by David Wraight
St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Mere words are simply not going to win many young people to Jesus. Modeling the principles of the Kingdom and the character of Jesus in the context of meaningful relationships is the most effective way to communicate the Gospel. As we weave our life story with the story of those we are trying to reach, Jesus, who lives in and through us, will also be woven into their stories.
One of the foundational truths of the Bible is the incarnation of Christ. Jesus did not minister to the world from a distance; he left heaven and became a man, living with those he was sent to reach and serve. And Jesus instructs us as His followers to adopt this incarnational model of ministry, sending us into the world in the same way His Father sent Him (John 20:21) to make disciples by being incarnate in the lives of those we are trying to reach.
However, it must always be remembered when we are applying the principles of incarnational ministry, that Jesus and the disciples were unreservedly intentional in their incarnation. Jesus consistently conveyed through His ministry and teaching that the priority of his relationship with people was their salvation.
An example of this ‘intentionality’ is found in Matthew 9. When a paralytic was brought to Jesus, Jesus didn’t immediately heal him but said: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” When challenged by the religious leaders about His authority to forgive sins, Jesus said: Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.
Although Jesus often addressed the physical and emotional needs of those He encountered, His highest priority and ultimate intention was to address their spiritual need. In His encounter with the paralytic He clearly identifies the most significant miracle He performed as the forgiveness of sins. In our ministry to young people we address all kinds of physical, emotional and spiritual needs, but by far the greatest thing we can offer those we reach is the transforming power and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul was also intentional in his ministry. Driven by a God-given vision to reach the gentiles, he felt compelled to share the gospel with all he encountered. He explains the obligation associated with his God-given vision in his letter to the Corinthians: Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (1 Cor 9:16, 17) Because of the specific commission he received from the Lord, Paul had no option but to be intentional in his incarnation, stating: I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel. (1 Cor 9:22, 23)
In Youth for Christ (YFC) we have been given a vision—a specific commission—by our Lord “…..that every young person in every people group in every nation has the opportunity to make an informed decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ and become a part of a local church.” YFC therefore exists to provide young people with an opportunity to know Jesus and enter into an everlasting relationship with Him. Our God-given vision demands that we be intentional in our incarnation.
Clearly, we need to be incarnational to reach young people, but the effectiveness of our ministry can not only be measured by how many young people we are connecting with, or by how successful we are in meeting physical and emotional needs. Driven by the intentionality of our vision, the ultimate measure of our ministry must be whether all the young people we are reaching are provided with a legitimate opportunity to make an informed decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ.