Powered by kindness

Powered by kindness

Miller, Steve

YOUTH MINISTRY OUTSIDE THE BOX

How teenagers are changing their world through gospel-fueled good deeds, and how you can make a subtle shift in your approach to ministry that will astonish your community.

The Compass Cafe attracts young people from all over Zilina, Slovakia, because of its laid-back environment, playful atmosphere, live music, and caring staffers who are unusually adept at listening to concerns and offering solid advice. A DJ on Zilina`s top radio station heard about the coffeehouse and was intrigued enough to interview one of the owners.

The DJ got right to the point: “So tell me, what’s your ulterior motive for doing all this nice stuff? Aren’t you really just trying to lure students to your Christian beliefs?” Fortunately, Compass Cafe staffers had just been discussing that very question. The owner quickly answered: “There is no ulterior motive. We simply care for students, and want to help them to make right decisions during their crucial years of high school.”

Was he really telling the truth?

Well, the DJ interviewed a student who frequents the cafe. He told a live audience: “I’m an atheist. These Christians at the Compass Cafe should be my enemies. But they never force anything on me. I go there because they’re simply the nicest people in our city.”

I believe Compass Cafe staffers have discovered a subtle distinction that is multiplying the impact of many ministries both at home and abroad. Essentially, these ministries make kindness their top priority-not as a means to an evangelistic end, but as a practical way to live out the gospel. They offer services to people in their communities with no strings attached, whether or not the services open doors to a presentation of the gospel.

Ironically, because they offer their kindness simply as an expression of their love for people, they’re seeing more people drawn into a relationship with Christ. The stories I’ve heard are simply astounding.

my road to recovery

This change in perspective and mind-set has been a long time coming for me. After committing my life to Jesus in high school, I couldn’t imagine anything more important than introducing others to him. Therefore, I reasoned, my ultimate objective in everything I do is to bring people to Christ. I befriend and serve people so I can introduce them to Christ.

This all made sense on the surface, but I failed to understand and embrace a biblical theology of good deeds, and ultimately that hindered my evangelistic effectiveness. About five years ago, my perspective on evangelism was changed permanently through a life-changing experience with a radical church.

My family was fighting a life-and-death battle with my wife’s cancer. Between ferrying her to chemotherapy treatments and caring for my four young boys, we couldn’t go to church very often. One day we returned home after a chemo treatment to find a team of strangers working in our yard. I thought someone had hired workers and they’d gone to the wrong house. It turned out that they were from a church called NorthStar. They’d heard we had a need and came to meet it.

But why?

They knew we were already Christians and members of another church. So much for ulterior motives. They told me they’d heard of our need and simply decided to meet it. End of story. If we needed meals or anything else, they said to let them know. I was astonished by their caring.

After this experience, I checked into NorthStar’s history and mission. In five short years they’d grown from a church plant to more than 2,000 attendees and had baptized hundreds of previously unchurched people. But they don’t “go out witnessing”-no door-to-door campaigns. Instead, they venture into the community looking for ways to offer kindness to people who need it. Many recipients of that grace can’t help but ask questions, and their curiosity attracts them to the church.

the theological foundation

Sure, I used to sprinkle “random acts of kindness” into my program-for example, a Christmastime visit to a nursing home sandwiched between the hayride and the pre-holiday conference. But it was just another event, not a driving force in our program. After my epiphany five years ago, I see the Bible through fresh eyes.

Good works are a priority! They’re so central to the Christian life that I was created by God to do them (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, kind acts should always accompany salvation (Galatians 6:9-10). And helping the needy was so central to Christian ministry that when Peter and John gave their blessings on Paul’s mission, the only thing they asked him tc do was “remember the poor,” which he was “eager” to do (Galatians 2:9-10).

Whenever I help the needy in practical ways (for exampie, visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, giving lodging to a stranger), I’m actually serving Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46).

Good works pay well. When we offer string-less kindnesses, we overcome slanders about Christians (I Peter 2:12). Many people resist Christianity because they see us as narrow-minded, bigoted, mean, homophobic hypocrites. Free pizza followed by a gospel presentation won’t help that image. But volunteering at an AIDS clinic will.

Our good deeds will eventually become known (I Timothy 5:25). By helping the needy, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), make our prayers effective (Proverbs 21:13), lend to the Lord (Proverbs 19:17), receive a blessing from God (Proverbs 22:9), and store up treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).

The bottom line. In our personal lives and in our practice of youth ministry, we should be zealous about doing good deeds (Titus 2:14) and meet pressing needs around us (Titus 3:14)– not just for Christians, but for all people (Galatians 6:10). It’s interesting that of the hundreds of verses on helping

the needy, I find no verses telling us to do good deeds in order to set up a gospel presentation. Yet I do see that if I offer kindness in the right way, people will glorify God as a result (Matthew 5:16).

My conclusion? Don’t try to impress me with how many kids come to your Bible studies if you’ve failed to develop a culture of doing good deeds. Biblically, doing good deeds is central to our mission. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sharing the gospel, and it’s not just a “social gospel” (Matthew 28:18– 20). I’m just saying that our low-key approach to good deeds has often been a hindrance to the gospel rather than an asset.

the hard benefits of kind acts

Today’s kids crave opportunities to serve. They love the feeling that their lives are making a difference; that their lives count for something. Acts of kindness are:

1. Low risk-Everybody can hand out free water or clean up after a parade, no matter what their gifts.

2. High impact-Your teenagers will see direct, immediate results from meeting others’ needs, and they’ll likely see long-term results that include spiritual impact.’

3. Size doesn’t matter–Big or small groups can put together bookshelves at the local school or visit a nursing home.

what kindness in action looks like

Steve Sjogren was one frustrated pastor. He’d tried his best to start a church in Cincinnati-he actually talked to more than 1,500 people in a two-year door-to-door campaign. But he got almost nowhere. Then he woke up to a truth about the makeup of his small congregation-just 10 percent of them had the gift of evangelism, but 90 percent had the gift of service.

So Sjogren equipped and released his people to offer the community simple acts of kindness, such as free car washes. The church tripled in size that year and now has more than 4,000 attendees. The church’s motto is drawn from something Mother Teresa said: “Small things done with great love will change the world.”2

NorthStar’s youth minister Russ Butcher asks school principals and other community leaders how he can serve. His students are deeply involved in kindness ministry-they give directions to athletes at a local triathlon, clean up after community festivals, and offer free baby-sitting for church events.

When a local high school principal saw NorthStar students cleaning up after a festival, she decided to start a community service program for all her students. Community leaders open to your ministry, parents get excited, young people feel strategic to God’s plan, and doors open for ministry.

how to get started

Now, switching to a do-gooder ministry framework is no quick fix. School officials will most likely respond to your volunteerism with skepticism. It takes time to overcome the church’s bad reputation and establish trust in the community. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s worth it.

I know some of you are right now thinking: Great! This is just the thing we need to be more effective at evangelism! We’ll do all this “no strings attached” stuff so we can build our youth group! You’ve just reattached the strings. Go back to paragraph one and start over. Before you progress, you have to have a change of heart and mind. And your motivation for serving must change before you can enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Steve Miller is a 25-year youth ministry veteran who lives in Georgia with his wife and their seven boys. He writes Web-based youth ministry resources for Reach Out Youth Solutions (www.reach-out.org) in Atlanta.

Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. Nov/Dec 2002

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