Is service also evangelism?

While on a mission trip to the Quad Cities with Youth Works Missions, another trip leader said, “I love Youth Works but do you ever feel like they're just really missing the evangelism piece?”

He went on to explain that while he loved the service work his students got to participate in during their Youth Works week, he didn't understand why Youth Works couldn't also incorporate some kind of evangelistic element into their programming.

To be honest, this mentality frustrates me.

I mean if evangelism means good news, then how is service work NOT part of evangelism? Why, in our churches, must everything be either / or rather than both / and?

Sure, Jesus told us to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

He also told us, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Even so, need I remind you that it was Rick Warren, NOT Jesus, who so famously separated these two passages into five distinctive purposes?

While these purposes can, in fact, be helpful, when we begin seeing them as unrelated entities, they can also be harmful.

Seeing the five “Biblical purposes” as unrelated entities can make us lose sight of Jesus' holistic vision for evangelism.

Jesus came to “seek out and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He did this by preaching and teaching and by feeding people, physically healing them, setting them free from whatever bonds held them hostage, and forgiving their sins.

Jesus cared not just about the state of someone's soul, but about their physical, mental, and economic well-being. As a result, Jesus' brand of good news ministered to a person's whole self, not just a part of it. How dare we think our own efforts at evangelism should do anything less than this.

Last week in the Quad Cities, my students and I played with kids, moved office furniture, ripped out floor tiles, packed school supplies, and spent time loving (not loving on) people with various degrees of mental and physical disabilities.

A few of my students shared their faith stories with people, but most did not.

Even so, last week, my group loved our neighbors as ourselves. We loved God with our whole selves. We became good news to a community by responding to whatever needs we saw.

In short, we both served and evangelized.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, 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), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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