In my previous post I wrote about how evangelism should be a process instead of an event. I want to expand on that idea more in this post. One of the reasons this concept is important is because young people are not as interested in how many Bible verses Christians can quote as they are in how many biblical concepts Christians live out in real life. From a spiritual perspective, they need the truth of those Bible verses, but from an emotional perspective, they struggle to hear the truth until they see it lived out in the lives of others.
Therefore, it takes time for Christians to prove the truth of their faith by living it consistently in front of young adults with a post-modernist worldview. As postmodern individuals see the truth lived out, they become more willing to hear the theological propositions that undergird the Christian faith. This requires an ongoing relationship between Christians and postmodern nonbelievers. Building these relationships takes far more time and eﬀort than simply sharing a ﬁve-minute, memorized monologue on how to become a Christian.
This reality brings up one of the challenges of witnessing to the next generation: even though postmoderns desperately crave meaningful relationships, they also hesitate to form deep friendships because so many of them have been hurt in past relationships. Inwardly they desire to belong to something bigger and special. However, at the same time they fear being hurt, so they resist being connected to others to protect themselves from pain.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I were watching the movie, Into the Wild, which is based on the life of Christopher McCandless, who traveled to Alaska and lived all by himself in an old school bus in the middle of nowhere. He thought he would be able to survive by himself without the companionship of other people. The movie portrayed a number of potential relationships McCandless resisted repeatedly. He walked away from those relationships because he was hurt in a close childhood relationship. That experience made him afraid to have another deep relationship. Regretfully, while hiking through the Alaskan wilderness, he accidentally ate a poisonous plant because he misread a guidebook, which led to his death a few days later. If Christopher McCandless had other people with him, they might have noticed when he mistook a poisonous plant for an edible one. Perhaps they would have been able to help him hike back to town and seek medical help. Even if he felt he really needed some time alone, had he been willing to share his life with others, he could have told people where he was hiking so they could have come looking for him when he did not return. The story had a sad ending, but what made it even sadder was that it did not have to end that way. Christopher McCandless did not have to die isolated, alone, and far from home in an old school bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Ultimately, his distrust in relationships resulted in his untimely and tragic death.
In many ways, that is a picture of the lives of far too many postmodern people. Many of them have been hurt, and that hurt has caused them to emotionally isolate themselves from those around them. They think they can make it all on their own without other people and without God. Though they feel isolated and alone and deeply crave meaningful relationships, they fear further pain. As a result, they become paralyzed relationally.
Though people of all ages need healthy relationships, the generation-long epidemic of broken families and the mobile nature of young adults have made this need more acute in the next generation. God has designed us to need each other (1 Cor. 12). We need healthy relationships with others so we can experience the kind of life God wants us to have (Heb. 10:25). Even though we may experience some relationships that cause pain in our lives, we really cannot thrive without healthy connections to others. Even when we have been hurt by relationships in the past, those same relationships may give us hope in the future.
Consider Paul’s experience in 2 Timothy 4:11 with Mark, a young man who caused him pain earlier in his life but who became valuable to him at a later date. Mark abandoned Paul at a critical time because the task ended up being harder than the young man originally thought. Paul persevered and successfully completed his mission without Mark’s help. Later, when Paul planned a second eﬀort, he refused to allow the young man to come with him. Paul’s refusal created such a controversy that Paul ended up severing ties with some long-term ministry partners. But as time went by, Paul realized that Mark had matured and he needed that young man after all, even to the point of speciﬁcally asking for Mark to come help him. It was a risk because Mark could have abandoned Paul again, but Paul reached out anyway, and the relationship was restored. Relationships are always a risk, but they are a risk worth taking because life without relationships is less meaningful.
As we share our faith with others, we must be conscious of the fact that it takes time to build real relationships. It takes time to trust other people, but as we continue to live our faith in front of others and share what God is doing in our lives, God can use those relationships in wonderful ways. Christians need to take the initiative to build healthy relationship with others. Even though we may have been hurt in the past and we may be hurt again in the future, we must be willing to form meaningful relationships with others for our own relational well-being as well as for evangelism.
Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.