COURSE IN EVANGELISM:
ENRICHMENT 3: College Evangelisation Strategy
The following material is taken, with permission, from a CONECAR '84 Workshop Paper, and revised. It is included with this course because it helps us to focus on the strategic importance of the tertiary campus and to develop a useful philosophy of campus ministry. It is suggested that you read the paper, then work through the attached guideline questions.
1. How Campus Years can be Critical
2. Critical Strategic Factors
2.1 How Should we Understand our Evangelistic Mandate?
2.2 Approaches in Evangelisation
2.3 Problems to be Tackled
3. Conclusions and Recommendations
INTRODUCTION: College and University students are a privileged and important fraction of the Caribbean's population. Whether by dint of hard work, native brilliance, or influential connexions, our region's tertiary students have been chosen for the kind of training that will prepare them to be our future teachers, professionals, scientists, academics, politicians and other community leaders.
At the same time, the years a student spends in College or University are also often a time for personal growth and change, which may issue in dramatic and radical reorientation of beliefs, values, commitments and direction in life. Often, such new orientations set the trajectory for the rest of the student's life.
The birth of the Charismatic Movement in Jamaica provides a striking example. In 1964, Peter Morgan and Tony Williamson enrolled in the UWI Mona Campus. They "met there, in the leadership of the Inter Varsity Fellowship, two Guyanese, Alvin Thompson and Winston McGowan."1
They were impressed with Alvin's and Winston's commitment and prayer life, but "regarded the Baptism of the Holy Spirit [a Charismatic Distinctive] as something more akin to Pocomania [a Jamaican cult], perhaps belonging to the small village church and certainly to be regarded with suspicion."2
Both eventually came to believe in and experience this Charismatic Distinctive Phenomenon during their course of study on the campus. They have since gone on to become key leaders in the Charismatic Movement in Jamaica. That movement, from small beginnings in the 1970's, has had significant impact on Jamaican church life through its teaching, conferences, stress on discipleship and fellowship, leadership training, the injection of a charismatic flavour into a generation of youth in the church in the 1970's and 1980's, and through the establishment of several charismatic congregations, "forming a worshipping community of more than 1,000 [by 1984]."3
As Grace Gordon notes, "The influence of these two Guyanese was the dynamic element which marks the beginning of the Charismatic Movement in Jamaica."4 In short, this Movement, which can fairly be said to have dramatically influenced the life of the church in Jamaica and the region as a whole, was born out of the influence of two students on two other students, issuing in a radical reorientation of their lives -- Peter Morgan, for one, had previously been "known more for his prowess on the athletics track and football field than for his commitment to Christ."5
My thesis, then, is that tertiary students are in training to become leaders in our schools, churches, communities and countries, and are simultaneously passing through a critical stage in their personal growth and maturation. This implies that tertiary institutions and their student bodies occupy a strategic, perhaps a decisively strategic, niche in Caribbean society. Further, it justifies and demands that we focus significant attention on and commit adequate resources and personnel to the evangelisation of the tertiary campus and its student body.
In the rest of this paper, I will first explore the developmental psychology of the tertiary student in a little more depth, review important factors that should inform our strategy, point out some practical problems, then draw conclusions and make recommendations about campus evangelism strategy.
1. How Campus Years can be Critical
During particular periods of his life, a person faces certain developmental tasks, arising from "processes of physical maturation, cultural processes and pressures, and the desires, aspirations, and values of the emerging personality."6
Gene Denham, a Counselling Psychologist on the staff of the SCFSU, has described five such tasks that confront tertiary students7:
1. Resolution of the Child-Parent Relationship;
2. Solidifying a Sexual Identity;
3. The formation of a Personal Value System;
4. Developing the capacity for True Intimacy;
5. Choosing a Life's Work.
The list is formidable, and easily explains the dramatic and radical changes some students experience during their course of study on the tertiary campus. I can never forget the lady from my local congregation who begged me not to become like her son, who "went out with his Bible at the top of his suitcase, and came back with it at the bottom."
Gene's comments on Value Systems are particularly trenchant:
We are raised with a set of values and beliefs, primarily those of parents, siblings, church, school, and community. For values to become internalised, they must be reflected on, and made the objects of our best efforts and judgement in decision making . . .
Many students (Christians, too!) have never worked at the former. If we conceptualise the College experience as a situation in which one is confronted daily by radically differing value systems, be they religious, political, economic, racial, philosophical, and whether they be presented by peers, profs, or pals, we will see why there may be so many Christian victims in this area -- especially in the first year. The total collapse of the value system can follow and is a catastrophe of major proportions . . .
The alternative to this is for friends to recognise the symptoms and offer support through this period. Or, students may find another set of values (often ready-made) and swallow it whole -- at least for now.8
The dynamics are neutral. They explain how a student, having his Christian faith sharply challenged for the first time, may lose it. They also show how such a challenge, providing the student has good support and is willing to seek or accept help, can greatly strengthen his faith. (Further, they imply that it might be a good idea for our churches to prepare prospective College students to face the challenges they will meet on campus, by helping them to think through their basic values and beliefs. Certainly, it is better to face hard questions first in a supportive home and church environment than as a disoriented freshman.)
Moreover, the dynamics indicate that the first step in succesful evangelism on the tertiary campus is to listen to and analyse the issues that confront the College or University student. An approach to the gospel and evangelism that cannot relate the Christian message to the hard questions asked by Philosophy, Science, History, Sociology, Psychology, Politics and other vital areas has no business being on the campus. Nor will a merely defensive approach do! Instead, we must boldly put forward challenging theses about the human predicament and put forward a Christian agenda for the future. College students, quite literally, embody that future! How else will we be able to fill the future leaders of our region with "the fulness of Christ"?9
2. Critical Strategic Factors
Three factors, the nature of our mandate, the feasibility of various approaches to evangelism, and specific hindrances must be addressed before we can draw appropriate conclusions and make recommendations.
2.1 How Should we Understand our Evangelistic Mandate?
The Great Commission falls into three parts: first, Jesus boldly declared his authority; second, he instructed his disciples, and through them, us, to make disciples; third, he promised his presence, thus his guidance, protection and power.10
The central point is "make disciples," by baptising those who commit themselves to Jesus and teaching them to obey his commands. Since baptism is contingent on repentance from sin and believing upon Jesus as Lord and Saviour11, the Commission clearly implies that we must preach, argue and counsel, using the gospel. Nevertheless, this is not where the stress falls -- gospel preaching is the means to the end, discipleship. Thus, we need to come to view evangelism in a new (but only new to us!) way, to define it in terms of discipleship.
Mathetes, the word we translate "disciple," basically means "a student or an apprentice."12 Jesus modelled his meaning himself, when he called the twelve out from his circle of followers to be with him, to follow him to death if necessary, to share a common life under a law of total, self-sacrificing love, and to send them out with the gospel, initiating the ongoing WIN, NURTURE, SEND cycle of Christian Discipleship.13
The basic principle behind this process of discipling within a framework of nurturing relationships is both simple and powerful: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student [disciple] is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher."14
It is therefore no surprise to read the secret of the very first church's powerful witness:
Those who accepted [the gospel] message were baptised . . . They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.15
The pattern can be summarised:
1.) Holy Spirit-empowered preaching, often accompanied by signs and wonders, cut hearts and brought men face to face with the issue of repentance. Those who committed themselves to Christ were then baptised, which was the visible mark of such commitment.
2.) A nurturing community developed, with stresses on teaching, sharing (even of possessions), prayer, praise, large meetings (in the temple) and small meetings (in homes).
3.) Evangelistic witness was a daily aspect of church life, leading to a steady flow of new converts. In the light of Acts 8:1,4: "all except the apostles were scattered . . . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went," it is clear that this daily outreach involved the general membership, not just a select few leaders -- which also had the added benefit that gaoling or killing the leaders and scattering the followers simply accelerated the spreading of the gospel.
Clearly, this example has much to say to us today . Still, it does not capture the whole picture. We also must factor in Paul's explanation of why Jesus came:
( . . . He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some [to be leaders] . . . to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ . . . . speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.16
Jesus came to fill the whole Universe with his glory. This is to happen as each disciple, acting in love, does his or her part to build the unity and maturity of his body, the Church. Leaders are to train and coordinate, not dominate -- and the Church must not be split into two classes: those who minister, and those who only come to receive ministry. Instead, each believer must view himself as called to serve Christ and must work out that call from God in every aspect of his life.
Thus, our overall task is to fill the world in each of its aspects -- family, education, arts, sports, business, science, politics, whatever -- with the glory of Christ. It is to this end that we seek to win, nurture and send out disciples into the whole world. Therefore, evangelism must be integrated into this overall vision of the grand mandate of the Church under the Lordship of Jesus.
2.2 Approaches in Evangelisation
We do not lack for variety in models of how to evangelise!
There are mass crusades of the type led by Billy Graham and Louis Palau. There are gospel concerts, evangelistic plays and coffee houses. We have Christian radio and TV. Magazines and books are sent by mail, or attract our attention in bookstores and on magazine and book racks, not to mention booktables. Classified Ad sections tell us about correspondence courses. Some ministries stress evangelising one's friends; some promote evangelistic group Bible Studies; others stress street witnessing or go knocking on doors. The variety is almost endless.
Amidst this dazzling variety, however, we need to heed Becky Manley-Pippert's caution:
Much of our evangelism is ineffective because we depend too much on technique and strategy. Evangelism has slipped into the sales department. I am convinced that we must look at Jesus and the quality of life that he calls us to, as a model for what to believe and how to reach out to others.17
The punch in evangelism does not so much lie in preaching techniques as in discipleship. Therefore, as we consider questions of technique or tactics, we must bear their subsidiary nature in mind. If techniques get out of hand, there is a well documented danger that they may become manipulative, twisting perceptions and emotions to produce "conversions" more akin to brainwashing than to the new birth.18 (The impact of various cults and manipulative sects on campuses over the past few decades clearly shows that this danger is all too real.)
As we try to work with students on campus, it will soon become clear that some approaches fit better than others. Students are crowded together in labs, lectures, tutorials, cafeterias and dorms, and may be together for months or years at a time, so they tend to know one another. Evangelistic approaches which force students to act like strangers, such as door-knocking, will be seen to be artificial and inappropriate. There are two major exceptions: large campuses with large numbers of commuting students (who usually have little time for extracurricular activities) and the orientation period at the beginning of the year, during which time students are just getting to know one another.
Tracts also often fail to fit in well. It seems that it is mainly Christians who bother to read them. One look at a typical tract tells us why: stereotypical story, fine print, crowded layout, poor paper. Poor aesthetics, in short. Tracts which are topical and use good graphics, especially the layout principles of the high quality comic book, can work quite well. Chick Publications has many good examples of effective tracts (at least in terms of layout); they could be used as models for us to use as we design our own, which is the absolute best way to get just what we desire. (A rather effective related technique is to use printed invitations to an outreach event, which makes it much easier for students to broach spiritual issues as they invite friends, acquaintances and strangers.)
Everyone loves good music, dance and drama -- and tertiary students are no exception. A good variety concert or play will draw students who would never otherwise go to an outreach event. Indeed, during the 1980's, on the Mona Campus, Christian drama groups competed in drama competitions and built up a formidable reputation for excellence, which multiplied the reach and effectiveness of their ministry and drew significant national attention. These performing arts can work as powerful vehicles for exposing hidden attitudes, showing that the Christian faith gives strength in the face of the hard questions and problems posed by life in the real world, and forcing audiences to face up to the claims of Christ. Nor is this power confined to the stage: impromptu skits, street drama and street concerts can be every inch as effective. (For that matter, role play and discussion is a powerful training tool for personal evangelism and other areas of discipleship.)
Classic mass evangelistic meetings can also be effective. We must, however, bear the unbeliever in mind as we plan and present such a meeting. We may enjoy forty five minutes of choruses, an hour length sermon and a fifteen minute altar call; often, the unbeliever, coaxed to come, sees two hours of wasted study time and feels uncomfortable simply because he does not fit in with the Evangelical sub-culture. Further, if ninety seven out of a hundred students in attendance are known members of the campus Fellowship (usually because only one or two have brought their friends), the meeting may simply be a colossal waste of time, effort and money.
Cafeteria tables are great places for wide-ranging informal discussion. A few well-placed comments or questions can often bring the gospel into the conversation -- all it requires is an ear for issues which the gospel has something to say to, directly or by implication or even imagery (look at how Jesus spoke with the woman at the well!). It is wise not to do this with every conversation, however; those who hog conversations will soon be known as bores.
Book tables under shady trees, "liming" sessions in dorm blocks and similar unhurried places and times can also provide similar opportunities, as can video (or audio) tape presentations.
A panel discussion, or a debate, or a presentation by a well-known speaker, if focussed on an issue which students feel strongly about, will pull out the crowds and trigger much subsequent discussion. Just make sure the publicity and the meeting itself are well organised.
What about the local congregation? This requires us to first answer another question: why do college and university students go to church?
Some go because they are Christians. Others, religious but not born again, go out of a sense of need or duty, or even simply out of habit. Some are honestly seeking answers to their questions. Frankly, some -- especially some young men -- are seeking sex. By and large, however, unbelievers are not likely to attend worship services regularly.
Good programming -- topical debates, problem solving workshops, student socials, perhaps a good concert or play -- may lure unbelievers. I wonder, though, whether this should be the primary effort of the local congregation seeking to have a student ministry.
My unease is simple to state: "come" versus "go." Doesn't it seem slightly odd that we spend so much time, money and effort on trying to invite the unbeliever to "come" to our crusades, concerts and services when Jesus commanded us to "go" into the world with the gospel?
Should we not rather emphasise the building of solid disciples fired with the vision that all the world, including the tertiary campus, must bow the knee and confess Jesus as Lord? What if the young people from our congregations were trained, commended and sent out to the campus as missionaries targetted on the next generation of community leaders?
2.3 Problems to be Tackled
The following are only put forward because they are the proverbial slice of the cake which "has in it all the ingredients."
1.) Nearly all students on campuses in the Commonwealth Caribbean have already heard the basic gospel message. How can we break through their indifference, their confusion, and their cynicism about the hypocrisy, worldliness and ineffectiveness of so many who profess to be Christians?
2.) Many Christian students are afraid to open their mouths to bear witness to Christ, for fear of ridicule, refutation and possible persecution. Too often, they have never had even basic training in sharing the gospel and handling the intellectual and social challenges Christians face on a typical highly secularised campus. Given this, it is no surprise to discover that they are unable to articulate what their faith has to say about important social, academic, or political issues.
3.) The spillover of sectarian squabbling into the campus causes disunity among Christian students, discredits the gospel and dishonours the name of Christ. The resultant proliferation of tiny sectarian groups dramatically weakens the force of Christian student influence on the campus, and thus also reduces the calibre of future Christian community leaders.
4.) Sometimes, there is a gap in understanding and trust between youths in congregations and some of the older more influential members. This tends to drive students and recent graduates away, and makes those who remain hold back from service in the church, or to become confrontational. It also reduces feedback from the young people to the point where the church's ministry may simply fail to address their needs.
5.) Enthusiasm for spiritual truth and service can lead to neglect of academic work, especially during the deceptively lightly loaded period at the start of the year or semester. Disaster can result.
3. Conclusions and Recommendations
As has become clear, our mandate is far broader than just the making of converts; instead, we are expected to disciple the nations, filling every aspect of life in the world with the glory of Christ under his Lordship. This first implies that we must clarify what discipleship is, how it works in real life, and how we should go about discipling the nations.
An examination of the first century paradigm reveals a clear pattern: Christ gives leaders to the Church, who work with a community of witness, nurture, worship, prayer and mission, to train and coordinate its members as they work together (in love, truth, power and holiness) to build the unity and maturity of the Church in the image of Christ. As this happens, the Church disciples each nation and generation -- the world is extended in both space and time -- under the Lordship of Christ.
Education and leadership are thus central to the purpose of the church. A focus on the tertiary campus is a natural outcome of these emphases, since the assigned task of Colleges and Universities is the education of the next generation of leadership for our communities and nations. Thus, if we ignore the challenge to evangelise the tertiary student, we may well be yielding without contest the decisive high ground in the spiritual battle for the Caribbean.
We must therefore have a clear and powerful strategy for the evangelisation of college and university students:
1.) Ideally, a campus ministry should operate as a united expression of the body of Christ on that campus, under the united corporate leadership of the Church in the community or nation within which the campus is located, since it is the unity of the Church which is the ultimate demonstration of the truth of the gospel.19 Sadly, such united corporate leadership, as a rule, does not exist. In its absence, such a ministry should maintain strong links to a broad array of church leaders in the community or nation, and should firmly stand for the visible unity of the Christian community on the campus and in the wider community, without compromising the fundamental truths of the Faith.
2.) The operations of such a campus ministry should emphasise the WIN, NURTURE, SEND cycle of discipleship, within the framework of the vision that the purpose of the Church is to fill all of life -- including the academic, the professional, the socio-political, the cultural, the commercial, and the familial spheres -- with the fulness of Christ. This will demand that Bible Study, teaching and training, fellowship, body ministry and nurture, prayer and worship, and evangelistic outreach and missions, receive their due and balanced emphasis.
3.) The central structural feature of such a ministry should be the cell or small group. Cells are ideal for nurture and training; easily support dyadic sub-groups focussed on specific individual needs; provide exposure and opportunities for developing and expressing gifts, skills and leadership; can be integrated into larger group structures; and are simply the most flexible, handy structures available to us for ministry to students.
4.) Students involved in the ministry will require basic training in sharing the gospel on campus (and, often, in general) and in handling the challenges to their faith which they are likely to encounter. Support for students going through personal value system crises, as pointed out by Gene Denham, will also be important.
5.) Most students will only be on campus for a few years, so support staff who provide continuity, training resources and long term planning support are a vital part of the strategy.
6.) A strong emphasis on student involvement in the wider Christian community, especially attachment to a specific local congregation, helps them to maintain a focus on body life and ministry, as well as support and ready-made outlets for ministry in the post-campus phase of a student's life.
7.) This post-campus phase is a vital part of any student evangelisation strategy which aims to reach the future leaders of the community -- if graduates flounder, fail to become effective church and community leaders or generally backslide, then the student strategy has failed. Therefore, we must explicitly address the challenges graduates and prospective church and community leaders will face:
- Marriage, singleness, sexuality and family life are the single most important challenges students will face in life.
- Graduates will have to learn how to become positive change agents in the family, congregation, workplace and community.
- As the most highly educated Christians in the community, they must be able to lead the church as it struggles against the forces which seek to secularise and/or paganise our culture and isolate the Church to a narrow religious ghetto. In particular, they must deal with issues in the media, professional ethics, law, education, the arts, government and politics.
- Finally, they must view themselves as bound to obey the mandate to disciple the nations and fill the world with the fulness of Christ under his Lordship.
1.) Are you "bound to obey the mandate to disciple the nations and fill the world with the fulness of Christ under his Lordship"? What are some specific steps you can take towards this end during and after your course of College or University studies?
2.) When you hear words such as "evangelism," "outreach," "witnessing," and "discipleship," what are the images that come to mind? What does the Bible actually say about these things?
3.) This paper argues that tertiary students are in training to become the future leaders of the community, and that they are simultaneously passing through a critical stage in personal growth. Do you agree? How should your perspective on this issue inform your approach to living and serving Christ as a student? A graduate?
4.) How should your perspective on the strategic potential of the tertiary student inform how you interact with your fellow students as a disciple of Christ?
5.) Gene Denham lists five Developmental Tasks faced by typical tertiary students. How should you address them in your cell group? How can you apply them to your witnessing?
6.) Draw up an outline plan for following up the people who come to Christ as your cell group works to reach out to students on your campus.
7.) How could your ideas be applied to large scale outreach efforts on your campus? To your home congregation and community?
8.) It has been said that many Christians who were zealous on campus simply fade into the background or even backslide after graduation. What are some ways this could happen? How can you work to counteract this trend?