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.
Chi Alpha at the University of Central Arkansas has garnered significant media coverage in Assemblies of God circles, and justifiably so. God has not been asleep at UCA.
Chi Alpha campus pastor Matt Carpenter and his wife, Kiki, serve in Conway, home of the UCA Bears. They’ve seen God changing lives and enlarging the borders of their campus ministry. Much of what has happened appears to be a response to prayer.
Matt explains, “God placed it on my heart that we should set aside this room in our offices and seek after God corporately for 24 hours a day for a week and that I was supposed to present that to the leaders.” He had 25 or 30 student leaders then, so corporate 24/7 prayer would require daily shifts of about two hours per student.
Surprisingly, by the end of the week, students did not seem worn out or feel overcommitted. “They couldn’t wait to pray more,” Matt recalls. One week became two, three, four and eventually five weeks during the remainder of that semester.
Things took off. “We saw God do more in that 5 weeks than I’d seen in the two-and-a-half years previous to that on this campus,” Matt remembers. He says people became filled with the Holy Spirit and delivered from lifelong strongholds. Meeting attendance climbed from 125 to as high as 450. Students began to initiate their own ministries. Lives were changed,
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (TPE) tells of Cale Mills who, though outwardly successful, struggled with guilt over a dark secret. Cale had been addicted to Internet pornography since adolescence and contemplated suicide. “By the world’s standards, I looked like somebody who had a great life,” he told TPE. “But I hadn’t yet had a personal encounter with the Spirit of God.”
As Mills struggled with depression, he had an experience with the Lord that helped turn his life around. He explains, “In that moment I felt such love that I knew He had been there all along. … I was also aware of my sin and I just kept telling God, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.'”
He found freedom from his porn addiction, became a ministry student leader, and produced promotional Chi Alpha videos.
Jody McCall, a UCA student, had struggled with depression for years, since she was in about the fifth grade. She asked the women in her prayer group to pray that a demonic presence would go away. The women laid hands on her and prayed. Jody says that that not long after, “I felt this presence just leave me.” She returned to her apartment and says the gloomy presence was “gone.”
Matt encourages students to minister in their own circles of influence. Ian Goodman, former UCA soccer captain, began a Bible study with nonChristian soccer players. At least four indicated decisions for Christ.
Polar bear baptisms
Enthusiasm for Christ grew so much that Matt even baptized people outside at a lake during midwinter so new believers would not have to wait for warmer days. It seems these UCA Bears are polar bears. .
The fatherhood of God has been an important focus at UCA, and for compelling personal reasons. Many students today come from broken homes – or homes with emotionally detached fathers – and lack the stability and security that come from knowing their fathers love them. As a result, it can be psychologically difficult for these students to connect with God as a loving Father.
Matt’s own father was an alcoholic who at times was violent towards Matt’s mother. His parents separated when he was eleven. As his world fell apart, he cried out to God. “That’s the day Jesus became real to me,” he exclaims. Eventually, both parents trusted Christ as Savior, his dad’s alcoholism came under control, and his parents reconciled. God’s love shines in his ministry.
Matt made paper, pens and paint available so students could write on the walls of the Chi Alpha office prayer room what God was showing them. Matt added a reference from Ezekiel 37, the story about God breathing life into dry bones and making them into an army: “A lot of people look at the university campus and they think, That’s just a valley of dry bones. Nothing good can come out of it.”
Matt believed God would raise an army at UCA. “God’s doing it,” he observes. “He’s raising up an army on this campus. These are things that I’ve only seen in my spirit’s eye. I’m starting to see them with my eyes now.”
Lessons for reaching secular audiences
What lessons might God have for campus ministers from this account of His work at UCA? Consider several.
Pray. Then pray some more.
Things took off when UCA believers focused on prayer. One is reminded of the early believers who were “continually” devoted to prayer: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43 NASB).
You have probably seen God’s response to your prayers. But, how much prayer is enough? Should you implement UCA’s 24/7 corporate prayer strategy? What if you lack sufficient people to fill the slots? Mary, Jesus’ mother, offered wise counsel. It’s from a different context, but the advice applies: “Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it” (John 2:5 NASB).
Rejoice over changed lives
Even though Matt has seen a significant increase in ministry numbers, he seems more concerned about changed lives. Certainly measuring results is important. The Bible includes numbers (3,000 new believers in Acts 2:41; 5,000 fed in John 6:1-14; etc.) that bring glory to God. But sometimes an over emphasis on numbers can distort what ministry is all about – touching people for the Lord Jesus.
Also, response numbers and audience sizes can reflect many factors, including campus spiritual soil, geography, and academic climate. Don’t necessarily become discouraged if your ministry numbers are not as high as those you read about. Our responsibility is to be faithful. “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NASB).
Bloom where you’re planted
Matt encourages Chi Alpha students to minister in their affinity groups: clubs, athletic teams, etc. God has given your students natural connections with nonbelievers through their daily activities and associations. Often these nonbelievers trust your Christian students because they know them and feel comfortable around them. One friend described the church as “God’s Trojan Horse,” infiltrating society. These connections can spread the Gospel.
Get priorities straight
Matt commented that “God is raising up students that are saying, ‘I’m not here for an education. I’m not here for athletics. I’m not here to join a club on campus. I’m here to serve God and to see His glory displayed in my life.'” In other words, their main purpose is not their education or campus activities but serving God.
While such a perspective may trouble parents paying steep university bills or who have other long-term aspirations for their offspring, the perspective is proper. After all, shouldn’t we all – regardless of our occupation – be concerned about God’s will?
I vividly recall as a student attending a Bible study in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at which the speaker issued this challenge: “Are you a student who happens to be a Christian? Or are you a Christian who happens to be a student?” That concept resonated deep within my spirit. Of course, I did not want to neglect my studies and wanted to do a responsible job academically. But most of all, I wanted to serve God and glorify Him.
The questions have broader relevance. Are you a businessperson – or nurse, salesperson, construction worker, parent, journalist, campus minister, etc. – who happens to be a Christian? Or are you a Christian who happens to do whatever it is you do?
Connect with personal pain
Matt’s painful youth – his father’s alcoholism, his parents’ strife – deeply affected him. God’s love became his anchor. As he indicates, many students today face similar struggles. Being honest about our own pain and meeting students with Christ’s compassion and love can help open wounded hearts and turn lost students into godly disciples.
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 Raychel Sanner on Unsplash