by Lonnie Jones
Opportunity equals responsibility. I’m not sure where I first heard that simple phrase, but I’ve never forgotten it. It boils down to the concept that Jesus taught when he responded to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” If you see the victim of a crime, and you can help him, then that is your neighbor. Literally, this is the concept of neighbor being the “near one”—anyone who is near you. That is, near in proximity and not culture, religion, socioeconomic class, color or any of those criteria we use to designate people as not like us and, therefore, we do not like them.
My concept of evangelism for youth ministers and youth groups is simply that of nearness, significance, and obscurity. What is typically called the great commission is in Matthew 28:18-20. It has been preached for years as “Go ye means go me.” We make the going the important part. Youth groups go. As in they take trips to exotic locations with different languages and cultures. We do all kinds of things in other parts of the world that we do nor or would not do at home.
Some of my experiences on “mission trips” were loosely-organized, mostly-humanitarian efforts that were thinly-veiled Outward Bound experiences with a pseudo-spiritual emphasis. (Outward Bound takes clients into the wilderness and allows them to “rough it” when, in reality, they are in a highly-controlled environment. You might go hungry, but you’d never be allowed to starve. You will experience rock climbing, but you’ll never take a lead fall. You’ll have to know how to use a compass, but you’d never actually get lost). It’s the perception of the risk and adventure that makes the experience worthwhile and life changing. This type of trip had unrecognized real dangers—spiritual and physical. We went and worked. We worked hard. We showed staggering results for our numbers in construction, contacts, and food handed out. Those who paid good money to go and do also got the opportunity to have a “spiritual adventure.” They fell in love with cute, poor, third-world children—and left them in the third world. We came home and shared our experience and most determined to go back; but did we share the gospel?
My understanding of Matthew 28:19 is literally translated “going therefore disciple” or “as you are going make disciples.” The emphasis to me is not as much on the going as it is on the discipling. In other words, our evangelism is the natural response to our everyday contact with other people, or the people we come close to—(who is my neighbor?). I can’t go into all the world, but I go everyday into my world.
My world involves people that I have contact, influence, or interaction with. My world is pretty obscure. I have a few thousand contacts on Facebook because people hear me speak, but in actuality, I don’t interact with that many people. Those I do interact with on a regular, influential basis are at my office, high school, team, organization, neighborhood, shopping center, rec center, etc. Most of us are pretty obscure. We are not famous or well-known. But to those who do know us and interact with us, we should become significant.
A man traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho met a Samaritan one time. That Samaritan is neither named in Scripture, nor mentioned again. He is obscure. But to the man he bandaged, transported, and lodged, he became quite significant.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with mission trips. But Matthew 28:19-20 isn’t about annual mission trips. It’s about daily forays into our own personal worlds. It is in these obscure places by unknown, unrecognized, obscure people that the significant work of evangelism is done: evangelism by influence rather than affluence, evangelism by service rather than service projects, evangelism that is designed to change the life of the one evangelized and not to impact the evangelist.
The other responsibility that goes with the opportunity to impact our own personal world is that we must know enough about the gospel to teach the gospel. Peter tells his audience to be “Always be prepared to give an answer (responsibility) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (opportunity)” (1 Pet. 3:15). This knowledge doesn’t come by sitting in a Bible class a couple of times each week, but from doing some preparation on your own. It is important to know what we believe and also to be able to explain why we believe it. Preparation or lack thereof is probably the biggest reason we don’t evangelize. We really just don’t know enough to talk about it. I used to talk about conversational spirituality. That’s a term where our discussion of things eternal is as natural as our discussion of sports, games, celebrities and the like. If we only talk “church” in a church context, then we have segmented, compartmentalized lives and the “as you go about” part of the great commission becomes the great omission because our Christianity does not go with us when we go about.