Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

14 Sep

Published Article 2-Evangelism and the Spiritual Formation of Children & Youth

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.09.10 by Merlyn

Published in Connections Magazine (Sept/Oct 2010)

Learn about Connections here

Evangelism and the Spiritual Formation of Children and Youth

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Lutherans have not always been considered to be strong in the area of evangelism, and every church in America could use some renewal when it comes to evangelism. Some people believe children and youth are not capable of having a faith of their own. I once heard a pastor state that youth are not capable of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We sometimes assume that our children and youth cannot and do not understand matters of faith, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is during childhood and teenage years that a vast majority of people come to know Jesus Christ. Confirmation is geared toward youth because we believe they can begin to own their faith and truly own and affirm their baptism. The evangelism of children and youth is critical but intimidating.

There are a couple things we need to remember when it comes to the evangelism of children and youth. First, it is God’s work, not ours. Duffy Robbins, one of my youth ministry professors in college, was fond of saying “God makes believers; people make disciples.” The goals of evangelism are to connect people with the life-giving grace of God that has always existed, and to help them participate in the relationship with God that has always been there.

Unfortunately, we become comfortable that it is God’s work and not our own, and are prevented from seeing the need for evangelism. This is particularly true with children and our rites of passage. Although powerful and important, the church community has relied on those processes to do evangelism for us. We bring our children to God for baptism, embracing the already-existing grace and salvation that God has offered. We participate in confirmation to help our children affirm their faith. Once confirmation is over, many feel that they are finished. Perhaps this is part of the reason that we as Lutherans have not always been good at evangelism.

Another thing that my youth ministry professor always used to say was, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” When it comes to our youth, there is a great temptation in youth ministries to evangelize youth by entertaining them to a relationship with Jesus. We cannot “out entertain” the

world, nor can we sell Jesus to youth by turning Him into a commodity that can be used to meet needs. Doing so denies the Kingdom vision that Jesus brought to the world.

Often we see ourselves incapable of evangelism because we do not think we can do it right. We assume that our own beliefs must be flawless in order to share them with others. Evangelism is not about right belief—it is about right relationship. So how do parents and the church “do” evangelism with children and youth?

First, we need to tell the story. We need to talk to our children about the story of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures and in the world around us. We do not need to explain the story or need to understand everything about the story. Again, God is the one who does the work and the one who makes believers. Let God’s story speak for itself.

We tell our kids stories all the time, and we all love a good story. We watch movies and television shows, pick up books and listen to the stories all around us. We desperately want to tell our story to someone and to have our story heard. The best thing that parents can do to evangelize their own children is to tell the story. Tell the story of God, tell your story, let your children tell their story. We all want to know that our story has meaning and that it connects to a bigger story—God’s story.

When leading children’s time in worship services, I often give the children a question to ask their parents or grandparents. I do this to create faith conversation in homes and to give parents a way to talk to their children about their faith.

Marcus Carlson

is a Spiritual Director & certified LCMC pastor who has worked in youth and children’s ministry for over 10 years. He is Youth Minister of Bethel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, CO. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

20Allow your children to ask questions, and accept it when you do not have the answers. In relationships, authenticity and questioning will always be more important and effective than any answers you can ever give.

Evangelism with youth is a topic that is written about, debated and wrestled with in the mind of almost every youth worker in the world. Entire organizations and ministries form around the subject of teenage evangelism. It is true that most people come to Christ during their teenage years, and these years can certainly be the most formative for one’s faith— both in a positive and a negative way. Evangelism with youth is simple and yet very complicated. True, healthy, effective evangelism with youth can only happen in relationship and community.

The good news: we don’t have to be entertaining or perfect to do youth evangelism. The challenge: we must be authentic. Authenticity is not the normal mode of operation in our world, and although it means to simply be ourselves, it can be scary and risky. Teenagers have an incredible ability to sense when we are not being authentic. Youth come to know Christ when they see us authentically following Christ: in our doubt, in our fears, in our questions, in our victories and in our celebrations. Youth want to see our story and how we connect to God’s story so they can also find ways their own story connects to the story God is writing in the world.

My son Micah was four when we left the Methodist church to become Lutheran. As a child in the UMC, Micah took communion, but most children in our new Lutheran church did not and waited until after their first communion. For a couple of weeks, we did not have Micah participate in communion. One week just before communion Micah looked at us and said, “I want to have the bread and the juice because Jesus is in my heart.”

My wife and I looked at each other with surprise. He had never heard that message or language from us yet, nor were we aware that he had heard it in Sunday school—and yet this little four year old was able to articulate the meaning and power of communion. The story spoke for itself. Micah takes communion each week, hands held out like the posture of a beggar as he walks up to the altar, and I re-learn and re-live the story of God as he teaches me.

Evangelism of youth and children is critical to my own life and ministry. I did not grow up in the church at all. I did not know Jesus, and in middle and high school was heading down a very dangerous path. I encountered God, met my future wife and found my call because of a couple of teenagers who helped me hear and see the story of God. Their willingness to share the story of God saved my life.

No Comments »