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Stirring It Up: Not Practicing What We Preach: How One Youth Worker Decided to Befriend People Who Aren’t in Our Church

  • Wes Moore Middle school pastor at First Baptist Church in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • 2011 14 Apr
Stirring It Up: Not Practicing What We Preach: How One Youth Worker Decided to Befriend People Who Aren’t in Our Church

To date, it ranks among one of my most awkward and scary moments in youth ministry. Normally I'm the guy who thrives on awkwardness. (How do you enjoy leading a middle school small group without a high tolerance for awkward silence?!). Still, this was different.

Surrounded by youth in Denver's Pepsi Center, I listened in awe as Greg Stier asked the 8,000 screaming teenagers how many of them had cell phones with them. Not surprisingly, most of them did. Then he challenged them all to call a friend—who wasn't a believer—and tell him or her about Jesus. A hush fell over the crowd as we all waited to see if he was serious. He was.

The arena broke out into the soft sound of thumbs on keypads and thousands of quiet phone conversations as teenagers everywhere, including the ones sitting around me, started talking with their friends. They actually were telling them about Jesus. All the while I, one of the fearless youth leaders who brought them here, fumbled through my contact list desperate to call someone, too.

Turns out, there weren't any numbers in my phone that belonged to non-believers.

My 'Oops' Moment!
Like any good youth leader, surrounded by students having tough conversations with non-believers, I put my head down and pretended to pray.

To be fair, I actually might have prayed a little bit; but my mind was racing, and my heart was feeling the twinge that usually means the beginning of conviction. How can I expect these students to share Jesus with their friends if I'm not doing it, too? I'm not in school. It's not like I'm constantly surrounded by people who need to hear about Jesus. I'm in my office at the church a lot; and when I'm not there, I'm hanging out with teenagers or other people from church. Besides, I tell teenagers about Jesus all the time.

Have you ever had an experience like this? If you're on staff at a church, chances are you probably know way more believers than unbelievers. Chances are, if you're really honest, you might have a hard time finding someone to call if you were the one sitting in my seat. Regardless of whether that was a good way to share the gospel, and regardless of your philosophical approach to evangelism, I believe my experience reveals a deep problem most of us serving in vocational youth ministry share: We don't practice what we preach.

Do you doubt me? Most of us have, at some point or another, encouraged (or taught, commanded, coerced or threatened!) our students to share the gospel with the friends and acquaintances God desires to be His. How many of us invest time and energy into relationships with people outside of our ministry or church? When was the last time at youth group you shared a current story of leading a friend of yours (who wasn't a student in your ministry) in a relationship with Jesus?

Caught vs. Taught
Most people would agree with the old saying, "More is caught than is taught," especially when it comes to abstract and spiritual concepts. If we, the collective body of youth workers, want to see more of the emerging generation share Jesus with friends, we need to start modeling it for them. Trying to take a step in the right direction, last summer I joined a local Ultimate Frisbee league.

Though I was often gone, it was fun and something God used to give me a heart for people whom He desperately loves. What if you sometimes had to turn down a chance to hang with students on a weekend or an evening, telling them you already had plans to spend time with a friend/neighbor/acquaintance with whom you wanted to share Jesus?

Chances are you might just get to introduce the kingdom of God to someone; chances are, more of your students might just start doing it, too.