Does This Sound Like You?
- Are you someone who has to be around not-yet-believing seekers or else you go into withdrawal?
- Are you somewhat spontaneous and often late for meetings because you just can't help but get into evangelistic conversations?
- Do you ever get a weird urge in the middle of a large-group meeting to rebuke everyone who hasn't led another person to Christ in the past 24 hours?
- Do you hate going to evangelistic events because you think you could do a better job preaching the gospel than the celebrity evangelist who's been invited to speak?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you may be an evangelist at heart, and you may even have the spiritual gift of evangelism.
But it's also likely that you have yet to find your niche in the life of your campus fellowship. Read on if you're feeling like a square peg in a round hole.
If these questions seem absolutely foreign to you, be aware that there really are people who thrive on active evangelistic engagement. This article is for you, too.
Meeting My First "Natural" Evangelist
After I gave a dorm talk in Santa Lucia Hall at Cal Poly State, several students signed up for a Group Investigating God with me. In the weeks that followed, four of these students committed their lives to Jesus. Sometimes new converts make the best evangelists, and it wasn't long before one of the new believers introduced me to her friend, Cathy. After a short discussion, Cathy gave her life to Jesus and I met my first true student evangelist. During the next two years, Cathy personally led some 20 students to Christ and planted seeds in countless others.
Cathy could be intelligent or simple, spaced out or captivating, depending on the person with whom she spoke. For example, after presenting the gospel one time, Cathy asked a young woman if she was ready to pray to receive Christ. The woman replied, "This is a huge decision. I need unlimited time to think about it." Cathy, with a twinkle in her eye, replied, "You won't have unlimited time until you pray." The student realized Cathy was right, and prayed to receive Christ, accepting his gift of eternal life.
On another occasion, Cathy was answering questions after one of her evangelistic dorm talks, and a student proposed that there were many ways to God. He suggested that, just as in the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, one could come to different interpretations depending upon one's own perspective of God. Therefore, all opinions were equally valid, and Cathy was wrong to insist that only Jesus was the sure path to God. Cathy simply replied, "God is not an elephant," and the dorm lounge sat in silent awe. That was Cathy: a natural evangelist. (Incidentally, my first child is named after her.)
But what should an InterVarsity chapter do with someone like Cathy? She was also extremely faithful, a capable Bible discussion leader, and a talented artist. Every year, the chapter leaders considered Cathy for leadership positions because of her faithfulness and expertise, and every year we passed her over. Why? We determined that she was such a natural and effective evangelist that we wanted to keep her free to do her thing.
While we are all called to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), very few are uniquely gifted in this area. When such gifted people surface, they should be commissioned and freed up to use their gift.
Find Your Place in Your Fellowship
If you are someone like Cathy, finding your place in an InterVarsity chapter can be difficult. Often, campus fellowships don't know what to do with evangelists. Evangelists are frequently placed in the mainstream leadership cycle; consequently, they are then pulled out of their primary arena of effectiveness. They often end up feeling frustrated. In other situations, student leaders ignore evangelists, causing them to become lonely and disconnected from supportive fellowship.
This does not have to happen to you. With a proper attitude and a little help from your Christian community, you won't have to feel like a square peg in a round hole. What can be done?
- Let others know about your gift. Meet with your staff or a student leader to make some yearly goals for training, accountability, and opportunities to try out new things in evangelism.
- Find a safe place to report all that God is doing through you. Everyone needs some form of accountability, but I have found that evangelists need someone they can call to rehash evangelistic conversations. Almost every night for two years, Cathy called me with the daily evangelistic scuttlebutt. I have found this "reporting" to be an extremely important part of a young evangelist's discipleship. These things can't wait for a weekly "one on one."
- Stay connected to other believers. You'll need them to follow up some of your conversations, and to disciple students you lead to Christ. The Christian community itself is also a powerful evangelistic tool. Not everyone is drawn to Jesus by an individual, so you'll want to be able to connect new believers to your community.
- Attend chapter training events, camps, and conferences. You need to mature in all ways. Don't sign up to do administrative tasks or make flyers. We wouldn't even let Cathy be the evangelism coordinator--that's an administrative position. A student with a heart for evangelism--but perhaps with a gift of administration--can be the coordinator. You are a resource, not a coordinator of resources.
- Train others in your craft. For most evangelists, this will mean bringing students along with you to watch you in action.
Watch Out for Common Pitfalls
As with all spiritual gifts, it is easy to let our human side get in the way of what God is doing. Please learn from my mistakes and be aware of the following sinful attitudes:
- Winning the world, losing your soul. Maintain your spiritual disciplines. Your personal relationship with Jesus comes before the salvation of your campus.
- Being "too far out there." Sometimes you are so good at bonding with seekers that you begin to pick up "souvenirs from hell." Are you tempted to drink too much at parties? Are you finding yourself flirting with the opposite sex to get into evangelistic conversations? Are you beginning to have serious feelings for a non-believer? Are you distorting or compromising the facts of the gospel to "make a sale"? Having a good accountability partner and belonging to a small group will help you avoid the pitfalls of being too far out there.
- Thinking everyone should be like you. Evangelists can be prideful about having "up-front" gifts, about their freedom to be "out on the edge," or about doing God's "real work." Don't be critical of others with different gifts. Model, teach, and train, but don't criticize others or other activities. You need other Christians in your fellowship to advance the gospel at your school. I knew a student who spent most of his time criticizing the chapter for not being as radical as he was. When it came time for him to recruit supporters for his cause, no one responded. He had lost everyone's trust because of his hostility.
Go for It
God has sovereignly placed evangelists at universities all over the world. With a proper attitude and a little help from your Christian community, your experience in college can be one of personal growth and fruitful harvest.
Have you found other ways to find your niche as an evangelist in your fellowship? Are there other tips you have for avoiding the common pitfalls mentioned above? Share in a comment below.