A main focus of mine for the past month was getting ready for SSI (Spring Student Initiative) week. The ministry I often refer to in Washington state sends groups of students during their Spring break to various areas in the US for service trips. One group of 20 students came to Texas for a week of evangelism on our six campuses. I am excited to tell you a little about how this week went and hopefully you will be able to experience for yourself some of God's glory in all of it.
What SSI Means to Our MinistryIt would be easy to take for granted that these students came on this trip as a service to the FOCUS ministry. It would be easy for our ministry to think we are doing them a service by hosting them here and setting up opportunities for them to practice evangelism. It's important to understand, though, that our Washingtonian brothers and sisters sacrificed their week of break, but even more than that they came to the campuses that we labor on to help further the Kingdom of God. They exhibited a Kingdom mindset which amazes me - and reminds me so much of the Lord we serve. I wish that you could have seen the concern that our friends had for colleges they would likely never visit again. I was able to pray with some of the Washington students about UNT and TWU - how encouraging it was for me to hear them pour their hearts out for something so dear to my own heart! Along with students from Washington I was able to have spiritual conversations with UNT and TWU students. In those conversations I saw the care our visiting brothers and sisters had for university students halfway across the country. So I want to just express how appreciative I am of the unity they have modeled for our students as well as our staff. What a blessing it is to be a part of God's Kingdom!
UNT and TWU Evangelism PlansAt TWU we did something called, "I'm Sorry" which is an attempt at restoring relationships between Christians and those who have been hurt by Christians. Anyone with a shred of humility will admit they make mistakes and Christians aren't exempt from that. Our goal with this method of outreach is to engage in conversation with people who have been hurt, be sympathetic of their pain, and try to develop real relationships through conversation. The goal is not to convert people in that conversation, but we also weren't going to shy away from sharing the gospel of Jesus. You can see more about this on Sarah's blog or get even more of a sense of what we did by viewing my post from last year's "I'm Sorry" event at UNT.
|The title of the left board reads, "Christians: what are you personally sorry for?"|
Response on the bottom middle of the right board reads, "Being judged by my brothers and sisters in Christ."
At UNT we had a different approach. Our main goal was to strike an interest with the atheist crowd. Our event was called "Questioning God" which was simply a forum for passersby to ask any question they had about God (and they could write their questions on the marker boards we set up). We knew going into it that we would be faced with some tough questions and likely would be incapable of answering most, if not all, of them. Providing answers wasn't our goal though. Our goals are to have conversations and build relationships.
Some Insights on Evangelistic Outreach
1) Meet people where they are rather than expecting them to go where you want them.The best conversations I've had started with me asking lots of questions to understand the person I'm talking to. It comes out of the wisdom in the quote: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Who would want to listen to what I have to say until they respect me? Our role may not be to take someone from A-Z, but maybe just from A-B. Some conversations I had last week with non-Christians ended with me being one example of a Christian who didn't attack them for what they believe and was willing to have a reasonable conversation about belief in God. From my experience, a lot of the reasons for hostility toward Christianity come from misunderstandings of who Jesus really is. A lot of that can be addressed when we are willing to listen to what shaped their current view of Jesus. Like I said earlier, the goal is conversation and relationships.
2) When you display humility, others are more likely to reciprocate.Three people I talked to personally were very neat examples of this. Truly, the Lord touched me in each of these:
- One girl at UNT responded to my question, "Do you have any questions about God?" with, "It's all lies!" and, "It's a man-made book!" without stopping to find out what we were actually doing. I can't blame her considering she has probably been "preached at" in the past by another organization. Really I didn't think much of it, except that it was humorous to me personally that she thought questions could be lies. The neat thing was she came back an hour or two later and apologized to me! After that we had a really cool conversation about each of our differing beliefs on the existence of God. I made sure to thank her for being vulnerable enough to come back and apologize.
- A girl at TWU wrote a two page note (attached with a magnet in the image from TWU above), I guess looking to avoid a debate, and left it on the table we were set up at. She had some similar thoughts on how Christianity is illogical to her, but later she ended up having a long conversation with Sarah. I came in at the tail end of their conversation, but Sarah listened to what this girl had to say and befriended her. They have stayed in contact and will likely spend time together again - it even seems like she might be interested in studying the Bible!
- Yet another girl from TWU was explaining to one of the Washington students and me how she believed in God, but hadn't been a part of a Christian community in a while. Her reason was that she was busy with other things. Through a conversation about what could motivate us to passionately live our lives following Jesus (as the disciples did - even to their deaths) she ended up sharing that she was afraid she was too far gone to return to God. We told her that was absolutely not true! She had been judged by others within the church in the past so much that she feared being close to other Christians (her comment is on the bottom middle of the right marker board in the image from TWU). That breaks my heart. To summarize, we told her she was welcome to be a part of our community and she struggled not to cry in front of us. It was amazing that God used us to bring back this lost sheep of his. I even got to say hi to her this past Friday at our big group meeting!
3) Map making and seeking the truth together.A concept that I learned from a favorite author of mine (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled) is thinking of our worldviews as maps. Each of us has a different worldview just as if we all were mapmakers, our maps would have differences. Some would be more or less complete than others. Some would have parts that were over exaggerated while others might have parts that are understated or even neglected altogether. I think this is a great metaphor for how humans have such differing views of the world. We have to admit there is only one true worldview so it is likely that each of us is wrong at some point(s). In light of this, if we are to be good mapmakers, we should constantly be refining our maps. We need to be open to correction when someone else says, "Hey, there is not a river there!" or, "You drew that mountain in the wrong place." When a conflict in maps arises, the appropriate response should be to travel to this place in question together. Let's see what the true state of things is, not to see who is right, but to see what is right. Perhaps we were looking at the same area from two different perspectives. In that case, we would both need to take a look from the other person's perspective to see if we might have missed something important.
Consider this approach to talking about your belief in God with an atheist, or anyone really. Of course, the metaphor makes this process sound simple and even fun maybe. It likely won't be that simple considering human beings are quite complex, but it does provide some insight into how one might attempt to win a nonbeliever over to Christ. It also provides insight into how a Christian can find deeper spiritual truths when they team up with another person instead of against them. Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another, right?
4) Share your relationship with God.Instead of trying to convince someone that God exists through whatever theological truths or logical arguments, I think it's much more valuable to tell them about my personal convictions and why I have a trust relationship with the Lord. Have you ever had "the facts" given to you, but yet you still felt differently about whatever the subject was? Human beings aren't purely rational creatures! Plus so much of the evidence of Christianity is experiential. Even the reasons people don't believe in God are experiential: they grew up with Christian parents who abused them in some way or their experiences in the world have led them to believe a god could not exist. When believers and nonbelievers try to debate the subject with empirical evidence, they speak on different wavelengths, often voiding the entire conversation.
Let's think about it another way though. Imagine I have a friend named Kyle who I really respect, but you despise. Let's assume he is the same person to both of us (and not just simply mean to you but nice to me). If this is true, we both have different perceptions of him based on experiential evidence. Why? Maybe Kyle made a bad first impression with you somehow. Maybe you misinterpreted something he said because you didn't know his personality yet. Maybe you just assumed something about him because he reminded you of your dad who abused you growing up. Now for whatever reason I have a different perception of Kyle. He has become one of my close friends that I really appreciate. It breaks my heart to know that you see him differently! So I try to find out what exactly it is about Kyle that you are having difficulty with. Then I share with you my own experiences with Kyle and how his relationship with me has benefited my life. Maybe I can't convince you, but I'm going to try anyway. Let's assume that I have been a good friend to you and gained your respect. This will bring you to a conflict: you think Kyle is terrible, but I (someone you respect) is saying the opposite. The respect I've gained from you is the foothold - without it I have no chance! Maybe just me sharing my personal experience isn't enough. That's fine. I'll invite you to spend time with Kyle and me together. Then you can experience for yourself this Kyle that I've been trying to tell you about, hopefully with a more open mind than before. Again this is so much simpler in theory, but it gives us a way of wrapping our minds around what it looks like to bring restoration to other people's relationships with God.
Thank you for reading. These are merely my thoughts and I only share them in hopes of encouraging you. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts of your own in regard to this subject. I'd love to hear what you have to say!
Thank you also for your support and prayers. They are always appreciated and well received. May the Lord continue to bless His faithful servants!
Yours for the Campus,