Rethinking our Theology of Evangelism
The biblical conversation on evangelism starts at the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible. I know that’s not typically what you think of when you think about evangelism. We tend to think about Gospel Tracts with the Romans Road and the Sinner’s Prayer written on them. We tend to think about the Great Commission. We tend to think about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.
But God’s interest in extending the Good News to the world didn’t start with Gospel Tracts, or the Great Commission or even with Jesus’ death on the cross. The book of Genesis tells us that God was reclaiming the world into righteousness from the very beginning.
Evangelism in Genesis
When God called Abram to a new land in Genesis 12, God called Abram to a life of evangelism. In God’s promise to Abram, God tells Abram that Abram will be made into a great nation. It’s a powerful promise. God chooses Abram to be special, great and set apart from all other people on earth.
But the blessing is also a responsibility. Because when God promises to make Abram great, God also gives him a reason for that greatness: “So that you will be a blessing to others, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through you.”
This is the important part of the promise. God makes Abram great, not for Abram’s own sake, but for the sake of the rest of the world. When God blesses the people of God, God intends for the blessing to be passed on.
This is the nature of evangelism. This should be at the center of all our conversations about sharing our faith.
What God gives generously to us, we give generously to others. Where God steps into our brokenness, we step into other people’s brokenness. Where God leads us to restoration, we lead others into the community of restoration that is the Church.
A Nation of Priests
I think this is what the author of 1 Peter means when he reminds us that we are a Nation of Priests. That we who have been given the blessing of God’s salvation become conduits of God’s graciousness, justice, mercy, love and liberation in a world that cries desperately for salvation. Evangelism is participation in the nation of priests.
So how do we train teenagers to be a nation of priests? How can our students be participants in God’s promise to Abram?
1. Be a Priest for your Students
First, they need someone to be a priest for them. As youth leaders, we can stand in the gap between our students and God and help take care of their needs. We can affirm them, love them, and introduce them to the love of God, which is able to transform their lives. We pour out to our students what God has poured into us. We cannot ask our students to be for others what we are not willing to be for them.
[bctt tweet=”We cannot ask our students to be for others what we are not willing to be for them.” username=”ys_scoop”]
2. Give them Opportunities
Then, we have to enable them to be priests for others. We have to give them opportunities to stand in the gap for their friends, to be relays of God’s loving-kindness to their peers who may not have any other connection point to God. We have to encourage them that their faith is something tangible that they can offer to their friends, classmates and family members who are hurting and in need. We have to help them believe that the Gospel has given them something that they can share with the people they know and love.
3. Expand their Worldview
And then we need to expand their worldview. After all, we aren’t just a nation of priests to people we like or to people who look like us. We’re a nation of priests to all nations, cultures, and people groups. Even (and perhaps especially) the people we don’t like or get along with.
So we ought to encourage our students to step outside of their comfort zones. We ought to give them opportunities to minister to people who are unlike them. To love those they have had a hard time loving in the past. To enter into other people’s darkness and provide a little bit of light. We truly become participants in the promise of Abram when we can give generously of the ways God has blessed us to people we do not know (and particularly people that we don’t even like).
Living out God’s Blessing of Salvation
If we can teach our students to be participants in the spreading of light, we won’t have to remind them to be evangelists. If our students learn to love serving others, they won’t need to be constantly reminded how important evangelism is. Evangelism will simply be a part of who they are.
There’s a reason that the New Testament doesn’t spend a lot of time telling Christians to tell other people about their faith. It’s too busy telling Christians what it looks like to live out God’s blessing of salvation.
Sure, we want our students to be ready to give an answer to those who ask, but before they do that, we want them to be ready to live out the Gospel. To be ready to be transformed by the Gospel. We can’t give an answer if nobody is asking any questions. And nobody will ask questions if we aren’t pouring out the blessings that God has generously poured out on us.
Real evangelism may or may not involve the handing out of a Gospel tract, but it will always involve the reckless and selfless love of our neighbor. It will always involve the extension of grace that God has already extended to us. When we can master these things, we won’t have to be reminded to share our faith. We’ll already be sharing it by the way it shines through every aspect of our lives.
Tyler Jarvis is the Youth and Family Minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, Texas. He and his wife Andrea enjoy rock climbing, traveling, and working with teenagers. You can follow him on TWITTER or read other articles he’s written at WWW.TYLERJARVIS.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.