When you put the word evangelism, by itself, in a Google search you find several definitions with the same concept of proclaiming the gospel with the intention to convert others. However, if you type in “evangelism, Greek definition,” a different more accurate translation can be read; one that lacks any mention of conversion.
What then is the purpose of an evangelist? According to the Greek it is understood that the evangelist’s job is to function as a missionary but with one responsibility: bring good news or the gospel to others. So Google’s translation is partly right, evangelism is preaching the gospel but the conversion part is the responsibility of the Holy Trinity. The work of evangelists should lead to conversions but it is not the job of the evangelist to transform hearts, only the Holy Spirit can do that.
Vincent Donovan, one of the first missionaries to Africa discovered that evangelists or missionaries have to earn the right to share the gospel. It is inappropriate for someone to approach a stranger and tell them that they are overweight and need to change their eating habits. It is the same concept with Christianity. It is inappropriate to tell a stranger that their lack of faith in Jesus Christ is going to lead them an eternity in Hell but faith in Jesus will lead to an eternity in heaven.
The gospel is the good news and when the message of Jesus is received as anything less than good, it becomes a hindrance to the work of the Holy Spirit. So if we want our students to become evangelists on campus we must first teach them how to form relationships and then how to present the good news.
1. Create Evangelism-Friendly Spaces
On a college campus there needs to be a space where students can enter into relationships. If you have a building it should be designed in such a way that people who are far from God feel welcome. If you do not have the budget that allows for a building there should be a space where you send your students to initially start conversations with strangers that leads to relationships. (Oldenburg calls this the “third space,” a space that is not home nor work but provides an atmosphere that creates intimate and meaningful conversations and relationships.)
2. Teach Relationships
Whether you have a building or not you need to be teaching yourself as well as others to see every group project, study session, party and class as an opportunity to meet someone, make a connection through a common interest and start a relationship.
3. Encourage Compassionate Boldness
Now, the relationship-building-process is the most important part of evangelism. The danger is that students develop relationships that lasts many years but Jesus, God or religion is never talked about or even mentioned. This is unlikely if one person makes choices and stands by the moral code of the Bible. What is more likely is that when their moral decisions, religion or their belief Jesus is brought up the subject is changed out of fear of rejection, fear of offending the other person, or of seeming weird, strange or even crazy.
As Christians we must capitalize on every conversation and question that may lead the conversation to how our faith in God makes us better, happier and stronger people. This can be the hard part and requires practice and self/God confidence. As Christians we need to be looking for or find it natural to talk about God in the same way we talk about our girlfriend/boyfriend, parents and our favorite sport or hobby. Expert evangelists like Carl Maderais, Len Sweet, and Floyd McClung talk about how Jesus is so important to who they are that they cannot help talking about Jesus in a way that, in my opinion, is infectious. So, we must teach our students and ourselves even how to talk about Jesus that creates conversation rather than stops it. What I have found is that it takes practice and confidence the same way a linebacker on a football team trains, knows and loves to take a good hit down after down.