When I arrived on campus as a freshman, I couldn’t wait to share my newfound faith with fellow students. But it was rocky. Conversations felt forced and stilted. Two years later, and with more experience under my belt, I started to really enjoy talking with people about their faith and their understanding of God. I had many opportunities to introduce friends to Jesus. As I reflected on what made the difference, five principles stood out. I share these with you, hoping that your ability to communicate the gospel will be enhanced, whether you adopt them as personal helps or as community values for your chapter.
1. Unplug and be available
Instead of losing yourself in the crowd, pull out the ear buds and listen to what’s going on around you. Take time to engage people who sit next to you in class or on the bus. Meet people eye to eye and take a chance with a “good morning” or “how’s it going for you?” Open up a seat in the cafeteria and motion to a dorm mate to join you for dinner.
2. Stop complaining
Try this: Find a seat in the middle of your student union cafeteria or coffee shop and listen in on the snippets of conversations going on around you. Are they mostly positive? Do people seem to be listening actively to each other? Sometimes it sounds like students try to outdo one another in the complaint department, talking “at” each other rather than building each other up. Classes, cafeteria food, professors, parents, homework — all can be fodder for mutual gripe sessions.
What would it sound like if people started to tell each other how grateful they are to be students? How thankful they are to be in school, in the posture of being prepared for the future? How would your own demeanor change if you could be truly grateful to God for the food you’ve been served? This isn’t to say that everything is rosy, that the coffee is always good, or that you should adopt a weird Pollyanna attitude and fake it. But deep gratitude and a disciplined tongue can work wonders to break the cycle of mutual complaint.
3. Pray for encounters
Each of us lives in a sphere of influence and is connected to a network of people. Ask God to place people into your daily life who might be open to spiritual conversations about Jesus and the gospel. Greet people with the prayerful expectation that you might start an amazing conversation together. If you believe that God is in charge of your day and whom you meet, you can be confident and bold in your conversations, getting to know people and asking questions to draw them out.
4. Learn to ask questions and practice active listening
When you place yourself in the role of being an active listener, conversations come alive. And it’s not at all hard to keep a conversation going. Consider these questions next time you’re in a conversation, whether with a friend or a new acquaintance:
“Wow, can you tell me more about that?”
“How did you feel/respond when that happened?”
“So, how did you come to that conclusion?”
“How has this affected you since __________?”
“Where do you think you could go from here?”
These questions help people open up and reflect on what they say as you listen. You’ll be surprised at ways you will be able to respond as they in turn ask you what you think.
5. Reflect God’s heart for people as you learn his ways
One reason Jesus gathered the 70, the 12 and the three was to reveal who he is, how he cares for people and what his highest priorities are. Jesus reflected the love and character of the Father.
We discover God’s heart for us in the history of his interactions with the world over time. You can gain this understanding by reading and re-reading over and over again both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is not as daunting as it sounds if you devote half an hour each day to reading through the Bible.
As you read and reflect, simply ask “What am I learning about God’s heart in this section?” Take note of God’s grace and mercy, as well as his holiness. What does he want from his people, the Hebrew nation? What does he desire from the surrounding nations? How do people talk to God in their encounters with him? How do people show love for one another in the stories you read?
If you commit to getting to know God’s Word, you will find yourself not only listening to the people you meet, but also caring for them deeply. You will ache for them to know Jesus and become a part of God’s kingdom and a community of believers, on campus and in a local church. You’ll find that your thoughts in a conversation will jump to stories and scriptures that offer hope and insight — and thereby nurture your wisdom. You’ll find yourself in constant conversation with God, open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, and listening for the words he gives you to speak.
Adopting these five principles prepared me for a lifetime of witness to the power of Jesus, and they enable me to enter boldly into conversations with just about anyone. I hope these will do the same for you as you engage with others on campus.