A Christian who attempts to spread the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ, arrives upon an abundance of impediments which were not present in American society in the recent past. Students, both in college and high school were once allowed to wear shirts which portrayed the image of Jesus or a Bible verse without being harassed. Prayers could be said at football games and teachers were even allowed to confess their faith in class. Fast forward to the 21st century and no mentioning of Jesus in the public schools is allowed. In California, a law was recently passed which forbade history classes from discussing any historical document which mentioned the name of Jesus or Christianity in any way. Every effort is being made to replace God and Jesus in the classroom with philosophy and all other aspects of humanism which the schools and their secular disciples are flocking to in order to worship. All of the above mentioned make it increasingly difficult for anyone who wished to adhere to the Great Commission found in the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and which according to the Bible, is the reason why Christians are here on this earth: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Bible, 2000 pg. 788) However, despite attending a secular university which seeks to become more secular with each passing decade, there are still ways in which the message and good news of Jesus Christ may be spread.
Being able to evangelize and produce favorable results are becoming harder and harder every year. Polls show a growing number of respondents who report having an unfavorable opinion of religion in America. While Christians are being made fun of on a regular basis on television, film and the media, it has now become acceptable and even an important aspect of any stand up comedian’s routine; to make fun of Christians or Christianity in some way, shape of form. This disallows the unsaved from taking Christianity seriously and being compelled to look into their own heart and soul as they ask themselves: “Where they will I spend eternity?” The affluence that Americans have, seem to work against them as people, both saved and unsaved, do not feel compelled to come to God when they are without trouble in their life. America is the most affluent country in the history of the world. Americans have more possessions than our ancestors just forty or fifty years could have imagined. With this affluence comes an apathy towards religion; an apathy which prevents one from putting forth the effort to come to church, read their Bible and admit that they are a sinner and need the redeeming power and love of Jesus Christ. This is true as well for the saved who has fallen away from Jesus. Every Christian, at one time or another, has slipped away from their walk with Jesus because of the lack of pain and trouble which would usually compel them to be in church every day and to abstain from their daily diet of television in order to read their Bible. Many times, these Christians have formed enough of a foundation within their own walk with God, that they are eventually reminded to get close to God once again. It is with a redoubled resistance that those who have never had that relationship with Jesus, have never felt the need to repent of their sins that makes it even less likely that they will respond to the call of Jesus to repent of their sins.
The other problem comes from 21st century American society and is perpetuated by the church. In a recent Gallop poll, over 86% of Americans refer to themselves as Christians with another 9% believing in some sort of higher power or consider them “religious.” ( Page, 2005 pg. A16) If this is the case, then how can abortion be legal and gay marriage gaining strength in our society and in certain church denominations? The latter seems almost unthinkable, yet its influence continues to grow among Christians who have become anethetistized by our secular culture. How can there be nearly 20,000 murders a year and nine million cases of identity theft in the past three years? (Page 2000 pg. A16) How can there be a generation of Christians who believe that those who are without Christ will somehow gain entrance into heaven? The latter point is the most damaging and perhaps puzzling point of all. That is until we take a look at the society which those who seek to evangelize, will be pitted up against.
Even the most conservative denominations in Christianity shrink back from sermons that deal with hell and the dangers of the unsaved going to hell. It is said that those such sermons; the fire and brimstone sermons which were staples of a religious diet in the 19th century and early 29th century revivals, make people feel too uncomfortable. “I have been a Baptist for the last fourteen years and can recall only one sermon which dealt with the dangers of those who die without Christ and going to hell.” (Meyers, 2006 pg. A3) So says Marie Byrne, a parishioner at the University Baptist Church in Central Illinois. Another, an elderly woman at the First Methodist Church in Silver Springs, Maryland stated: “I enjoyed the old fire and brimstone sermons. They made me felt uncomfortable but the thought and danger of going to hell should make people uncomfortable. It served its purpose.” ( Meyers, 2006 pg A3) The lack of such sermons in the modern Christian church of today makes it that much harder for those who wish to minister the good news of the Gospel, yet is asked why one should accept Jesus when life is going so well for them and as it is shown in both our society and in a growing number of American churches, that there is no hell and all those who think themselves to be good people will gain entrance into heaven. This is another of the chief impediments which the modern evangelist has when trying to convince those who do not have the benefit of the saving grace of Jesus, will die and live in eternal fire and damnation.
Now, when it comes to wanting to evangelize in the university campuses around this country, there is a final and most stringent impediment which every Christian who has gone to a secular college in the last 30 years has experienced: the liberal professors and curriculum which prompts the worship of John Paul Sartre, Voltaire and Thomas Paine and his works The Rights of Man; a study of why, in his mind, the Christian religion consists of lies and superstitions. Absolute truths are seen as unwise and unnecessary. The philosophy of existentialism: the belief that there are no absolute truths and what is good and moral today, will certainly not be the case in the future. Therefore, all of the truths which Christians hold to are now seen as old fashioned and no longer relevant in our modern society. Professors can only talk about the Bible as it relates to literature and when a university is bold enough to offer a “Bible as Literature” class, the syllabus tells the student that not only will the Bible be considered a farcical work of fiction but will be laughed at and made fun of by people and professors who seek to bring down and poke holes in the Christian religion. In the art classes, the works of perverse artists who paint a portrait of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, only to fling elephant dung on and who wishes to call it art, is studied as a masterpiece and those who object to its inflammatory and insensitive nature, simply do not have an eye for art and is close minded. The classical periods which were saturated with religious imagery is nearly ignored and skipped over in favor of more secular works of art which had until now, been always regarded as inferior to the major masterpieces of the history of art.
In the history classes, the Mayflower Compact which states their reason for coming to America and starting a new country: “Having undertaken, for the glories of god, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king & countries, a voyage to plant the first colonies in the Northerner parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly & mutualy in the presence of God, and one of another,…” (Commanger, 1947 pg. 15) Instead, they and others came in order to make money and to trade their goods. The major objections of the Civil War did not come from the abolitionists who cited God and the freedom of man as their stern objection for the sin of slavery but it was rather a tactic by President Lincoln to keep Europe out of the war of because the North was losing and the only reason to free the slaves was for the extra manpower. Martin Luther King Jr. was never a religious leader, a pastor as his father and grandfather before him at the Ebenezer Baptist Church but was a civil rights leader first and foremost who derived his peace protests from the works of Gandhi and Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and not from the teachings of Jesus and his call to “Turn the other Cheek” and “ To love your enemies.” The rewriting of history shows the greater problem of not only the further secularization of our universities but the now bold measures that professors and the universities as a whole are making to move to the edges, all influences and all factors which once credited religion with contributing to the welfare of society and the prevention of its ills.
Despite the truths of all of the above mentioned, it seems that there is no possible way in which one would be successful and his efforts yielded any fruits of the spirit in such a hostile world. However, as hostile to the word and love of Christ is in 21st century America, this country is the shining light on the hill compared to countries such as China, much of the Middle East including the country of Yemen where it is a government sponsored capital offense to profess to be a Christian and in much of Asia. However, with more than 2.1 billion Christians populating the earth and with less than 15% residing in America, there exists millions, or rather billions of Christians who are worshiping in environments which are much less open to the word of God and the love of Jesus.(Page, 2005 pg. A15) In China, there exists over 100 million Christians; many of whom have to worship in secret because if they were found out, they would have their property taken away and some perhaps placed in jail. “Christians are generally the same in all parts of the world as they are brought together with a common love in Jesus Christ.” (Bramadat, 2000 pg. 119) Therefore, there exists now and for many centuries to come, Christians in America who are inspired by the word of God and the love of Jesus as well as others who are searching for meaning in their life; a meaning which all of their toys can not and will not yield to them.
This aforementioned truth helps to alleviate the struggles which the previous points made in relation to the difficulties which evangelists would find on many of our nation’s campuses. People are searching for a life of meaning. “When I came to college, I wanted to party as much as I can, experience the opposite sex as much and just live life. After my freshman year, not only was I threatened with expulsion for my horrible grades, I was left empty inside with no real friends and no one who loved me. I know that must sound corny but it was true.” (Bramadat 2000 pg. 119) This was the true statement from Terry Miller, an incoming Sophomore at the University of Illinois in Champaign Illinois. A campus of more than 30,000 people; the largest in the state and Terry was only a number in a crowd during that first year. However, a great deal started to change when he was invited to an FCA meeting or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Terry was not an athlete but the organization did not exclude anyone who was thirsty for the word of God and the love of Christ. This is the first step in beginning an evangelical program of your own.(www.fca.org) If one is going to being anything on his own, he first must learn what works, while at the same time, not being tempted to alter or diminish the word of God in order to suit one’s own audience.
In the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, people are befriended and a sense of support and community is prevalent within the atmosphere. Studies show that people who enter gangs or who engage in other counterproductive behavior like partaking in drugs, drinking and random sexual experiences; all behaviors which are common at our universities, do so out of boredom and a desire to be loved and to belong. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is an organization which offers all of the above mentioned while teaching about the word of God and how the saving grace of Jesus can be a positive aspect of their life, long after they graduate college. This is what must first be recognized if one expects to form an organization on campus and which is designed to affect and attract college students. The recognition of this problem facing college students and the impediments which prevent them from ever coming to one of these meetings if the first step in this most important process.
Also, in doing so, it also behooves the individual to have the support of other Christians when forming a new ministry on campus. It is highly ironic and counterproductive if the one who is not forming a new ministry on campus, does not already have a church home for himself. As it states in the book of Hebrews concerning the importance of Christians coming together in church attendance: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Bible, 2000 pg. 991) Also, as the Apostle repeats throughout the New Testament books which he authored: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of God.”(Bible, 2000 pg. 1003) An individual and personal foundation, based on the word of God and the love of his son Jesus must first be evident in the life and works of the one who seeks to create a university ministry. People can sense and recognize hypocrisy and when it is evident in the church, the possible convert is lost, perhaps forever.
After one is able to recognize the impediments which he or she faces in the form of an ever increasing secular environment, as well as the importance of forming within themselves a foundation based on the word of God, the next step is to first create a small group. These Bible studies are seen on campuses across the country. They may seem to be a popular and plentiful source of Christian evangelizing but in reality, a university with an enrollment of 10,000 or more, yet with the existence of perhaps ten small groups across campus, and with each small group having not more than 20 people at the very most, only 1% of the student body is being reached. Therefore, if it is the choice of the individual to evangelize, one of the most effective ways is to form a small group. In doing so, a need is being met which church on Sunday has not and as a result, many of the individuals who will come to the small group, has fallen away from organized religion. This leads to another important and completely necessary aspect of a successful evangelical movement on our nation’s campuses: the recognition of the needs of those most likely to attend. This requires walking in the shoes of those who at one time, enjoyed going to church but for some reason or another fell away from regular church attendance. The organizer of the small group might have enjoyed church services as the highlight of his week but regardless of the morality of it, this has not been the case for most college aged Christians. Also, those who attend on a regular basis, a small group Bible study, will be more likely to find a home church while they are away at school. This is one of the most important aspects of the foundation of a ministry on campus.
The next step is to populate the Bible study with anyone who is anxious to learn about the word of God and the love which he has for all of his children. This must come from everyone in the group but the founder of the small group must have enough knowledge of the Scriptures to be able to answer the possible questions which may come from the various people who come to these Bible studies. It may be common knowledge to the organizer that: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Bible, 2000 pg. 959) However, if that verse cannot be shown in the Bible, in the exact passage where it resides, the person is less likely to simply take your word for it but will need proof in the Bible. It may be common knowledge that: “”For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Bible 2000 pg. 947) However, there is a belief that only those who are good or who only perceive themselves to be good will be allowed into heaven. This is not in error of the Gospels, but is a very dangerous and erroneous belief which places their soul in danger of everlasting peril. The ability to find these Bible verses and dozens more are of the highest necessity for one who is willing to stand up in front of his peers and tell them the good news of the Gospels.
Studies show that an individual who is wanting to go to church and who is looking to be asked, will not say yes until he is asked between 5-7 times.(Bramadat 2000 pg. 219) This means that a spirit of consistence is needed in order for one to create a successful Bible study on campus or any other form of a spiritual program which seeks to spread the good news of the Gospel. This will not occur overnight. Another important step when all of the above mentioned has been absorbed and learned from, there needs to be others who will form the foundation of the Bible study. There needs to be an informal hierarchy within the group; two or three additional people who have committed to the success of the group for the long haul. These will have to be people who do not have a fear of rejection and who have superior social skills. Everyone knows people who just have such a love for Jesus and a love for people, that they will not be deterred by inviting people to their Bible study. These people are invaluable to your Bible study and in spreading the news of Jesus. One person alone cannot talk to everyone on campus. It therefore behooves the success of the group to employ others within the group and by recognizing their respective talents, seek to create a spirit of “personal evangelism” which can be more effective than flyers on campus bulletin boards or announcements in the local newspaper.
Now, there is enough people to start a group. The initial hard part is over. Through your efforts and the answered prayers, you have swayed people away from the beliefs that their professors are attempting to indoctrinate as well as the party scene, which promises a night, semester or lifetime of regret and disappointment. Now it is time to recognize your audience as well as the talents of those who are in your group. Those who have superior social skills will be asked to spread the word of the Bible group. Those who are skilled at the planning of the locations and time of the next meeting, is to be asked to do that. Would meeting at one’s house create an environment more advantageous to a social, yet learning environment? If so, whose house would make for a good setting? And the list continues in ways which helps to create the most comfortable and friendly environment which encourages those who are unsure about Christianity, to come back again and again until not only is the individual salves, but his friends and even his family becomes saved and a domino effect of the highest importance is created through the efforts of the Bible study.
Regardless of the number of Bible study groups and larger organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, until every individual is saved, there will continue to be a need for people to evangelize and to spread the good news. Christianity is a very unique religion and is set apart by two very important aspects. The first and most important aspect of Christianity is that it is the true word of God. The second is that eternal life is not acquired through daily prayers, pilgrimages and fasting, nor is it found within ones own self. Nor is it acquired through good works and in being a good person. Eternal salvation is acquired by simply holding out one’s hands and accepting the free gift of the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ and by accepting him as one’s own personal savior, the Bible states that those who do that, will join Jesus in heaven for eternity. Believing in the two above mentioned truths and being able to back up those beliefs with Scriptures as well as personal testimonies will help the individual who has taken the Great Commission seriously and who wants to implement it into his own life and in the lives of his future brothers and sisters in Christ.
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Commanger, H ( 1947) Documents of American History New York: Century Press
Dunn, S ( 2006) Bored With God : How Parents, Youth Leaders And Teachers Can Overcome Student Apathy Dallas: Intervarsity Press
Kelley. F ( 1970) I Have a Dream: The Ministry of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Educational Press.
Meyers, J Churches in Central Illinois Receive Boost in Attendance Charleston Times Courier April 16, 2004
Page, C Religion in America. Chicago Tribune June 12, 2005
Shockley, D (1989) Campus Ministry : The Church Beyond Itself Edinburgh: John Knox Press
www.fca.org “Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Downloaded June 25, 2007
The Holy Bible New York: Oxford University Press. 2000
“Religions in America” USA Today October 14, 2004