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.
“Mind if we crash your party?”
Have you ever encouraged your Christian students to use an evangelistic conversation opener like that?
In campus ministry during and since university days, I’ve attended Spring Break beach outreaches at popular student vacation spots. Perhaps you know the scene; it’s repeated around North America every March and April, and elsewhere as well. Maybe you’ve been to Panama City Beach, South Padre Island, Palm Springs, or Mazatlan, Mexico. Students from across the nation swarm to sunny climates to let off steam and seek their fill of surf, sun, sand, suds and sex.
Often students anticipate finding genuine happiness, true love, or at least an excellent time. Some become disillusioned as their week in paradise unfolds. Perhaps their dream date never materializes, their sunburn becomes painful, or their liquid overindulgence brings huge hangovers. They can be ripe for your message of hope.
The outreach in this story was at Daytona Beach, Florida. (Daytona Beach city leaders now discourage Spring Break revelry, prompting campus migrations to other spots.) Hundreds of Christian students and campus Christian workers came to present Christ. In the mornings, students gathered at a church to sing, worship God, hear Bible teaching, and pray. Afternoons brought individual interaction with interested beachgoers. Musical concerts with contemporary groups also showed that Christians could have fun and helped spark conversations about God.
At night, Spring Breakers gathered in bars and motel rooms for drinking, dancing, romancing and more. Christians decided to go where their peers were, hang out with them and, as God opened doors, share Christ. They aimed not to preach but to befriend and see where God might lead.
One evening, I was paired up with Suzy, a Duke student. We prayed and then walked the streets looking for God’s opening. Outside one motel, I asked a random student, “Do you know where any parties are happening?” “Sure,” he replied, “There’s a party up in room 407.” The social atmosphere in Spring Break can be both sexually charged and relaxed. Many people are eager to meet others. It’s not uncommon and often perfectly acceptable for strangers to drift in and out of motel room parties.
We wandered up to 407 and found a room packed with students talking, listening to music and having a good time. A student stood at the open door holding his beer can. “Hi,” I ventured. “Mind if we crash your party?” “It’s not my party,” he replied. “Come on in!”
Of course, this opener would be totally inappropriate in many social situations. But the casual Spring Break mood made it no problem at all. Suzy entered the room to meet folks while I stayed to visit with our “host” at the door.
As we discussed his campus, his Spring Break experience, and other subjects, he seemed quite friendly. I mentioned that Suzy and I were in town with a group of students who were showing people a short outline about the spiritual side of life. I asked if I could show it to him, and he agreed. We stood at the door discussing the outline in a small pamphlet as “party guests” wandered in and out of the room.
At the end of the pamphlet, he decided he wanted to invite Christ to be his Savior, so we discretely prayed a simple prayer. I tried to help him gain assurance that he had a relationship with God and had eternal life. When I mentioned that I would love to send him some material to help him grow in faith, he was interested. I held his beer can for him while he wrote down his address. Angels were rejoicing. Someone had joined God’s family.
I entered the motel room and saw Suzy engaged in conversation so I introduced myself to a large guy with a beard sitting alone on one of the beds. We spoke for a while, then I asked if I could get his opinion on the outline I had shown the “doorkeeper.” In a short time, he, too, was praying to trust Christ as his Savior.
God’s Party Morphing
By this time, it was late and I felt it was time to leave as we had a full schedule the next day. But Suzy was seated on the floor with a bunch of people gathered around her engaged in lively conversation about God. “Rusty, come here and help me answer these questions,” she implored as I tried to tell her we needed to go.
For the next half hour or more, we fielded questions. The entire gathering had turned its focus on us and our discussions about Jesus. The Spring Break motel party had morphed into an impromptu Christian outreach meeting.
Eventually, one of the men mentioned that they all needed to get to bed. But, he said, they really enjoyed the discussions and asked if we could return the next day to resume them.
We did return to talk more about Jesus, His wonderful love and the great friend He could be. God had his eye on those students. They were precious in His sight. Even while they sought to quench their inner thirst with things that left them dry, He brought them two friends who could point them to living water. He also increased Suzy’s and my faith as we saw how powerful He was and how open the partygoers were. Who’d have imagined?
Principles God Uses
What lessons for secular university outreach might this story hold?
- Go where the students you want to reach are. Jesus and Paul engaged people where they naturally gathered: at a well, in the marketplace, in the synagogue. On their own turf, nonbelievers’ comfort level might be high while yours might be low. Fear of failure or of temptation can play tricks with your mind. Ask God to give you and your students wisdom, peace and favor as you look for appropriate opportunities to mix with people whom He loves. Greek (fraternity/sorority; men’s/women’s social group) houses, dormitories, social gatherings and vacation spots can all be good venues. Sometimes prime outreach spots can be away from campus.
- Adapt to their culture where you can. Of course, Suzy and I did not walk into that motel room criticizing the partygoers’ lifestyles. We simply sought to be warm and congenial and to make some new friends. We looked for points of common interest, ways we could identify and connect with them. God used our human efforts to open doors for the Gospel.
- Pray. “Devote yourselves to prayer,” Paul wrote, “keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ …; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4 NASB). The entire outreach and our participation in it were bathed in prayer. God’s Holy Spirit gave us wisdom, courage, open doors, and clarity of communication.
- Be sincere and friendly. “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6 NLT). Some of your Christian students may not know how to effectively relate to their peers whose values, convictions, politics, etc., differ significantly from their own. Observing your example of grace, sincerity and kindness among nonbelievers can do wonders for your disciples’ skills and confidence.
- Open conversations simply. “Mind if we crash your party?” is quite simple. So is “Please give me a drink,” an opener used a while back by an especially skilled evangelist (John 4:7 NLT). Other examples abound: “Say, do you know what the latest developments are in the disaster relief effort?” “What do you think about the war?” “How do you feel about (insert celebrity’s name here) latest relationship?”
All of these, if sensitively handled and with appropriate transitions, can lead to conversations about spiritual need. Of course, “Come here often?” is a bit trite, and may prompt concern about your motives!
I am quite shy by nature but have learned to ask questions to engage others in conversation. Bob Prall, a campus minister and my undergraduate mentor, was an excellent example. His casual friendliness and warm, engaging style endeared strangers to him and taught me much as I watched him. Your example can have a similar effect on your disciples.
Be willing to answer their questions and to return for more. When Paul spoke on Mars Hill about Jesus and the resurrection, reaction was mixed: “Some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ … Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed” (Acts 17:32, 34 NIV). And isn’t it similar in campus outreach? As campus ministers and their disciples are patient to answer skeptics’ and seekers’ questions, skeptics may become seekers and seekers, believers.
by Rusty Wright, an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
Originally printed in Enrichment Journal in a column by Rusty Wright on “Reaching Secular Universities.” Reprinted with permission.
Photo by Baptiste MEREL on Unsplash