In a new faith-ventured role with a youth outreach ministry called Tree House (based in Minnesota), a friend emailed me describing a multiplicity of burdens the youth are carrying and shared details of one troubled scenario, “There is one teen in particular who has come over a couple of times trying to challenge me with very difficult questions. She is transgender, highly intelligent, very angry at God, and was trying to trip me up (what is God’s plan for starving children in Africa, why did God send Satan to hell for eternity, what is God going to say to a very good person who did not accept Christ, what about the hypocrisy and hate crimes of Christians, which I have been a victim of?) I greatly appreciate thoughts on this and resources.”
Should I send her a catchy sound-byte? How about a 140 character tweet? God forbid, no! Welcome to the post-Christianizing world of reaching people who begin farther out. Here is a slightly enhanced version of my reply: “I love to see you involved in a ministry that is connecting with outside-the-faith people. No contact, no impact! Tree House fits the mission genre of Outreach/Compassion ministries, which I wrote about in chapter 7 of Soul Whisperer. Like the burdens you listed, the issues in lives cover the full gamut of abuse and a wide range of emotions. It reminds me of the Safe House where we ministered regularly, most were youth who had been abused whether physically or sexually. I wrote about a 15-year-old girl who was sexually exploited in her family. Can you imagine? What I have tried to do is to teach churches how to minister holistically at three levels of need: (1) Life Condition Needs, (2) Relational Needs, and (3) Spiritual Formation Needs. Unfortunately, many churches do little to meet #2 and #3. They mostly do charity work. But getting to the deeper levels of relationship bonding/healing and spiritual formation requires something different: consistency of being there for people, building real relationships, and being able to navigate through the icebergs to help them reach faith formation.
Bumping up against the member’s rejection of the “telling paradigm” mode of evangelism, and the wide-scale void of training in the church, I wrote Soul Whisperer in an attempt to bridge the chasm. It is the resource I use while teaching at Talbot Seminary and everywhere I go. In Soul Whisperer, I delve into what is required for “influence” to unfold: via relational approach, skills, and reading starting points. You have to read the starting point of a person if you ever have a chance to reach them. Otherwise, you are like the proverbial “blind leading the blind.” The teen friend you described with all the crazy constructed questions has a starting point. In my book, I give them a name—so you know clearly who they are, and also how to engage productively. Your teen is the person I call: “The God Accuser.” Oh yes, clear as day. Look at those questions that most Christians have no real answers for, it makes us look like our faith is flimsy and shallow, not strong and deep. But the way to reach them is not what you think. It’s not how slick you are with your apologetical answers.
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They are making a fundamental judgment of God. If you are to win this person, and I have, you must help them to have a mental shift about God and themselves. They liken to an ant climbing onto your shoestring and then judging you for having an unsound financial plan. The problem is: An ant cannot stand in judgment of one who is infinitely higher in their capacity for wisdom. The art of influence with this “accusing” person is in helping them to see this truth from the contrast of their finite fallen selves and the infinite holy God. I wrote a section of chapter 18 on this “common” starting point and how to achieve the mental shift, which requires them coming to terms with how little they actually know, and how fallen they truly are. Sounds fun, huh?! But, if done in the right spirit of humility and acknowledgment of the all-wise God who knows and sees everything past, present, and future—who has compassionately entered our world for theirs and others welfare, yet not violated a person’s will to believe and follow him—we can release them from Satan’s snag! The enemy wants to keep them from embracing the love of the true, trustworthy, sacrificing, intervening-on-our-behalf God. When you see how many are trapped here, it’s heartbreakingly sad!
Robin, my word to you, become a student of how spiritual influence unfolds in people’s lives. Learn how they actually hear “good news” in the gospel, and what is necessary for someone irreligious or junked up to move from where they are all the way into making a commitment to Jesus. What a gift to help others believe in him, and have their lives restored, healed, and empowered. Being able to give solid answers is important. I have a 40-page section of apologetical lines of thought in the back, yet apologetics is subservient to evangelism. And evangelism has to do with believers getting themselves in a place relationally with an unsaved person, where they are positioned as an “influencer.” As I have written, “It’s not about the telling, but the taking.” How does the gospel seed take root? Usually, that miraculous event requires a relationship. One-hit-wonder plugs for God can do a little, sometimes. If the pain threshold is high enough, and they implicitly trust you, they might even listen. But usually, the mind and heart are formed toward faith by the ongoing relational engagement of a Christain with a non-Christian. Familiarity. Love. Multiple conversations over time. Insight. Short-cuts rarely get you there.
If you haven’t read Soul Whisperer, here is the link to my book on Amazon: Soul Whisperer
It is the most direct and best resource I can offer you. If you train others, it has an 11 part YouTube video series. But I also offer you myself. We can talk over the phone or Zoom if you like. I am completely available to those who are servants of the gospel, which you are! Give me a call or send me a text if you want to interact on this challenge.
Here is my number: 951-310-1063. It’s good to have a partner and keep in touch. Celebrating with you all the riches in Christ!”