How can an assistant professor (junior faculty) witness to university students in an American secular-university context? Can he or she use office hours to pose probing questions to visiting students who, in turn, might ask about the hope that he or she has? Can the professor put Bible verses on the wall or office desk?
Opposition to Christianity on college campuses has been on the rise throughout the past century, but it seemed to kick into overdrive over the past couple decades as universities placed greater restrictions on speech in an attempt to shield students from perceived offensive or bigoted speech. Further, a 2014 court ruling appears to have set a precedent forbidding faculty at public institutions from speaking openly about their faith while teaching.
At the same time, the university setting is a unique mission field. It provides tremendous opportunity for evangelism and discipleship, which has the potential of making a global impact. Universities and colleges by nature attract people from all nations, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, supplying an opportunity to reach people we wouldn’t otherwise. Then, in four or five years, these students graduate and move throughout the country and world as they continue their education or begin their careers.
So, given the limitations that Christian faculty members face, what is the most effective way for us to witness to our students?
As an assistant professor at Baylor University, I have the privilege of sharing my testimony at the beginning of each semester. I always conclude with an open invitation for students to come to my office if they’d like to know more about how to have a relationship with God or if they’d like to talk with me about their faith. Through nine semesters, I have yet to have a single student take me up on my offer.
In contrast, while in graduate school at the University of Georgia I participated in a campus ministry known as The Great Exchange, which aids local churches and campus ministries in training their students in how to engage their peers in spiritual conversations. Through this ministry, I was able to have many great conversations about the gospel with students (and faculty members) from many different faiths and nationalities.
In addition, I have served alongside my wife in two exceptional college ministries. In each, several students were actively involved over the course of several years (including…