proselytizing Christians

As you might know from my Twitter feed, I’ve taken a few days this week to do a little mini-exploration of the Fort Worth campus ministry scene. Since I live in the DFW Metroplex, this is really my own backyard – and it’s been nice to observe what I can and meet with a few people since Tuesday.

While meeting with the local Campus Crusade guy, Lance Linnartz, yesterday, a question came up that I’ve pondered in the past: Might there be ways for college ministries to more actively “witness to apathetic Christians”?

First of all, I recognize that there are all sorts of theological differences that affect how one might go about asking this question. However, I think for most of us, the practical results of asking (and answering) the question should be similar. So whether you believe that conversion is a permanent state OR you believe that Christians can indeed fall fully away from Christ, the practical ramifications of my question will work out similarly. I think.

Much of my own direct college ministry was in settings with a large number of students who professed Christ. Not only was I around a lot of students attending Christian schools, but the fact that I was in the state of Texas nearly guaranteed a sizable percentage of students who grew up not just “nominally religious” but actually quite involved with church and with Christ. I do recognize that many Bible Belt students “play the game” and never actually find Christ, but there are also many who seem to make a true decision for Christ and then wade in the shallows (at best) during college.

My personal “prophetic” leanings have always given me a burden for Christians who, at present, aren’t living a life worthy of the calling they have received. And so, though I am of course a BIG fan of evangelism among the unconverted, I’ve also wondered where / how / when there might be room for “proselytizing” Christians.

  • College ministry has seen lots of evangelistic fruit with students who have never known Christ but whom He has already brought “near” to that decision.
  • Some college ministry work has also found inroads among those quite far from – even antagonistic to – Christ.
  • And plenty of college ministry work dramatically impacts those Christian students who truly want to follow Christ.

But it seems rarer for college ministries to make concerted efforts to pursue individuals who are “wading in the shallows,” as I described above. Sure, we can exhort the ones who make it to our college ministry meetings. And maybe that’s all we can / should do.

And yet I still wonder if some of the methods we use in evangelism – campus-wide events, large-scale outreaches, or even surveys and other “approach evangelism” methods – might fit this audience, too. Maybe they already do.

I’m really just pondering here, imagining what this kind of thing might look like, or how it fits within what we do. For us down here in the Bible Belt, apathy is often more the tenor than antagonism… and I’m not sure which is preferable.

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4 Comments

  1. Good post Benson! I’ve been thinking about this a lot myself. In my estimate about 60% of the students at BU are ‘wading in the shallows’. It’s heartbreaking! Our NYC mission team actually spent some time talking about this last night… and my blog post for today ties somewhat into this conversation as well…

    I think we do need to seek these students out! And I think the best possible way is through equipping and empowering our students who are ‘on fire’ to be ministers to their peers. The tension lies in the fact that our culture preaches tolerance while the Bible teaches hospitality and charity. But if you don’t know what the Bible says than the messages being sent out by the culture will dominate what you think and how you live.

    As we help our students to grow in their faith, and better understand what the Bible says, we must also help them to understand their role in walking alongside their peers who ‘know’ Jesus, but just don’t seem to care.

  2. Good word. I do think that “fired up” Christians often need to be taught that confrontation (of both the subtle and less-than-subtle kinds) is commanded. And then taught how to do it mercifully and fruitfully.

    But since this sounds a lot like our relational evangelism models, I wonder what other forms of evangelism are worth learning from in this regard – “shotgun disciplemaking”? Campus-wide efforts aimed at “awakening”? I dunno. But it’s interesting to ponder.

  3. Benson, Guy–are you talking about actual Christians who are in the shallows, or professing Christians who may not be Christians at all? In practice, they’re very hard to distinguish, and both belong to what I like to call “apatheists,” who make up the vast majority of my campus as well. Whether they’re favorably disposed to the idea or belief in God or not, they have very little interest in or use for him in their lives. I agree, they’re exceedingly hard to engage.

    That’s one reason I enjoy dialoging with atheists, because it’s very easy to get to Gospel conversations with them. I don’t even have to start the conversation–I just join in.

    I would love to hear some strategies for engaging with “apatheists,” because IMO, the more structured & programmatic they are, the more this “silent majority” tunes them out. I do think missional communities (which are superior to relational evangelism in their intentionality) are a huge piece of this.

  4. Hey Steve – sorry to just now be commenting back. As I talk about in the post, obviously this is a theological question… but I’m generally referring to those who do seem to have made a life-altering decision for Christ at some point. At the very least, they are very familiar with the message of the Gospel and believe that they have truly converted. These students tend to be beyond the “I’m a Christian because I’m an American” idea; they likely grew up in Evangelical youth groups and Evangelical families of varying orthopraxy.

    Agreed – they are very hard to distinguish.

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