By Timothy Holmes

4 Tips for Authentic Evangelism Post-College

I love seeing people say yes to Jesus. It is the reason why I decided to come on staff with InterVarsity. I have a heart for creating opportunities for not-yet Christians to explore who God is, and consider making decisions to follow Jesus.

In fact, one of the turning-point moments in my consideration for InterVarsity staff came when I was a student, seeing one of my not-yet-Christian friends on campus make a decision to follow Jesus after a few weeks of studying the book of Matthew with me. And during my time on staff with InterVarsity, I’ve been able to lead a culture shift on campus, helping students see value in their not-yet-Christian friends, and cultivating the type of environment where it is normal to see students make decisions to follow Jesus on a regular basis. In my first year on campus, we went from seeing 1 student make a decision to follow Jesus the prior year, to 27 students making decisions. By year three, we saw over 40 students make decisions to follow Jesus in a single year. Half of our community on campus are either not-yet Christians exploring their faith, or new Christians who made decisions because of the witness of the community. Praise the Lord for the work he is doing.

I love that I am able to participate in the evangelistic fruitfulness on campus on a regular basis. I also noticed that the evangelistic fruitfulness has looked very different in my personal circles. One of my best friends (and the best man at my wedding) of 15 years is not-yet Christian. My two older sisters are also not-yet Christian. Every week, I pray for them, lament over their current spiritual reality, and long for the day when they make decisions to follow Jesus. Though I am hopeful they will eventually make that decision, I recognize that the success in evangelism and the approaches taken on campus have not translated well to my post-college, personal circles (though, to be clear, the gospel does not change). I cannot invite my sisters to large group (inviting them to church also hasn’t had positive effects). I cannot set up a Proxe Station at my friend’s house. The ways I have engaged in evangelism to those around me have looked and felt different. Some people’s process to following Jesus takes longer than others, for a multitude of reasons. So while I trust God to work, and actively seek for opportunities to invite people to follow Jesus, I also participate in the journey of faith discovery that God invites not-yet Christians to.

As an evangelist, I absolutely believe that it is the gospel that is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). And as that remains true, the way the gospel is communicated and received changes from trying to do evangelism on-campus as a student and trying to do evangelism off-campus post-college.

I’ve committed to four different ways of living evangelistically, to both remain faithful to the call of being a witness (Acts 1:8) and cultivate my gifts of evangelism (Ephesians 4:11)

1. Live Vulnerably

During my wedding, Tyreck, my best man, stood up to give his speech. And to my surprise, his speech was a reflection of him seeing me mature and grow as a person. Tyreck met me the year before I made a decision to follow Jesus. So he got to witness all of my transformation. He saw the beginning phases of me figuring out what the decision to follow Jesus means for my everyday life. He saw the ways I failed to be a faithful witness during my teenage years. He saw the ways I struggled in giving up sexual temptation to Jesus. He also saw the ways I grew in my faith. He saw how increasingly confident I became in who Jesus was. He saw the ways my character shifted, and the way my passions started to change. He saw the way I treated my wife (my girlfriend of eight years prior to the wedding). And with all of what he saw (the good, bad, and the ugly), he stood in front of 150 other guests and said, “I know I am older than Tim, but I look up to him, and hope to be half of the man that he is.”

And in reality, the attractive characteristics he sees in me are products of how Jesus has been actively transforming me. Tyreck got to see me, over the course of 13 years, live vulnerably. Living vulnerably means being susceptible to attack. Tyreck could have shared 1,000 stories about me that would have been both honest and embarrassing. He knows sides of me that many in that place have never seen. It is the risk of living vulnerably with others. But what is also true is that all of my weaknesses and failures also point to the reality of God’s grace, goodness, and love.

1 Timothy 4:16 invites us to observe both our life and our doctrine. Observing our doctrine keeps us rooted in right teaching (orthodoxy), and observing our life keeps us rooted in right practice (orthopraxy). And it’s the combination of both that “saves us and our hearers.” When we invite others to be a part of our lives with vulnerability, we invite others to see the beauty of Jesus through our broken lives. Living vulnerably requires us to share with others our trials and our crises. It requires us to celebrate wins and successes in community. It requires us to allow our everyday normal activities to be under surveillance. This is not for the sake of just sharing our life, but so that through our life, we can witness to the beauty, power, and glory of Jesus. It’s so those who do not know Jesus can see Jesus, not just in the setting of church, but in everyday life. It’s so God can be seen as visible, present, and good. When others are able to see God, hear God, and know God through the vulnerability of the life we share, that is the Good News.

2. Look Curiously

Two years ago, my mother passed away. It was one of the hardest seasons I’ve endured personally. One of the gifts during this season was seeing a few friends of mine collect donations to help my sisters and me pay for the funeral arrangements. I remember sitting with my sisters, as we looked at how many people had donated. They (my sisters) were filled with so much appreciation, and shock. One of my sisters, Shyla, said, “Tim, your friends are so nice, and so thoughtful.” This seems like a natural response to our situation, but I noticed in that comment there was an opportunity to see what was happening underneath her words. There was a discomfort with asking for help, and receiving generosity from others. So instead of letting the comment slide, I said, “Shyla, I actually think this is God’s way of showing his generosity to us. The only real difference between my friends is that they know they are loved by God, so they try to love others in ways that they experience God’s love.” She looked at me, taken aback by my answer, and said, “Hm, I never looked at it that way.”

In Acts 17, Paul arrives in Athens, and sees a city full of idols. But in the midst of the idolatry, he sees an altar, with the inscription “To an Unknown God,” and proceeds to use that observation to make the God he serves (Jesus) known. Paul looked around at Athens with soft eyes, looking for something deeper than just what was on the surface. Paul’s example invites us to look with soft eyes to those around us. This type of curious looking gives us opportunities to see where God is at work, and bear witness to it. It is when we do that—when we see the God-activity in others and bear witness to it—that we get to both behold the beauty of the gospel in others, and bear witness to the beauty of the gospel to others.

3. Listen Faithfully

Last year, while I was at an InterVarsity training, I got to learn about exercising spiritual gifts. One of the gifts we talked about was hearing prophetic words. As a part of the practice, I was asked to think of the first few people that came to my mind (for me, it was my sisters, and a couple of others). I spent a few moments listening to God on behalf of the people I thought of, and then writing down the word or image I got for each. The next challenge was to share it with the people. And so I did. I remember sharing what I sensed God telling me about my middle sister, Dominique, by texting her, and sharing both the word and what I thought the word meant. To my surprise, Dominique responded back and said, “Wow. I needed to hear this.” This led to a great opportunity to talk about my own relationship with God and the ways I cultivate a prayer life. The moment required me to both listen to God on behalf of my sister, but also respond faithfully. Listening was easy for me; the difficult part was being faithful in my listening to also respond actively and share with her.

Luke 11:28 invites us to a balanced posture of both listening to God and obeying what we’ve heard. When we listen to God on behalf of those we love, we create opportunities to hear God’s heart and truth for them. When we obey what we heard from God, we get to practice faithfulness, and give those around us a chance to hear God’s heart and truth. Listening to God’s voice for others creates real moments of transformation. What the people around us desperately need the most is not our best efforts to convince them that God is real. What the people around us need the most is a word from Jesus. A word from Jesus is able to enter into contaminated hearts and bring restoration. So when we listen to Jesus on behalf of others, and faithfully respond to what we hear, we get to align ourselves with how God is already at work, and participate in his gospel.

4. Love Generously

In my neighborhood, I met a homeless man named Rich. Rich’s story is filled with tragedy and trauma, but if you listened to him speak, you would only see joy on his face. One day, as I was walking home, I saw him walking from one bus stop to another, to settle in for the day. I sparked some conversation with him, and his eyes seemed to light up. He was thrilled to share about his day. So instead of going home, I decided to go to the bus stop with him, sit down, and share an hour’s worth of conversations with him. Honestly, there was temptation for me to cut the conversation short and do other “important” things, but I sacrificed doing the other because this also felt important. Most of the conversation was centered around his life, his desires, and his struggles. I had opportunities to learn about Rich, to appreciate his story, and to lament with him at the brokenness he was experiencing. After a little over an hour, I said bye to Rich. Before I left, he looked at me and said, “Thank you so much for talking with me, Tim. This was the highlight of my week. No one ever sits to talk with me.” The hour of conversation was sacrificial for me, but communicated a generous love to Rich.  

John 15:12 invites us to love others the way Jesus has loved us. Jesus’ love is marked with generosity. Generosity that doesn’t seek to gratify one’s own pleasures, but seeks the welfare of others as a priority. Generosity that is willing to give up one’s own life, so that others might have life. Generosity that doesn’t look for reciprocation. As followers of Jesus, we are called to love others the way Jesus has loved us—generously. When we love in that way, we protest the individualistic idols of our culture, and represent the beauty of God’s character to those around us. Love may look like how we speak truth into the lives of others. Love may look like how we incarnationally enter into the lives of others. Love may look like how we sacrificially serve others. Love may look like how we give lavishly to others. No matter how love looks, it should always communicate and reflect the beauty of the gospel.

Imagine a world where the body of Christ intentionally chose to live vulnerably, look curiously, listen faithfully, and love generously so that all may know Jesus. Imagine the amount of people around us who would be able to behold a true picture of who Jesus is, and then are able to behold Jesus’ beauty because of our intentional witness. May God continue to raise up the church in this area, for the sake of the beauty, wonder, and glory of the gospel.

 

Timothy Holmes is an InterVarsity campus staff minister at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

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