Should We Focus on Evangelism or Discipleship in Youth Ministry?
Evangelism is often looked at as the red headed step child (apologies to any reading this right now) of the youth ministry world. We deal with it because we are legally required to in the by-laws of the Bible but, down deep in our hearts, we are more passionate about discipleship than evangelism.
But this is where our thinking is wrong. Evangelism and discipleship are like Nitrogen and Gylcerin, they must be blended for maximum effect. Teens who are growing in Christ will share their faith and teens who are sharing their faith in the power of the Spirit will grow in Christ.
I am convinced that if teenagers fall in love with sharing their faith they will fizzle out, but if they fall in love with Jesus they'll always evangelize. Because of this, our first and foremost goal is to get teenagers fully surrendered to Christ. If they offer their lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), I believe they will passionately share their faith out of the overflow of their love for God!
At Dare 2 Share we refuse to divorce evangelism from discipleship. In fact, I believe they are intrinsically united. My firm belief is that evangelism accelerates the discipleship process like no Bible study class ever could. When teenagers begin to share their faith, they have a new thirst to study God's Word, pray, and depend on the Holy Spirit.
For instance, at our training conferences this year we deal with conquering sin through applying the power of the cross (aka "sanctification") because, and here's the direct connect with evangelism, if teenagers are living a godless life none of their friends will take them seriously when they are sharing the gospel. So we teach key truths that deal directly with essential "deep" theology ("the inerrancy of God's Word, the Trinity, prayer, worship, the exchanged life, etc) but they ALL make a direct connect to sharing your faith.
Emphasizing evangelism opens up the opportunity for risk and persecution (1 Tim 3:12) and helps teenagers download theology quicker and more effectively. It provides a context that is more like the 1st century Church rather than the 21st century Church. It gives them a bold cause (THE Cause) that is urgent, exciting and life-changing. Teenagers pay attention and are hungry to learn theology because they are being sent into battle for the souls of their friends.
Calibrating theology in light of evangelism "missionizes" theology and takes it out of the clincial into the practical. Jesus equipped his disciples in the context of mission. First, He called them in Matthew 4:19, "Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men." Then, He officially appointed them as His apostles in Matthew 10 and immediately unleashed them for an evangelistic campaign. Up until His final words to them in Acts 1:8, Jesus equipped His disciples with the core truths of the faith in the context of mission. By focusing on evangelism we are able to more effectively disciple teenagers because we add danger and risk to the scenario.
Youth leaders play a key role in maintaining a youth ministry environment that emphasizes this philosophy and keeps THE Cause as the center of their strategy for spiritual growth in their teenagers. The "Deep and Wide Youth Ministry" strategy, along with the sharing of best practices from other youth leaders, is essential to helping them sustain this paradigm shifting model.
Shoud we focus on evangelism or discipleship in youth ministry? The answer is both/and not either/or.