It was one of the most missionally-lazy seasons of my life.
We lived on a cul-de-sac, were close to our neighbors, and knew several by name. But we hadn’t gone out of our way to know them deeply and spiritual conversations weren’t something we were being intentional about.
In my mind we had good reasons: we were renters, and we knew we would be moving away in a year or two; any families who did have kids were empty nesters already, it was hard to relate as a family with toddlers; and, to top it all off, I was a full-time pastor—wasn’t making disciples as a career enough?
It took a season of introspection and repentance to move past my disobedience. God was merciful.
When we moved to our next home, we were intentional from the start and have been blessed with some of the richest relationships with our neighbors that we could have hoped for—spiritual conversations included.
Most Christians can relate personally to seasons of missional laziness, and most Christian leaders can relate to familiar seasons in their church.
Alpha Canada recently teamed up with Barna for the Reviving Evangelism In The Next Generation study which surprisingly shows that Gen Z is perhaps the generation most comfortable with evangelism. Yet, Alpha also conducted an interprovincial and interdenominational survey of 50 of the largest churches in Canada, interviewing youth pastors specifically. The survey revealed a stark disparity in both prayer and evangelism during COVID.
Though, if we’re being honest, many ministries struggled with prayer and evangelism already. Jason Ballard recently pointed out to a group of youth pastors, myself among them, that COVID has amplified and magnified already existing problems more than it has created new problems for the Church, and I’m inclined to agree.
Having been invited to reflect upon the state of evangelism in youth ministry, I took time to seek God for what He would say through me to His kingdom servants during this time. I also draw upon the sharpening relationships with many who shepherd youth and young adults within my own denomination, within the city of Calgary through the 403 Network, and within national collaborations and friendships.
In synthesizing what God spoke to my heart and my observations in ministry, I plan to explore seven struggles that are impacting evangelism in Canadian youth ministries. I will present four that are positives that God would increase in His Church; and three are negatives that He would do away with.
I’ll close this article with what I feel is the most obvious given the survey results, then I’ll follow-up with six more struggles explored in two subsequent articles.
Now, before I begin, I feel compelled to express the weight I feel of writing to other leaders—gifted, Spirit-filled, wise, and experienced men and women of God. My desire is to approach this from a humble posture because I need God’s mercy and grace as a person and as a ministry leader, like anybody else.
In fact, the disparity relating to prayer is true of the ministry that I lead, and these recent findings have convicted me too. But thank God, His Spirit’s conviction reminds us that we are not abandoned in our error, rather corrected for our benefit.
Having said that, like seeking out an accountability partner, it’s no help to just surround ourselves with those who are stuck in the same struggles. We need people who have experienced victory where we are weak to call us to something better.
By God’s grace, our ministry has experienced significant growth in the arena of evangelism—growth that has continued, albeit with difficulty, during COVID.
Our students have been running Alpha in their schools, and when restrictions started, they immediately moved to online city-wide Zoom calls and have run three since. Each summer they run sports camps in partnership with an intercultural ministry that actively shares the Gospel with Muslims, and they are currently designing ways to serve and reach their neighborhoods through our Community Kick-Starter program which infuses these ideas with resources and funds from the church.
So, I’m writing this because I’ve experienced something better from God’s hand. My hope is that God would continue prompting introspection and repentance, followed by a fresh movement of evangelism among our youth and the kingdom fruit that will result.
STRUGGLE #1: We’re Struggling With Asking God
We can’t fabricate what only comes by prayer…
When enjoying sabbath I work with my hands as often as possible. Whether it’s repairing the car, building something at my workbench, or gardening and yard work. I do these things because they bring a change of pace from my ministry day-to-day. Specifically, I pursue a sense of completion that is notoriously illusive in ministry. It’s illusive because people are always in progress and Jesus’ kingdom on Earth won’t be fully realized until His return. In spite of knowing these truths, I often still attempt to fabricate kingdom realities apart from God’s involvement.
James offers a glaring rebuke to our prayerlessness: “You do not have because you do not ask.”
Though the context speaks to releasing earthly desires, I think the principle can also be applied to taking hold of heavenly desires. James suggests that there are things that God has ordained to only be realized through the prayers of His people.
So, surely this should inspire fervent prayer alongside the diligent work of our hands.
Yet, during one of the greatest global crises of our modern age, when countless people are asking existential questions and wrestling with mortality, when our support systems and livelihoods are crumbling, our human leaders are faltering, and the Church faces complexities it has never known—where is our prayer?
The despairing lack of both prayer and evangelism should cause us to ponder the connection between the two. A lack of prayer will disembowel our witness like few things can, but inversely prayerful living is a God-ordained mechanism to realize kingdom realities which we could never fabricate by our own efforts.
So, why has our ministry seen growth in evangelism while we’ve been stagnant in prayer?
Truly, all I can point to is the faithfulness of God.
But perhaps all this recent talk about vaccine efficacy rates should get us thinking: If the efficacy rate of our witness can be good when we pray a little, what could it be if we prayed a lot?