Some years ago I was asked what the mission strategy was for the youth ministry at our church. What did we do for evangelism? How were we reaching the lost and proclaiming the good news to non-Christians? I took the question in good faith, even though I detected a hint of haughty accusation underlying the question, i.e. “If you’re not running courses, holding attractive evangelistic events and presenting Two Ways To Live each week, then are you actually doing any evangelism?” seemed to be the subtext.

In an attempt to provoke some further discussion and get to the meat of the question, I gave this somewhat facetious response: “Our youth [and children’s] ministry uses God’s mission strategy for the gospel”. The bait worked!

What is God’s mission strategy for the gospel? In God’s infinite wisdom, his mission strategy is, simply, you. Not just you, but all believers in God’s church, both collectively and individually. God’s mission strategy for the gospel is us, his people. From the smallest to the greatest, the educated to the unlearned, God uses each of his people to be his mission strategy for the gospel.

God uses “jars of clay” to display the treasure of the gospel; he uses the weak and foolish things of this world to frustrate the wisdom of the world

This doesn’t discount the fact that itinerant evangelists are a wonderful asset to the church, and evangelistic events provide creative ways to prompt discussion and challenge people to believe. It’s handy to have gospel tracts with succinct gospel outlines. Evangelistic courses are useful avenues for unbelievers to investigate and explore the gospel in community. And apologetic techniques help individuals explain their faith with clarity and persuasion. But none of these are God’s mission strategy for the gospel.

God’s mission strategy for the gospel is his people, and in the mission of God from beginning to end he always involves human beings – his beloved image-bearing creatures. From the command to Adam and Eve, the call of Abram, the covenant with Israel, through to the incarnation of Christ and the commission of Jesus that his disciples should be his witnesses to ends of the earth. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, God uses “jars of clay” to display the treasure of the gospel; he uses the weak and foolish things of this world to frustrate the wisdom of the world.

The mission strategy for children's and youth ministry, therefore, is to nurture their faith and confidence in Christ, and to cultivate their love and dependence on the gospel, so that their life and hope in Christ would overflow in sharing their faith.

Here’s what I love about this view of mission with children and young people. I love that it means mission is not all about me, and not about my program, my ministry or my events. I love that God is pleased to witness the gospel through each and every one of his disciples. If you think about it, this gives the gospel a more extensive global reach! There are people in places that I can never get to. People in personal relationships that I don’t have. People in communities and networks in every part of the world who are there as disciples of Jesus to make more disciples of Jesus.

This means that children’s and youth ministry is not about inviting friends to evangelistic events, although you might do that. And it’s not about drawing the world into your orbit so you can tell them the gospel efficiently and accurately – though you might do that, too. 

It’s also not about being invited (or inviting yourself) into every space so that a gospel “expert” can deliver the message. It’s about all the disciples of Jesus bearing the good news of Jesus wherever they are and in whatever context they find themselves. The mission strategy of God is to enable and equip the disciples of Jesus to be his witnesses in all the world. And this is such a liberating thought! This is what I love about God’s mission strategy.

However, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. I don’t like that it’s not all about me. I don’t like that I can’t control how mission happens. I don’t like that the mission of the gospel in my local high school is in the hands of a 13-year-old. Because, to be honest, I can probably speak the gospel more accurately and more persuasively then they can. I’ve got a degree in theology and years of ministry experience. I’m probably more courageous (though not always), and I reckon I’ve got a better shot at clearly presenting the gospel and answering questions. 

Jesus places the gospel in the hands of his disciples, both simple and knowledgeable, both young and old, both timid and bold, both proficient and sloppy

If my young people invite their friends to a youth evangelistic event I can control the music, the atmosphere, the activities and the gospel presentation (to a certain extent). But if my mission strategy is to rely on my young people to speak the gospel, then how can I control any of it? How will I help them be bold, or to answer questions with correct doctrine, or to be clear with the gospel, or to properly engage the unbelief of their friends? 

And yet, this is the mission strategy of God. Jesus places the gospel in the hands of his disciples, both simple and knowledgeable, both young and old, both timid and bold, both proficient and sloppy. And he does this so that people might come to believe and know life in the name of Jesus. This is God’s mission strategy for the gospel of Jesus.

Next time someone asks you what your evangelistic strategy is for your children's or youth ministry, or for your church, don’t point to a program of events, or a course, or a tract. Point to the people around you and say “This is”. Because this is God’s mission strategy for the gospel.

The Rev Mike Dicker serves as principal of Youthworks College. This column appears in the printed edition of Southern Cross, in churches June/July 2024.