touching secular minds and hearts
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.

Could God work through your shortcomings to multiply the Gospel?  This story might encourage you.

As I departed the cafeteria at a national conference center, a recent university graduate stopped me.  Hi, he said.  I’m Gary Fuller and I wanted you to know that I trusted Christ as my Savior three years ago when you spoke at Sacramento State University.  Since then, I’ve led fifty of my friends and family members to Christ.  He was preparing to become a missionary.

I remember well my visit to Gary’s California campus.  Students and campus workers labored hard to organize an outreach lecture on a Christian perspective of love and sex.  The presentation title was rather hot – perhaps too hot for some churches – but definitely geared to secular students.  The title was … Are you sure you’re ready for this?  Please fasten your seatbelt.  The lecture title was “Dynamic Sex: Unlocking the Secret to Love!

Posters, fliers and classroom chalkboard announcements blanketed the campus.  Students invited their unbelieving friends.  Some probably wondered how any Christian speaker (posters clearly indicated Christian sponsorship) could say positive things about sex and love.

As students filed in the auditorium, I mixed with and greeted audience members.  I’m fairly shy and such mixing does not come naturally.  But Josh McDowell taught me that it often helps audiences warm to speakers.  Gary was one whom I met.

Onstage, humor helped explain that I would present some principles that contribute to a fulfilling love life.  “Principles, not techniques!” I assured listeners, “And this will be a talk, not a demonstration!”  I made it clear that I would speak from a Christian perspective, assuring students that I respected their freedom to disagree. The aim was not to force my views but to get them to think and to give them some fun.   A university is a marketplace of ideas.

The presentation of a biblical perspective on sex used secular illustrations and quotations.  Funny stories about love and dating intertwined with advice from secular experts.  A most fulfilling sex life requires focusing on the relationship, developing qualities like love, commitment, and communication.  Premarital sexual involvement can diminish one’s chances for a fulfilling love life in marriage because it can undermine those qualities. There are practical reasons for waiting.

Watch our workshop on “Influence non-Christians for Christ through your writing.”

A complete marriage relationship exists on three levels: physical, psychological and spiritual.  Jesus Christ facilitates healthy spiritual relationships.  Explanation of His love, sacrificial death, resurrection, and offer of forgiveness and eternal life led to a tactful invitation for listeners to place faith in Jesus, which Gary and other students accepted.  Angels rejoiced.

Interested students indicated on comment cards their desire to know more.  “Always remember,” I’ve related as my father’s advice to me, “The time you may think your partner deserves love the least is probably the time they need it the most.  So try to show it.”

Those students seemed warm to what they heard.  Of course, not all agreed, but many had fun and heard practical ideas for relationships.  Christian workers and students contacted inquirers personally to share Christ with unbelievers and help new believers such as Gary to become established in faith.

God had used the outreach to glorify Himself.  But it might not have happened without a significant setback.

A Significant Setback and Sound Advice

A few years earlier, before I had researched sex in depth, I spoke in an Arizona State University human sexuality class.  I communicated true concepts about love and sex but did not seem to be getting through, especially about premarital sex.  Though students applauded politely, effective connection was lacking.

Later in private, my wife – an accomplished writer, author and teacher of communication – told me, “You’re a good speaker, but you’re not a great speaker.  You could be a great speaker if you worked at it.”

After my blood stopped boiling, I asked what she meant.  She said I needed to research this topic thoroughly, discover critics’ objections to biblical views, develop answers from a Christian perspective and find respected secular experts who support those answers.  I should start where my listeners’ minds and hearts were, use logic and emotion to move step-by-step to where I wanted them to be, and eliminate red flags.  I should write out my presentation and practice it so I could deliver it naturally and personally.

Whew!  That would be a lot of work!  I balked at first, but decided to follow her advice.  I’m glad I did.  I don’t claim to be a great speaker, but that counsel has made the difference between a half-attentive audience and one where most listeners are fully attentive, many awaiting the next story, laugh or insight.

By God’s grace, university students, professors, television and radio audiences, magazine and newspaper readers and Internet surfers around the globe have been touched for Christ because wise counsel helped turn a weak presentation into an effective one.  (You can view the “Dynamic Sex” article here.)

What happened to Gary?  He and his wife, Debbie, have seen fruit that spans the globe. Their Utah State University disciples helped establish an ongoing ministry there that continued reaching lost students.  Some of their California disciples went on to lead people to Christ for years through an international music outreach.

The Fullers helped build a thriving national ministry in Ukraine and now reach and disciple professionals in Colorado and abroad.  They’ve assisted Central Asians in touching predominantly Muslim regions with God’s good news.

Lessons for Reaching Secular Universities

Consider some lessons this story might offer for secular university outreach.

  • Sow broadly.  Secular universities are filled with needy people.  One-on-one and small group ministry are crucial, but also consider campus-wide outreaches as God might lead.  Properly conducted, they can galvanize Christians, draw seekers and skeptics to consider the Savior and create lasting awareness that facilitates personal conversations.
  • Analyze your audience.  Very often, effective outreach scratches where people itch.  Discover what felt needs students and professors have and speak to those, not as ends in themselves but as bridges to real needs.  Sex, of course, interests many students.  Discover their emotions and thoughts on this – or any theme – and fashion your communication accordingly. Be sure your theme has legitimate connection to the Gospel.  You do not want to “bait and switch.”  Love and sex, for example, are quite closely tied to the Gospel, but you must effectively communicate that connection.     
  • Personalize your contact.   Frequently those I greet personally before a meeting – as I did Gary – seem to listen and respond quite positively, even trusting Christ.  Personal follow-up is an important component of most any outreach.  Someone contacted Gary personally and helped him to become established in faith and involved in a community of believers.  Longtime Chi Alpha National Director Dennis Gaylor emphasized, “Believers must make vital relationships with people outside of the church their number one priority.”
  • Use humor and stories.   Good humor can help open minds and hearts.  Like a cool drink on a hot day, it can dissolve tensions, rejuvenate listeners and hold their attention.  One experienced speaker says he tells humorous stories with a specific point.  Then, while listeners’ mouths are open wide with laughter, he can pour down large doses of truth.  Many will listen mainly to your stories.
  • Work hard to communicate well.  Effective communication, whether interpersonal or in groups, can be hard work.  Study communication.  Watch other communicators – Christian and not – who successfully relate to secular individuals and groups.  Observe how they tap felt needs, relate to people emotionally and logically, keep their attention, and get their point across. Apply those lessons to your own ministry.
  • Accept valid criticism.  My first reaction to my wife’s critique was anger.  I felt hurt!  After all, I was serving Christ and speaking to a semi-hostile audience.  Didn’t that deserve praise?  As I put my ego into the back seat, her words made sense.  I am eternally grateful for that painful advice.  I cringe to think of the millions of people who might not have encountered a clear, attractive presentation of Christ had I ignored her. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT).   
  • Trust the Holy Spirit to work in lives over time.  The Holy Spirit used Gary’s friends, the Word, opportunities for ministry and more to help him mature in faith and reach out to others.  Of course, not all come to faith and not all new believers are born running.  A variety of complex factors – including background, personality, spiritual forces and individual circumstances – influence receptivity and growth.

Our job is to be faithful communicators and friends as we team with other believers.  Paul wrote, “We’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. …The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6, 8 NLT).

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.

Copyright © 2022 Rusty Wright

This article first appeared in Enrichment Journal.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

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