Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Next 20 Years of Youth Ministry

After they graduate from high school, how can we set our youth up for the most success? In the secular world, our youth are encouraged to pursue college, internships, networking events, and any other training opportunities that they can take advantage of. When our students attend college or pursue continued education, they don’t receive their diploma or certification after only a few educational films and a few brief lectures. Instead, they actively engage with the subject matter before moving forward. They attend labs, devote hours to homework assignments, study from the notes they take, discuss the lessons among other students, and then finally, through some fashion, show to their instructor that they have absorbed the material enough to be able to move on to their next chapter of life. But what about our students’ spiritual growth? Beyond the sermons we preach and the Christian films we go to see with them, does our church have a system and strategy that successfully launches our students into Christian adulthood?

Why Christianity is Relevant for Our Youth
In a world with an abundance of experts and technology, our youth are not lacking access to truthful information. Instead, they lack the level of relational connectivity from which the truthful information is derived. In other words, our youth are not craving information—they can look it up on their phones. What is impactful to a student is to be involved with opportunities that allow both relationship and truth to be brought together. Through this intersection of faith and life, students can then be able to impact their world within the context of their relationship with Christ. Creating such opportunities is brought about not by giving them more sermons or by organizing more programs; it is instead through more involvement.

Getting the Youth Involved
With recent studies showing a large number of youth leaving our churches across the nation, the future youth ministry through the ‘20s and ‘30s is now being challenged to take on a different approach to how they engage their teens. Where we used to predominantly engage our youth through instruction and programming, today’s cultural landscape now compels us to engage our students through the vehicle of empowerment. While few would disagree with the concept of students becoming involved, how exactly this might look is a conversation that is challenging to navigate.

Continue the Conversation
Many resources and books available on the topic of youth ministry encourage us to involve our students more within the youth ministry, however they oftentimes end the conversation after only listing a handful of examples. Let’s not stop the conversation there. What if instead of a few examples, we dare to imagine a student-led youth ministry, where the majority of a youth ministry’s operations are owned and run by students within your church? Youth Empowered proposes a youth ministry model that incorporates each of your students in a manner that can help them understand who they are in Christ and how to effectively utilize their spiritual gifts for the purpose of ministering to others. Consider ordering a copy today for you and your youth pastor to begin a dialogue on what it might look like to involve the students at your church and begin the journey to having a youth ministry that is adequately prepared for the next two decades (Amazon and Barnes & Noble links can be found at this link). I pray that this resource may be a blessing to your community!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Understanding Your Evangelism Style

A few weeks ago we discussed how the Great Commission that Jesus had extended to was not optional (Matthew 28:16-20). If our initial reaction is to shy away from evangelism because we may not fit the personality of a street corner preacher, we may be confusing the Great Commission with our individual giftings. Instead of beginning with the question of if we should evangelize, perhaps it may help put Jesus’ commandment into its proper biblical frame of reference by first asking the question of how we can evangelize.

What’s Your Evangelism Style?
Repent and Turn Ministries has a wonderful resource called the “Evangelism Styles Questionnaire” that can help us better answer the question of how we can evangelize. At the end of the 36 question assessment, it maps the individual’s level of affiliation toward each of the 6 main styles of evangelism that it outlines: Direct, Intellectual, Testimonial, Interpersonal, Invitational, and Serving. In addition to leaving the individual with a quantitative glance of their primary and secondary evangelism styles, it provides descriptions of each of the styles with accompanying recommendations of do’s and don’ts within each respective style (I highly recommend that you click the link above and complete the assessment yourself).

Connecting at the Personal Level
When I first reviewed this resource and took the assessment, it was groundbreaking for me. For years I had been unsure as to why I had a tendency to repel people away whenever evangelizing. However, after taking this assessment, it began to make sense. My style of evangelism is the Direct style, and it never previously occurred to me that I came to Christ mainly under the evangelistic efforts of others who also exhibited the style of Direct evangelism. In other words, the style of evangelism I responded best to also happened to be the same style of evangelism I inherently exhibit whenever I share the Gospel with someone. While this correlation between the receiving/practicing styles of evangelism may not always be matching for everyone, it is likely that you may find yourself having a tendency to evangelize in the same style as the one that was practiced on you when you came to know Christ (It can be similar to the concept of love languages, where we have a tendency to exhibit love toward others in the same language that we desire to receive love in). This doesn't mean that we are only capable of evangelizing under one style. Instead, it simply means we have to make more of an intentional effort to evangelize in a style that is different from our primary or secondary style.

Connecting Strongly with Certain Individuals
After reflecting on the results of my assessment, I began to realize that my go-to claim of “I can’t do evangelism” was no longer valid. It wasn’t because I wasn’t able to share the word of God; Indeed, I wasn’t making connections quite possibly because I had not been sharing the word of God in a style that best suited the other individual’s preferred evangelism style. This is why the Lord has called each of us to fulfill the Great Commission. Each of us are gifted with a particular evangelism style that effectively reaches the world when we use our God-given spiritual gifts. Rest assured that there are individuals that you can evangelize to and minister to. When sharing the Gospel with an individual, take a moment to consider what evangelism style they may respond best to if you know them well enough. If you're not sure, default to the Testimonial style since this is simply just sharing your story. The Lord has identified individuals who are waiting for someone with your evangelism style to come into contact with them and share the love of Christ with them. Pray that He orchestrates your encounter with them.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

8 Ways To Practice Small Group Evangelism

In his book Leading Small Groups with Purpose, Steve Gladen says that “Our enemy the devil wants us to think that evangelism is difficult and that we will offend people by telling them about Christ. But the bottom line is this: if your small group is helping the lost become found by praying, sharing their testimonies, and inviting unbelievers to a meal or a social activity, then they are fulfilling the purpose of evangelism.” The book goes further to reinforce that evangelism doesn’t need to be extremely complex or intimidating, just intentional. We’ve spent a few weeks covering “the why” of evangelism within our small groups, but what does it really look like when we put words to action? Here are 8 practical examples Gladen gives from his book that you could implement within your group, this year (Some examples mentioned here were also taken from Gladen’s 250 Big Ideas for Purpose Driven Small Groups).

1)     Watch Party: Although the Superbowl has passed, there’s always some sport to rally around! Invite your seeker friends over to watch the game to build relationships with them and try to insert faith into the conversation.
2)     Prayer Bookmark: Ask each group member to draft up a quick list of individuals on their hearts who need to know Christ. Place the names on a bookmark so that when they read their Bible, they are reminded to pray over their friends. If you have a crafty group, bring some art supplies for the bookmarks and get creative!
3)     Empty Chair: Intentionally having an extra, empty chair in the circle of your group can serve as a visual reminder to your group members that there is room for God to grow the group and that there may be someone they know who is meant to join in. Take it a step further and place a poster board on the chair. Here, list the names taken from the group members’ bookmarks that were made during the previous example and continue to pray over their names during group meetings.
4)     Service Day: Ask group members if they know of someone who needs work done on or around their house. Schedule a date to bless the individual by completing the project and explain to them that the project is an act of love from the church.
5)     Holiday/Barbeque Party: Host a party and invite each group member to bring a friend who is a seeker. Plan for food, fun, and lighthearted games to help make everyone feel welcome (With Easter coming, a kid-friendly Easter Egg Hunt may be a great option!). At the end of the event, personally invite guests out to the church (or your small group) if they seem interested in learning more.
6)     Garage Sale: Plan a group garage sale where there’s enough room at someone’s house to display each group members’ wares. Be sure to advertise your sale as a multifamily sale to raise interest. Group members can take turns assisting guests, greeting them, working the event and also helping share the gospel when the opportunity arises.
7)     Why Are You Christian?: Imagine if this question was asked to your group members by a nonbeliever. Each group member practices answering this question and helps to give feedback to the others (Try to keep answers to a few minutes long).
8)     Let's Play Sports!: Encourage group members to invite their seeker friends to join a sports small group that either is ongoing or will be starting up at the church this summer!

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Lifestyle of Small Group Evangelism

While we may be able to pursue evangelism on our own and within our individual sphere of influence, small groups can also be an effective vehicle to engage those that may not have yet heard the life transforming good news of Jesus Christ.

We Were Once Evangelized
In last week’s issue, it was mentioned that it helps us to remember that we too were tremendously blessed to receive the word of God through someone else’s evangelistic efforts. While we certainly hear of miraculous testimonies of God-encounters within a nonbeliever’s life (like when Jesus visits the person in their dreams), it’s safe to say that most of us were evangelized by one or more individuals within the body of Christ, directly or indirectly. I know an individual who had experienced both types of evangelism. While Christians were directly engaging him for a season and sharing the gospel with him, he actually ended up receiving the Lord inside of his apartment, when no one else was present. He later found out from one of his new Christian friends that there was a small group prayer meeting taking place at the same hour that he encountered the Lord, and that at this prayer meeting there was an entire room of people praying specifically for him! Indeed, The Great Commission that Jesus extended to us was not optional, and we are each called to participate (Matthew 28:19-20).

Evangelism Involves Action
Have you ever ended a conversation with the phrase, “I’ll be keeping you in my prayers” with a friend or an individual you just met? While it is certainly a kind gesture, is it the most effective thing we can do in the moment? Is Jesus invited to be a part of the conversation or are strongholds broken down to allow for spiritual growth? What if instead you were to offer to pray for the individual right there on the spot, or on the phone? It may seem intimidating, however most individuals are quick to accept the offer. Evangelism is an action we do, and not just a feeling we feel. Evangelism involves identifying a need and responding to it in a manner that is practical, sacrificial, and strikingly representative of Jesus Christ. It is genuinely caring for the individual in a way that not only helps them catch a glimpse of how God sees them, but also how He loves them unconditionally.

Evangelism is an Ongoing Lifestyle
While evangelism is at times viewed as an occasional event, it is anything but. When Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, it was a God-sized goal that can only be done with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. And if such a goal requires the assistance of the Holy Spirit, then we know that The Great Commission cannot be achieved solely through a handful of scheduled “evangelism days.” Instead, it is through an ongoing relationship that constantly communicates with and responds to the still, small voice of God. So what can we do within our small groups to help each person adopt a lifestyle of evangelism? Perhaps facilitating a conversation with the group may be an effective starting point, where you ask each member of the group to share their story of how they were invited to church. After allowing each member to respond, ask each member how they felt when they were invited. By weaving conversations like these into group meetings, it may be able to help group members begin to understand more of what it means to be actively engaged in a lifestyle of evangelism. In next week’s message, we’ll explore more ideas of where your small group can go from here!

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter @SeanBuono