (assuming you look at this though this is unlikely) I love to poke fun at people. Since we don’t know each other I’m giving you this explanation so you don’t think I’m a total jerk.)
Those of us in youth ministry love to create awesome sounding names for things. It is like we’re making a name for a new concert tour. I think it is hilarious. I called something “Momentum” once and my old youth group name was, “G2R,” Genesis 2 Revelation. Chris has come up with “Life-Dynamic Evangelism!” This is a most “Extreeeemeee Youth Ministry” form of evangelism. Just kidding. The name works well for what Chris wants to convey so jibes aside I understood it as practicing compassion in our lives.
Life-dynamic evangelism is simply “sharing the truths of God in the context of our everyday lives.” This creates a type of evangelism that does not focus on the “us and them” relationship or dangling a carrot in front of someone saying, “I’ve got heaven yes I do. I’ve got heaven how about you?” It is simply being people and living life together. A missionary I met from Russian said the biggest problem he had with American Christians that came over to help and serve was that they came to solve problems and fix the people or situation rather than joining with those people in walking through life. Compassion. Life-dynamic Evangelism. Chris adds 10 points that are also helpful in breaking this down.
The only critique, and I guess it is a big one, I have from the chapter is some language he used near the end of the chapter that I’m very sensitive to. He says, “Your recultured evangelism would be driven by the goal of connecting students with God through Jesus, not packing a calendar full of events for the purpose of appearing active.” What is my critique about this? Well I think it takes us back to an unequal power relationship and becomes proselytizing when we have a mindset of having a goal. We assume the place of having motive behind our relationship with a person when we have a goal. People then revert back to numbers, or those that need to be saved. They cease to become people when we have a goal. I would propose that we work towards building a mindset, an atmosphere in our ministries, a culture that does not have a goal of evangelism but has a desire to share life with each other as Chris said earlier in the chapter. An example would be I really want someone to go to a party with me so I ask them if they want to join me. If they say “no” then that is fine though I might experience rejection or disappointment. If they say “yes” then that is awesome. We get to share life together and make some memories. I don’t have a goal in that kind of relationship. I let them live their story out in the manner they would like to and it does not change that I still have a desire for them to participate with me (and with God in the evangelism case.) If we don’t have the desire to have people we love, join us in God’s story then I’d say we have a very big problem. Why wouldn’t you want someone to walk this path with you? There needs to be no goal. Just a desire to share what is your own life. Your adventures!
Needless to say, I felt Chris’ constructive criticisms of evangelism were right on. He does a good job of critiquing and not simply disregarding those forms of evangelism. People who consider these forms of evangelism valuable can simply heed the warnings and challenges associated with this type of evangelism without being attacked by yet another author.