Personal evangelism learned, & practiced by Boyce students
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--"I don’t think that there’s a better gift that you could give anybody than to tell them who Jesus is and what he has done on the cross," said Jennifer Atterbury, a bachelor of arts student at the James P. Boyce College of the Bible in Louisville, Ky.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded Christians to share this gift. At Boyce College on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, professor Mark Howell takes the commandment seriously.
Students in his “Introduction to Personal Evangelism” class not only learn about evangelism, they do it. "Evangelism is not only taught, it’s caught," said Howell, assistant professor of preaching and pastoral ministries. "You can teach enough of the skills of evangelism. But, through doing it, a fervor, a desire and an excitement is caught by our students."
With 37 students, Howell’s class stands as largest class at Boyce and as the first class to ever "close" during registration due to the overwhelming number of registrants. Boyce became a four-year, fully accredited undergraduate program last fall.
"One of my strong convictions is that Boyce students should be involved in evangelistic outreach," Howell said.
As a required part of his class, students must participate in evangelistic activities two times in the semester. At first Howell wondered how his students would react to the requirement. Some were fearful -- they had never evangelized on a one-on-one basis.
Howell reported the class attitude as universally positive. "They told me how much they enjoyed evangelism and how it’s changed their lives," he said.
The class has also changed the perceptions of some of the students. "I’ve realized what an awesome responsibility it is to go out and witness to others," said Atterbury, a native of Louisville, Ky.
"I had a misconception of evangelism prior coming to this class," said James Hightower, an associate of arts student from Warren, Ohio. "I was under the impression that evangelism was done by evangelists -- trained people. But I now know that everyone is an evangelist. That’s who we are. It’s not just left up to the clergy."
Howell does more than teach the theology and methodology of evangelism, and the class doesn’t merely talk about the battle.
"I really see this as the ‘Navy Seal’ class. We don’t just sit around and talk about taking the beachhead. We get in the boat, and we take the beachhead. This is an opportunity to take what they’re learning in basic training and put it on the field," Howell said.
Following these battlefield experiences, the class discusses them. Led by Howell, the class looks at each encounter: the responses, the questions, the cold shoulders, the hearts softened by God. Howell then uses them as teaching tools so that students will be better prepared the next time.
Various encounters with belligerent atheists and anti-Christians have also sparked helpful discussion to prepare students for a world often opposed to the gospel.
"The Boyce faculty has the goal of training students to interact with all the issues they’re going to face in the world. We want to have students who are able to interact with any cult, any belief and any movement on an intellectual level," Howell said.
The students have interacted with the world through a myriad of methods. They have witnessed in malls, neighborhoods, downtown missions, prisons, bus stops, playgrounds, parks and even Wal-Mart. "They’ve been very creative in their outreach," Howell said.
God has blessed their efforts with persons who have confessed faith in Christ. "One of the reasons I made this requirement is that I knew through this outreach that we would have several students lead people to the Lord," Howell said.
One group of three students witnessed at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville, where two women trusted Christ, and one man awaiting trial rededicated his life.
Another group shared testimonies at Wayside Christian Mission in downtown Louisville. Afterward, in small groups led by the students, two more women came to Christ.
"My desire is that our students will not only see this as an opportunity to share the gospel but also as an opportunity to take seriously the Great Commission command to make disciples," Howell said. The students have taken the initiative to follow up and even develop relationships with those to whom they witnessed.
"What I have discovered through the course is that we have a group of students who are hungry to be about fulfilling the Great Commission and who have a heart to see people won to Christ," Howell said.
"All professors want their students to do well in the classroom, but even more so, you want to see them have a desire to fulfill the Great Commission."