Progressive Youth Ministry Must Become Evangelistic

Progressive Youth Ministry Must Become Evangelistic November 15, 2016

Photo from KaboomPics
Photo from KaboomPics

In the wake of last week’s election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, I am more convinced than ever that progressive youth ministry—and progressive Christianity in general—must become evangelistic. Not evangelical, but evangelistic. Too much is at stake for us to continue to be chaplains to those who already follow a progressive Christian path or quietly hope that others will take note of us and join our ranks.

As we continue to process exit poll data and analyze what happened last week, here are three specific data points that are especially relevant to us as progressive youth workers:

  1. 58% of all Protestants who voted and 81% of white evangelicals who voted chose Trump. (Source)
  2. Even though Clinton won the millennial vote overall, 48% of the white millennials who voted chose Trump. (Source)
  3. It’s estimated that only about 50% of millennials voted at all. (Source)

Conclusion: millions of self-professed Christians, including young Christians, voted for Trump despite rhetoric and actions that are clearly inconsistent with the way of Jesus because 1) they support his rhetoric and actions; 2) they somehow don’t recognize the inconsistency between his rhetoric and actions and the way of Jesus; or 3) they turned a blind eye to his rhetoric and actions in favor of other political priorities. Any of these options are deeply troubling. Even worse, half of America’s young people didn’t think this election was important enough to even show up.

(Please do not read into this an assumption on my part that Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric and actions were always consistent with the way of Jesus. She was a deeply flawed candidate. But policy differences and even ethical failures are not equivalent to promoting or condoning hate and fear of those who are different from us.)

So why does this lead to my assertion that progressive Christianity must become evangelistic? Here’s the simple truth: even though some members of our progressive or progressive-leaning churches surely voted for Trump and (intentionally or not) condoned hate, the vast majority of Christians who voted for Trump are not in our churches. They either follow a different kind of Christianity or have given up on church altogether. Most progressive churches are doing little to nothing to actively reach these people.

We’ve all heard from our youth that they are scared for themselves and for their friends, especially people on the margins and those who are not in the majority of straight-white-patriarchal-Christian-America. We naturally reach out to these students. But we must also recognize that providing safe spaces for progressive and marginalized youth is a vitally important but ultimately insufficient mandate for progressive youth ministry. Our churches and youth groups must be more than places of refuge from a dangerous and frightening world. We are called by God to be agents of change.

As I suggested on my personal blog last week, preaching to our progressive choirs isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Protesting and social media activism do little more than rally our like-minded allies and reinforce the counterproductive balkanization of our society. We can no longer rely on politicians, activists, or institutions to accomplish our progressive goals. We can no longer allow dangerous perversions of Christianity to go unchecked while we quietly follow Jesus in our progressive bubbles.

We need to start doing the hard work of changing hearts and minds, which is a fundamentally evangelistic and person-to-person endeavor. We need to train our youth to sit down with peers who view the world differently than they do. We need to train them to listen with compassion to the experiences of others while passionately sharing their own experiences. We need to encourage them to be bold and support them as they take risks for the sake of a better world.

Young Life and other evangelistic youth ministries are motivated by a clear understanding that something profound is at stake in their sharing of the gospel and bringing young people into relationships with Christ. These evangelists can tell you without hesitation why their missions matter.

Can we not do the same? Can we not see that the version of Jesus we follow is much more than a personal choice or preference? Can we not see that lives are at stake? Can we not see that the progressive gospel matters? Can we not see that we have an active role to play in the emergence of that new reality Jesus called God’s kingdom?

Now more than ever, we need a movement like Progressive Youth Ministry. Now more than ever, we need a gathering like the Progressive Youth Ministry conference. Our gathering this year has taken on a new urgency and we encourage you to join us in March as we answer God’s call and band together in a Spirit-led movement of change and transformation.


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