Editor’s Note: This post is part of our month-long theme on celebrating and showing the love of God in all our relationships. You can find the rest of these articles here.
Years ago, early on in my career as a campus missionary, God, through Scripture (Matthew 22:34-40), gave me a clear conviction to reach students on my campus while providing a space for them to wrestle with faith and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That conviction has remained. I believe that the foundation of our ministry is our students, and that they are the best missionaries to other students. My role as a campus missionary is to train and equip students as they show the love of Jesus to those around them.
Over the years, I’ve developed a core set of tips for college students and for other campus missionaries that help us “love our neighbor as ourselves” in a collegiate setting. The goal of these tips is twofold:
1. To simply love all those who are a part of the campus community as Jesus does.
2. To create natural interactions that can lead to spiritual conversations and the sharing of the gospel.
Here is a simple truth that I have come to realize over the course of my time as a student and a campus missionary: Few will ask about the hope that you have if they don’t know your name, haven’t spent time with you, and/or have no basis of trusting you.”
Sit down and buckle up because we’re going to jump right into my 4 tips of loving people on your college campus.
Tip #1: Keep your head up.
I drive pretty much the same route to work each and every morning. Most of us do. This can mean we mentally shift into autopilot and get to work without much thought about the drive. We are creatures of habit, often doing the same things every day. We walk the same paths; we go to the same places, etc. We develop a routine, and, if we are not careful, this routine can cause us to develop “blinders.” Blinders that inhibit our really seeing those around us, at least to any great or meaningful depth.
Frankly, most people are not aware that they have blinders on. If they are aware, they see nothing wrong with it. But this lack of awareness of those around us is a neither spiritually good nor healthy. When we get too self-absorbed with our own problems and challenges and schedules, we pass by others without really acknowledging them.
God calls us to be different. He commands us to keep our heads up and notice those around us. It is the first step to loving our neighbor.
Tip #2: Be the first to initiate a friendship.
College students long for genuine, healthy friendships—and let’s be honest, that kind of friendship can be really hard. Some college students struggle to make friends because they fear being rejected, so they don’t put themselves out there. Others are concerned that someone might be secretly toxic, so they hold back. Still others are worried about being taken advantage of, so they pull away. As if those normal relational fears aren’t enough to inhibit genuine friendship, social media has made all of us less engaged with others. We can limit our face-to-face interactions more than we have ever before, making initiating friendships even more challenging.
Here is the thing, Campus Missionary and/or College Student: Friends matter.
Money will come and go. Career success will fade in later years. But friends—good, solid, spiritually healthy friends—will make you richer. Finding, building and maintaining fulfilling Christlike friendships is one of the most important things we should have…and we shouldn’t be waiting on others to make the first move, especially when we serve a God who made the first move toward us."Money will come and go. Career success will fade in later years. But friends – good, solid, spiritually healthy friends – will make you richer." -@jerome_stockert #collegiatedisciplemaker Loving Your Neighbor: 4 Tips to Love the… Click To Tweet
Introduce yourself to someone first. Learn the names of the people in your classes, especially those immediately around you. Take time to ask others where they are from. Invite them to have dinner with you in the dining hall. Spend time studying together. Find a place to just hang and talk and get to know each other. Do life together.
Tip #3: Meet the needs that you see.
When we look at Jesus in the gospels, we see that Jesus met both the spiritual and the physical needs of those around Him. And He often started with the physical. If we take the example He left us in Matthew 14 (the feeding of the 5000), we see that meeting physical needs is interwoven in the fabric of making disciples.
Scripture also records many instances of Jesus healing people without demanding repentance. While there are plenty of other times when Jesus called people to repent and turn away from their sin, He also met a variety of very practical needs, working through these to display His power and love. I think that we too often dismiss or minimize the meeting of needs in our effort to make disciples.
When we keep our heads up, initiate friendships with those around us, and then begin to meet the needs that we notice, amazing things happen! Love is expressed! Trust is built! And doors that were closed to the gospel become open!
Take time to listen and watch so you can see the needs of those around you. When you see someone in need, help out. If it’s a big need, you might need to break it up into small steps or chunks. And recognize that you might not be the whole solution. Oftentimes we are a small part. But that’s ok.
Tip #4: Share the gospel and invite them to follow Jesus.
If you have been around any group of believers for any length of time, it’s very likely that you have heard the following, “Preach [or teach] the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” This quote has become very popular as of late in many Christian circles. And while I agree in part with the quote, I also believe that this quote presents some potential problems with regards to making disciples of all nations.
First off, I think this quote creates an unbiblical hierarchy between gospel demonstration and gospel declaration. The quote assumes that living and loving like Jesus supersedes the declaration of the good news. We love the idea that if we simply love and live like Jesus, we have fulfilled the command of making disciples. We don’t have to worry about offending anyone.
Here is the thing: neither Jesus nor the disciples practiced this themselves. Nowhere in Scripture do we find that the demonstration of the gospel and the declaration of the gospel are at odds with each other. In fact, both are commanded and intentionally bound together as a part of evangelism. To love your neighbor is to both demonstrate the gospel AND declare the gospel.
Second, if we are not careful, embracing this quote can lend itself to making excuses for not practicing personal evangelism. Most people that I know who love this quote are also scared of sharing their faith and almost never talk about what they believe. Jesus didn’t encourage us to just live a good life but only talk about our faith if and when it comes up. Almost every act of love and compassion we find in Scripture, especially in the New Testament, is entwined with the faithful declaration of the gospel.
Finally, as we seek to love our neighbor on our campus, this quote simply lacks in its knowledge and understanding of the gospel. Nowhere in scripture, as we seek to love or our neighbor, do we see a lost person simply watch Jesus or His disciples and magically become converted without a word. There is always a conversation about how to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Loving Our Neighbor Practically and Spiritually
To love our friend across the hall from our dorm room or in the seat beside us in class means loving them both practically and spiritually. We need to find practical, tangible ways to love them. But we also must love them by showing an interest in where they are spiritually and sharing the gospel with them so that they might have abundant life in Christ Jesus.
What are ways you’ve found to love the people on your campus?