What if I offend people?

Throughout high school, I was actively involved in my congregation's youth ministry. This was, in many ways, the activity that was most important to me during that time period. Even so, I rarely invited friends from my high school to join me for youth group.

Despite the fact that daily religion classes were part of my high school curriculum, left to our own devices, faith wasn't really something my friends and I discussed.

Perhaps this was because at the time, social dynamics and academics were far more important to us than our faith.

But maybe it's also because deep down, I feared talking about my faith would cause others to judge me.

My fear of sharing my faith only deepened in college, despite the fact that many of my friends – including the man who's now my husband – were passionate about evangelism. At the time, I thought that only crazy Christians shared their faith with others. And I certainly didn't want to be one them.

Now, as a youth worker, I strongly believe in the importance of evangelism, largely because as I talk about in The Jesus Gap , I now view teaching teens how to share their faith (specifically in Jesus) as an important part of their faith formation.

That's why my congregation's junior high kids have spent the last month learning how to do this in their Sunday school class.

The first week of this series, I surveyed these middle schoolers about their willingness to share their faith with their friends. Among other things, I asked, “What keeps you from talking about your faith with your family and friends?” as a multiple choice question.

In response to this question, 60% of teens surveyed in this class said “I'm afraid that if I talk about my faith, I'll offend people”.

If teens are afraid of offending people by talking about a relatively generic “faith”, how much more true would this be if teens were asked what keeps them from talking specifically about their faith in JESUS?

I can't be sure, but I suspect a lot – especially given the value our society places on tolerance.

This, of course, has important implications for how we teach teens to talk about their faith.

If a fear of offending others is one of the main things that keeps teens from talking about their faith with others, then the evangelism strategy we teach teens can't simply be to tell other people they're wrong.

Instead, evangelism has to be about engaging people in genuine conversations about faith with “gentleness and reverence”. (1 Peter 3:16)

If we want to teach teens how to engage people in genuine conversations about faith, this means that we've got to teach them how to ask questions about people's faith and listen to their responses. We've got to teach them it's possible to genuinely respect and find value in the faith tradition of others – even those with which we disagree. We've also got to teach teens how to share their faith story as part of these conversations.

To me, this is why Scripture is so powerful. In Scripture, we see story after story of how God works in various people's lives to not only transform them, but the world around them.

Scripture is powerful because it's personal.

In the same way, sharing our stories of personally encountering Jesus are powerful. So, too, is sharing stories of how faith has transformed our lives.

What's more, personal stories are way easier to share with people than complicated Christian doctrine – especially for a middle schooler.

And because they're personal, when we share stories of how Jesus has impacted our lives, it's pretty hard to offend people.

Is it still risky?

Absolutely.

But is it worth it?

Absolutely.

After all, who knows how God might use our stories to transform people's lives... Including our own.

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Jesus Gap

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Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. When not doing ministry, she and her husband Doug can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling.

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