“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:21
These words were used by Luke to describe the church at Antioch. Their story starts like this:
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:19-21
Although Jesus had called his followers to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), there wasn’t much movement toward that in the early days of the Church. So God used persecution to begin scattering his people around the world.
Scattering is a fact of life in college ministry. We need to encourage our students to see this scattering as a blessing and a way to accomplish God’s purpose. Whether it across campus or when they graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives and service to God, we must not forget that the real work of reaching our world happens when we scatter.
As we scatter, we must also take the initiative to engage those around us. That’s what these followers of Jesus did when they arrived in Antioch. Often Christian students have been taught – through word and example – to limit contact with the world and surround themselves with a Christian environment and Christian relationships. We encourage them to be what John Stott once called “rabbit hole Christians” – running from one Christian gathering to another in hopes of not being contaminated by the world. But these followers of Jesus who came to Antioch engaged their new community and “began to speak” with their new neighbors about Jesus.
Though Christian relationships and times of solitude with God are essential, we are not called to a life of isolation. And that definitely isn’t the kind of life that Jesus demonstrated for us. Our goals often appear to be withdrawal and insulation, Jesus’ posture was one of incarnation and his goal was involvement. So we see him at a party with all of Levi’s friends. And we find him at Zacchaeus’ house with his colleagues. In fact, his life was such that those who watched him called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19)
We need to call and prepare our students for lives of engagement and relationship with those around them. We need to help them recognize those whom God has placed around them and with whom they are called to build relationships. We need to ask them for whom they are praying and with whom they are spending time. We need to encourage them to be proactive in relationships and help them see how God is working and moving.
We have found this acronym (which is not original with us) to be a helpful tool in giving students an idea of how to proceed in engaging the world:
B – Begin with prayer. We will regularly pray for the people and the places where we are sent.
L – Listen. We will first listen to the people to whom we are sent.
E – Eat. We will share meals with those to whom we are sent.
S – Serve. We will respond to the needs we discover among those to whom we are sent.
S – Story. We will share the story of Jesus and what he is doing in our lives with those to whom we are sent.
Our ability to influence our campuses and our world is through relationships that can serve as bridges for the Gospel. We need to challenge and train our students to live lives of engagement.
Mike Armstrong (@_mikearmstrong_) is in his 32nd year of ministry to college students at the University of Arkansas with Christ on Campus and is a past president of the Association of College Ministries. He has been married to Gina for 34 years and they have two grown and married daughters. He has also been a track and field official for over 20 years and is a fan of classic rock, jazz, and the blues. You can read his blog at michaelarmstrong.net or find him on Facebook at THEMikeArmstrong.