Instant gratification is attractive. Especially to our Gen Z friends, with their supposed attention span of a mere 8 seconds. Add to that the widely prevalent social anxiety—experienced by 90% of Gen Z according to one workplace study—and many of the ways that we come to Christ or grow in him are looking quite difficult. Anything that takes a long time, or involves other people. Concentrating for a 30min Bible talk. Explaining your understanding of God or his world or Word to others. Hearing those people question or comment on what you think. Sharing your feelings as you consider or continue following Jesus. Understanding your feelings in the first place. Meeting new people. Reading parts of the Bible set in far-away, long-ago cultures. Maintaining relationships through conflict, disagreement or discomfort. Recognised or not, most conversion stories will include every one of these elements. Each one, and the many not listed, presents some difficulty, and therefore invites both the evangelist and the evangelised to save their effort and just give up.
What are the implications of this for our evangelism, particularly to young people, and especially given the urgency of the task? Perhaps there are two broad approaches.
One is to work within those norms, preaching the gospel with your best effort and faithfulness, constrained by the limitations. Daily verses or thought-provoking questions posted on social media, online resources for people to browse in anonymity, Scripture-emblazoned clothing. These all have their place. For many of our Christian students, these are their first steps in publicly declaring their faith. And many unbelieving students have grabbed the non-threatening opportunity to begin investigating Christ with their friend wearing the ‘Jesus hoodie’.
The other approach is to challenge the norms in pursuit of more effective and expansive evangelism. The regular obstacles to sharing Christ will be accompanied by extra difficulty, as you invite people to change not only what they think, but how. Reading the Bible will be hindered by challenges both spiritual and earthly. Sharing vulnerably with Christians might be extra daunting for those unpractised at sharing vulnerably with anyone. The evangelist who offers to meet and discuss Christ is persuading on two fronts: first the meeting itself, before even getting to the conversation topic.
Christ could return at any moment, and we want to be found having invested wisely all he has given us, especially his life-saving gospel. Perhaps, under the name of ‘evangelism’, you have gone out for an unbelieving workmate’s birthday, tried to sustain a conversation or relationship while the other person seems to have lost interest, or grown a genuine interest in ‘their thing’ (whatever it might be) in the hope that they might in turn ask about ‘your thing’ (Jesus). Each of these can be valuable in themselves as acts of Christian love and generosity. But considering them as evangelism—will they be seen by our Lord as ineffective attempts to go against the grain of current culture, or as wise long-term investments? Here are two stories of women on campus sharing the gospel with their friends in this slow way, illustrating how the slow way might be the wise way.
Jess and her husband live next door to a university residential college. Over 200 students from far-flung places eat meals together just behind their back fence. Unmissable opportunity for a Bible study! Opening their home was central: “We play board games (late!) after every Bible study. We host dinners on birthdays and occasionally feel like pseudo-parents to these students who aren’t much younger than us but are heaps further away from home.” Gemma* started coming for games, but now comes to Bible study too. She’s started reading Romans with Kristy, a Christian resident whom God provided as the group’s first student member. She’s sharing about how she was raised and her struggles with relationships, and asking questions like, “Why is Jesus so harsh with the religious leaders?” James, who identifies as male, was invited by Gemma but has since been comfortable to come alone. Just last week James was wrestling with grace, saying, “This is different to how people have explained Christianity in my past”. Join Jess in praying for Gemma and James: “As we grow in trust to share life and questions, I’m praying they’d turn away from what they currently worship and trust, and instead turn to God to receive adoption in Jesus Christ.”
Heather, Eliza & Millie have forged a robust friendship through many hours of throwing balls at each other, teaching swim techniques and critiquing each other’s running style (aka, studying physical education). Heather says, “Over the long term, I’m hoping they can see the difference that Jesus makes in my life and priorities.” One current decision is whether to pursue a teaching job in a Christian or public school. She’s seen their curiosity grow on topics like this, which is wonderful, but also tempting to laze into. Since they’ve rejected a few invites to hear a talk or read the Bible together, Heather is wary of “making them feel like I’m ignoring their ‘no’ by just asking again.” Heather recognises she needs discernment and faithfulness to patiently but also persistently urge her friends to consider Christ. Please pray for Heather to love her friends genuinely, remembering that the time until Jesus’ return is short. With Heather, pray that Eliza and Millie would “consider following Jesus themselves instead of just observing me.”
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” Acts 26:28-29
Whether we take the slow or fast way, may the urgency of our desire for the lost to know Christ never abate, nor our patient trust in the God who saves as the news of Christ crucified is proclaimed through his servants to the world.
*Names changed for privacy