“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, HCSB)
Recently when a number of college students were asked to share the gospel, they struggled to do so. These students are leaders of ministries, grounded in their faith, involved in church, and they love Jesus. Their inability to share the story of Jesus clearly and succinctly was astonishing. Some of the students shared about who Jesus was in their lives. Others talked about community found with other believers and in a roundabout way got to Jesus and works as a means of salvation.
Here’s the thing: when asked if they agreed that Jesus’ death and resurrection, surrendering of one’s life to Jesus, and pursuing holiness were basic elements of the gospel, every one of them agreed.
So why does this matter in the world of college and young adult ministry?
We could assume that churches and campus ministries need to teach an evangelism program or get students memorizing more scripture. Or, we may believe that more programs, sermons, and emphases should be created. However, is that really the way that college students and young adults learn or internalize information?
We are seeing the attention spans of young adults grow smaller and smaller as our culture embraces a more technology-based style of communication. What if we learned alongside our students how to articulate the gospel in a more relevant and culturally sensitive way while focusing on the essentials of the gospel message?
Basically, our students have lost the metanarrative, the story that explains the story of Jesus. In losing this general plot line our students have been left to define, create, and structure their own metanarrative concerning Jesus and salvation. Maybe this is due to a lack of listening and processing on their part. Maybe we haven’t shared enough or in a language that communicates clearly. Or maybe our world is becoming so post-Christian that the story is only being heard in the echoes and recesses of days gone by.
Whatever the reason, the story is being lost. We must work to recover this metanarrative as we continue to share, equip, and invest in the next generation of college students and young adults.
When another group of students were asked how they would learn the gospel message best and what would help them desire to share and articulate the gospel they gave a variety of answers. Most of them talked about their love of sharing the gospel on mission trips and when they are “supposed to.” However, one answer should grieve our hearts: when the students were challenged to see their campus as a mission field, they were dumbfounded by the idea.
So, from a students’ perspective, how can we help young adults share the gospel?
- Help them learn the basics of the gospel and understand that sharing the gospel is not a “one stop shop” but a continual conversation.
- Help them learn to articulate the gospel in a way that is not scripted but personal. This approach includes not presenting the gospel as “my truth vs. your truth.”
- Show them, teach them, and take them with us as we share the gospel. Hopefully, they’ll see evangelism as a means of teaching someone the gospel not just “programing a Christian.”
- Give them times and places of accountability when they’ll be asked about sharing the gospel and held accountable. It’s the same idea as when a professor gives a test. Students will study when they know a test is on the horizon; when there isn’t a test in sight, they will push studying aside.
- More than anything else, they want conversations with more mature Christians—one-on-one times preferably with food and coffee—where they learn the basics, find their voice, and are held accountable with the gospel message.
Personally, these conversations over the past few months have had moments of excitement, of grief, of tears, and of joy. What a challenge we have ahead of us! The college campus is becoming more and more secular and post-Christian with each incoming freshmen class, which means we must continue to contextualize, create, and engage the ever-changing culture with the unchanging gospel message of Jesus.
Beth Masters has served college students going on 15 years on multiple campuses in FL, LA, and MS. Currently she serves at Mississippi College as the Director of Christian Life and Ministries while also serving as a ministry-based faculty member at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.