When it comes to outreach in many youth groups and churches the "e" word is getting edged out by social justice issues (doing service projects, building orphanages, feeding the poor, etc.) Missions trips are less and less about sharing the gospel and more and more about just taking care of the physical needs of the hurting, hungry and hopeless.
Young believers are flocking to good causes pushed by famous celebrities to rid the world of bad things. To be honest it excites me to see next generation Christians energized by and for a good cause. But I get gravely concerned when sharing the gospel gets pushed out of the outreach equation. Why? Because there is no greater global crisis than the pending reality of an eternal hell for everyone on the planet who doesn't hear and believe the gospel of Christ.
Again I do believe we as Christians should feed the poor but if that's all we do we are missing the point. It would be a shame to let somebody go to hell but comfort ourselves with the thought that at least they had a full stomach.
There is nothing more urgent than saving lost souls from hell, nothing. There are those who will smugly whisk this premise away as being foolish fundamentalist drivel and old school scare tactics. But the reality of hell is what it is.
Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in all of the Bible. Was he using scare tactics when he mentioned it? Yes! In the same way that I as a father of two small children use scare tactics when my kids venture too close to speeding traffic. What kind of father would I be if I let my kids wander toward the street without screaming at them as loud as I could and scaring them as much as I could to jolt their attention so they woudn't get hit by a car? Sometimes scaring someone is the most loving thing you can do.
So are all these other non-keep-people-out-of-hell causes a waste of time? No! As followers of Jesus serving those in need should be in our DNA. Anyone who claims to be a Christians but has no concern for the hurting has shunned the Person and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. As James reminds us, specifically when it comes to feeding hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, "faith without works is dead."
It is only when service projects replace or marginalize evangelism that I get twitchy. Jesus said, "Go into all the world and make disciples…." That is our prime directive from the Prime Director of the universe. His last words to his followers was reminding them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
How did they follow through on his command? They traveled everywhere and preached the gospel wherever they went! Yes they fed the poor along the way and the church was challenged to continue to look after widows and orphans in need, but the driving force of what they did was spreading the gospel message and discipling those who responded in faith.
Let us do good things. But as we serve and as we shine let us not forget to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Let's feed others with real bread and then the Bread of Life. Let us give them a cup of cold water and then a dose of the Living Water. Let us build them houses and then make sure they have a place in our Father's great big house. Let us make this earth a better place, but let us remember that God did not put us on this earth just to make it a better place to go to hell from.
Live well. Serve hard. Preach bold.