In the summer between fifth and sixth grades, my parents took me to a Pat Boone concert. For the uninitiated, Pat Boone is what you might call a “crooner”—amazingly popular with women whose hair-color preference is tinted-blue. For a pre-teen, this two-hour excursion was akin to a week at Guantanamo Bay. I believe my parents were trying to torture me—I know this because, not long after that concert, they took me to a back-to-school sale and bought me lavender bellbottoms and a purple terry cloth shirt with white drawstrings. I wore the whole ensemble to my first day of school the next week.
I remember getting into a lot of fights at school.
But here’s the crucial thing: At the end of his concert, Mr. Boone gave an altar call, because he’s also a no-holds-barred believer. And, inexplicably, I couldn’t stop crying as he made his invitation. So, painfully shy as I was, I stood up in front of several thousand strangers (it seemed like several million) and made the three-minute hike down through the grandstands to the side of the stage. There, a kindly elderly man prayed with me to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Now, 40 years later, I’ve spent my entire adult life in ministry. And it’s all been possible because of that one teary moment of passion at the feet of Mr. White-Buck-Shoes.
Well, not exactly…
Just like the several hundred Christian college students who responded to a GROUP Magazine survey about their faith journey, my conversion experience represents only a tiny sliver of my evangelistic journey as a disciple…
• In middle school my family continued to attend a mainline church, where I finally decided to start listening to what the pastor was trying to say instead of daydreaming and watching the clock.
• In high school I connected to a church youth group in an evangelical church for the first time, and learned my faith had a reasonable foundation.
• As a freshman in college, I was suddenly stricken with a life-threatening illness around the same time I hooked up with some charismatic Christians–they prayed for a release of the Holy Spirit in me. For the first time, I had an insatiable hunger to read God’s Word, and my relationship with Jesus became an every-moment reality.
• Right after college I was asked to teach a Sunday school class at a mega-church, and I learned how to defend my faith and draw others into a love relationship with God. I used a concordance and a Greek dictionary for the first time and devoured C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge, Elisabeth Elliot, and others.
• As a late twentysomething I attended a Catholic church for a season, drawn in by the beauty of its liturgical traditions and its embracing of mystery in my relationship with God.
My story is a pretty fair example of two truths we uncovered in our big survey of college students…
1. Family ministry is the key to evangelism.Most people in America come to Christ because their parents brought them to church regularly when they were young. Parents are, by far, the best evangelizers. This is the REASON that justifies spending an inordinate amount of time connecting with, supporting, and even discipling parents. If you knew you had a powerhouse team of evangelizers right under your nose, wouldn’t you find ways to fuel their fire?
2. Teenagers need “recommitment experiences” like rockets need boosters, and youth workers are key to those experiences.Mission trips where kids do something in the name of Jesus, crisis experiences where kids learn they deeply need Jesus, big events where kids are asked to choose for Jesus, camping experiences where kids learn the power and necessity of a faith community, and teaching where kids experience and talk about their faith—not just listen to the mechanics of it—are all crucial to long-term Christian growth.
Caging evangelistic impact inside a moment-in-time conversion is like reading only the introduction to a great novel. ◊
Rick Lawrence has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 25 years, and he’s author of Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry and 99 Thoughts On Jesus-Centered Living. He’s on Twitter @RickSkip, and you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org