Inspiring your readers to share Christ
Exciting stories can encourage your readers to communicate faith effectively to nonbelievers. This MTI blog series features examples that you can use as models, or even republish yourself. Drawn from Enrichment Journal, a pastors magazine that ran Rusty Wright’s series on Reaching Secular Universities.
Have you ever heard a biblical perspective in a secular university class? Do any of your students’ professors discuss biblical truth in positive ways or invite guest presentations that might?
Such discussions, though rare, are not without precedent. Unfortunately, some professors or lecturers can be sharply critical of Christian faith. I remember several classmates whose skepticism found its birth and/or nourishment in academia. Perhaps you have friends, family members or disciples whose faith has faltered during student years.
An inquisitive mind can be healthy. Believers have nothing to fear from the truth. But many students and professors never have heard a reasonable explanation of faith’s foundation or its application to life, current events or history. They may not know that believing in Jesus means not shelving one’s brains but rather opening one’s eyes to reality. Trapped in professional pursuits, pride, pain or worse, perhaps they’ve never encountered a knowledgeable Christian who treats them with respect and civility.
I once heard radio commentator Paul Harvey quote a United States congressperson (alas, the name escapes me) who noted, “If we educate without religion, we graduate clever devils.” Here’s a story that might encourage you to help bring biblical perspectives into the education of the students you try to reach.
During campus ministry in Atlanta, friends and I developed a speakers team to present credible lectures as invited guests in secular university classrooms. Speakers included several pastors, a real estate agent, a dentist, a university professor, an engineer, an airline pilot, a professional writer. We trained them in the subtleties of presenting biblical perspectives in secular classrooms.
Our topic list included over 60 lectures for various disciplines. Speakers could address “Atheism: A Realistic Option?” or “A Biblical View of Human Nature” in a philosophy class. “A Christian Perspective on Racism” or “A Biblical Therapy for Anxiety” might do well in sociology or psychology. “Was Jesus God?” could fit in religion or history. “Miracles and Science” and “Prophecy and Archaeology” were available for science and mathematics. “Business and Ethics” and “Personal Management and Leadership” were designed for business students.
One presenter had a rather unique qualification: He had spent fourteen years in state and federal penitentiaries for bank robbery. Though I would have loved to have heard him on “A Christian View of Finance,” his topic was “A Biblical View of Criminal Rehabilitation.”
During one year, the team spoke to 3,000 students in 150 classes on six campuses. Various campus ministries contacted interested students afterward to answer questions, seek to lead students to Christ, and encourage discipleship.
Morris Brown College, an historically African-American institution, saw a memorable outreach. The campus chaplain made our lecture series part of their annual “Religious Emphasis Week.” We spoke in eighty-five classes over three days, needing extra speakers and combined classes to meet the demand.
I’ll always remember “Dr. Bird” (not his real name), chair of a social science department and a very warm, kindly gentleman. At our first encounter, he politely suggested I return in a few weeks and said he would have some class sessions lined up.
When I returned, he looked uncomfortable. “Oh, Mr. Wright,” he said. “I don’t want to lie to you. I haven’t contacted any of our professors about the lecture series. How’s it been going in the other departments?” “Well,” I replied, “Today is the first day I’ve been signing up specific classes. I’ve talked with professors in three other departments and no one has turned me down.”
“My goodness!” exclaimed Dr. Bird. “We’ve got to do something in this department. Follow me.” He led me down a corridor of offices, introducing me to faculty members (lecturers/professors) and encouraging them to discuss the program with me. These professors seemed quite open to scheduling lectures their department head commended.
A Professor’s Affirmation
Dr. Bird agreed to combine his own class with another class upstairs that I would be addressing during the lecture series. At the appointed day and hour, Dr. Bird forgot. I hoped the other professor might go fetch Dr. Bird and his students, but he seemed reluctant so I did the honors.
“Excuse me, Dr. Bird, “I ventured politely when I found him addressing his class. “Today is the day you were gong to bring your students upstairs to hear me speak.” “Oh, that’s right, Mr. Wright. So sorry. We’ll be right on up!” He marched them up the stairs, then sat in the back and dozed as I spoke.
Dr. Bird awoke during a discussion about good works and earning eternal life. I tried to clarify grace and God’s free gift, that works were intended to be a result of faith, not a precursor to it. One young woman insisted that works were a prerequisite for eternal life. Dr. Bird looked at her, then at me, then back at her and the class. Finally he raised his hand.
“Mr. Wright, may I have a brief word?” he asked. “I don’t want to steal your thunder, but I want to make one thing perfectly clear. There ain’t no amount of works gonna save a person. A person is saved by grace, through faith, not works, lest any man should boast!” During his short speech, his students heard clearly of his Christian belief and its ramifications.
Morris Brown had 1,500 students. Our audience counts totaled 1,400. Some heard lectures in several classes. Jesus became an issue on that campus that week. Exciting avenues into academia had opened across Atlanta. In some cases, our speakers were invited for return presentations in future classes. The Holy Spirit helped the Gospel to spread.
Lessons for Secular Outreach
What lessons or applications might this story hold for your secular campus ministry? Consider a few.
- Trust God to open doors. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NASB). Classroom outreach may seem daunting. God can open doors and hearts. On one Alabama campus, a professor advised us somewhat sarcastically to talk to one of his colleagues about our lecture series because “He eats Christians for lunch!” The colleague, when approached, was quite warm and scheduled a speaker. You never know how God will work.
- Seek to minister to the total university. Most students spend significant time in the classroom. Many commuter students arrive in the parking lot at 7:45 a.m., jog to their first class, attend several classes, then leave for work. You could meet such students in the parking lot and jog with them to their morning class, presenting Christ as you go. Or you could share Christ with them in their class.
- Pray. Expect spiritual battles in classroom outreach. Many professors are quite open to Christian classroom lecture series. On some campuses, fifty percent of faculty lecturers approached have expressed willingness to schedule a Christian speaker if the time and topic were right. But others are not so open. Occasionally, deans and administrators have closed down such lecture series. Meet every situation with faith and prayer.
- Present Christianity’s credibility. The faith you hold has mountains of supporting evidence and positive, practical ramifications in academia and life. Of course, not everyone realizes this. You can perform a valuable service to your university by presenting reasonable, credible positions listeners might not otherwise have considered.
- Use local talent. Capable local volunteer presenters can touch many lives at low cost. Community leaders often relate well to students, especially students who aspire to success in the lecturer’s field. Such leaders can help you cultivate relationships with nonbelieving professors and open doors for repeat bookings. A speaker team with a large topic list can enhance scheduling by giving professors more choices than one or two speakers could offer. As speakers experience hands-on ministry, their vision, enthusiasm and dedication for your campus work can intensify.
- Training is key. Classroom speaking is different from church speaking or even addressing other secular campus groups. Time limits, academic relevance, professor expectations, the “captive audience” factor, and more necessitate careful approaches. “Christianese,” preaching, and public prayer will close classroom doors in a hurry. Training materials exist to help you and your volunteers learn to come across effectively. If I had our Atlanta classroom outreach to do over again, I would devote more time to training speakers.
- Partner with other ministries. I was the main person lining up the Atlanta meetings and had no staff to follow up interested students. But other campus ministries were eager to receive classroom comment cards providing openings for personal contact. Of course, different evangelical groups have their own distinctives. But chances are you and they already agree on many essentials, especially about reaching lost students. Often you can accomplish more together than separately.
- Trust God for big things. Could God be leading you to help penetrate academia with His truth? Do some giants in your life and/or ministry need slaying? Could He use you and your colleagues to help impact the entire university? Might classroom outreach be a means to such ends for you?
by Rusty Wright. Rusty Wright is an author, syndicated columnist and lecturer who has spoken on six continents to university students, professors, executives, diplomats, military leaders and professional athletes. Over 2,000 websites, newspapers and magazines have used his outreach resources in any of 14 languages. Holding Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively, he’s appeared on secular television and radio talk shows worldwide and trains professionals in effective communication. www.RustyWright.com
Copyright © 2022 Rusty Wright
This article first appeared in Enrichment Journal.
Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash