Following my "link with no comment" yesterday, highlighting the forthright discussion that Internetmonk has stirred up about whether evangelism is child abuse, here are a few of my thoughts about this from our perspective.
As someone who has been involved in mission to young people for many (many!) years I believe that any kind of youth event has to have the following features. Advance information should be available to parents and make clear that the event is organised by Christians. Invitations to young people should make them aware that there will be more information about the Christian faith to help them decide if this is for them. I don't think it's appropriate to ask young people to make a decision to become a Christian at an event that is highly likely to be their first exposure to the Christian message and, crucially, is outside of any meaningful connection with a community of faith.
In our schools work (11's – 16's) we see our role principally as inspiring young people to develop a curiosity and hunger to find out more about a relationship with God – getting them to ask, seek, knock. This takes into account the fact that they are still developing in all sorts of ways, including their beliefs. So we are clear and confident about our faith in Christ and how that works out in practice, and we hold firmly to the principle of conversation and dialogue that allows the young people to express their views openly.
We have no right to be in schools – it's a privilege. We earn that
privilege through being the best educators and youth workers that we
can, by respecting the young people, the staff and the wider school
community. Everyone knows we are Christians and we're often invited
in specifically because of this; sometimes we're invited in simply
because we are good news. I think the day is slowly coming when the
'traditional' routes into school life will no longer be available to
us, the clasic 'proclamational' opportunities of lessons and
assemblies. But I'm beginning to wonder if this loss may actually
create a greater gain as we explore new ways of helping young people explore and encounter Christianity, as many are already doing.
I believe that children and young people can make a decision to follow Christ at any age. But we need to recognise what's happening for them developmentally. Jesus instruction to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength hints at the different aspects of our nature and personality that are involved. As young people grow up it's quite possible for them to love God at one stage of their lives and then to move on from that stage leaving the faith that was attached to it behind. We're trying to walk with them, helping them to make sense of the Christian message at every stage of their lives.
I'm concerned when Christians effectively abandon these principles because they have a 'captive audience' or some kind of historical or cultural advantage, even in private or Christian schools. It's just too easy to take advantage of the situation and veer into manipulation or coercion. All this produces is flash in the pan conversions or deep seated resentment against Christianity. But when a young person is inspired to ask, seek, knock, their discovery of God will be entirely in harmony with their own development and, with the right support of others from the community of faith, they stand the best chance of becoming disciples.