One of my favorite biblical passages to teach is Acts 17. It involves Paul during one of his missionary travels, and I believe it has important implications for young adults. The chapter starts with Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. They work in the city until some local opposition arises, and they must leave in a hurry for Berea. This next stop is temporary, as those individuals who opposed the ministers in Thessalonica also come to Berea to cause trouble. From there, Paul is whisked away by fellow believers to Athens, while his co-laborers (Silas and Timothy) finish up some of the work in Berea with plans to join him as soon as possible.
In my mind, this is where Paul could have a temporary vacation. No doubt, if the roles were reversed—and I found myself waiting in Athens after a particularly grueling season of ministry—I would want to find a beach villa with an ocean view and maybe a hammock. However, Paul was committed to fulfilling Jesus’ design for all believers, as laid out in Matthew 28. In the 16th verse, the NASB says that Paul’s spirit was “provoked within him” by seeing the city filled with idols. In other words, the lostness of the community propelled him to action! Paul went out immediately and started speaking at the local synagogue with Jews and also God-fearing Gentiles. Then, he spoke at the marketplace with whoever happened to be there. These events eventually led to Paul’s famous sermon at the Areopagus. In verse 34 we see the end result of Paul’s labor: a group of individuals became believers and a church was birthed.
This account is fantastic and should be an inspiration for all believers. But I really think it speaks specifically to young adults in a couple of different settings: those attending universities or colleges and those who are just getting their foot in the door with new career jobs. Many young adults would not say they are called to long-term ministry at that campus or job, but instead, it is a stop on the way to fulfilling some grander plan. Paul shows us that the needs of the community around us should motivate us to action. I am confident that wherever the young adults you are shepherding live or work, they are rubbing elbows with the lost. They can see campuses and workplaces given over to idols (money, self-glorification, etc.). We need to help young adults become spiritually attuned to God’s Spirit who is provoking the response we see from Paul. Young adults need to see their current situation as the mission field where God has strategically placed them, not as a temporary stop or something they have to finish before beginning ministry.
Paul did not see his temporary time in Athens as a waystation but instead as an opportunity. The young adults we work with must see these four years as strategic placement with real-time and world-changing consequences. They must work with the local congregations (the God-fearers who Paul first visited). They should find creative and persistent means of sharing the gospel (marketplace evangelism). How exciting was it that Paul DAILY went out to the most congested area he could and reasoned with whoever happened to be there! The final thing our young adults should do is to utilize whatever special interest groups they are able to become a part of as platforms for proclaiming the truth (Areopagus and the philosophers)!
Paul’s threefold approach is the basis for our evangelistic strategy at the university where I work. I also think it could be contextualized to a city or marketplace as well. We first seek to engage every “God-fearing” student that comes to our ministry centers with immediate sit downs (something we call gospel appointments). This is geared toward those with some religious interest. The second stage is to get out on campus to find where the greatest number of students gather and are willing to talk (something some people call cold call evangelism). We utilize a method Randy Newman calls questioning evangelism (we call it “waterbottling,” as that is what we exchange with people for asking us questions) and things like the three circles gospel presentation. The third approach is to invite student organizations that our leaders are involved with (be it a sorority, fraternity, or sports team) to come over to our center where we feed them and empower those student leaders to get up and share a testimony. God used these efforts with Paul to increase the Kingdom, and my prayer is that He will do the same with all of us!
Paul was unwilling to just rest or wait for the next stage in his life. I love that he knew that wherever he was, God was triumphantly leading him—and, through him, diffusing the sweet aroma of Christ to everyone he came in contact with (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). In this way, he sets a great example for our young adults to imitate and for us as ministry leaders to design strategies around! May God bless you all as you seek to impact the culture around you and push back against the lostness of the people God has placed you beside.
Conan Sherlin is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry Director at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. He lives in Thibodaux, Louisiana with his wife Christy and their four kids (Evie, Ada, Haddie, and Gilford). Connect with Conan via Twitter: @nsherlin10.