Nathan Murphy, BJU Alumnus
Nathan Murphy graduated from BJU with a BS in Business Administration in 2017, and an MA in Biblical Studies in 2019. Nathan serves as a missionary to the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona.
I was an overwhelmed freshman, sitting in my chapel seat and wondering how I could possibly get through college and do anything meaningful along the way. Dr. McAllister walked to the podium and announced that a juvenile detention facility would soon be opening only a few miles away. He then made a Gospel-anointed plea for students to get involved at this exciting and difficult ministry venue.
His poor secretary… dozens of us emailed him (as directed) with a desire to plug in somewhere. A planning meeting eventually took place in Lecture B, where an array of outreaches formed to fill the programming schedule at the Greenville County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). Only a few of those ideas lasted in their initial form, but God honored the overflow of creativity and the Gospel desire in the room that day.
We were all learning on the go. In fact, the Center for Global Opportunities came into existence partially in response to the coordination and communication that fell to us students in the early years of ministry at the JDC. The proudest I ever felt of BJU as a student was watching the CGO be created and staffed up to keep Gospel needs and opportunities from falling through the cracks. If you are a current student, you have been given a fantastic resource. Earn it. Throw yourself into ministry on campus, off campus, and around the world… especially when you feel overwhelmed by college life.
By my junior year, I was leading a “Life-skills” outreach to the JDC on Saturday mornings. Behind that resume item lay hours of anxious preparation, enough self-doubt to hospitalize the most self-promoting person I know, and the memory of more capable leaders who had graduated. I wasn’t a ministry major. I didn’t have a car. And I didn’t have a smartphone quite yet either, which is equivalent to walking five miles to school in the snow—uphill both ways. A typical Saturday morning found me ironing out the game plan of who would do what, who would drive, and who was going. With a reluctant resolve, I would slide a compact Bible into my back pocket and ask God for grace. I would then meet up with an ensemble of friends and acquaintances, and we would embark on our journey to the JDC. Regardless of what was happening in our lives that weekend, we had carved out the opportunity to “build redemptive relationships with at-risk youths.” That was our mission statement.
One source of wisdom and encouragement was Mr. Andy Martin, who serves on staff at BJU. I went along on his outreach several times to learn under his leadership and have more overlap with the kids currently at the facility. I also sought out the patient counsel of my trombone teacher, Dr. Overly, whose love for jail ministry made him a valuable resource. I always leaned heavily on peers for feedback and leadership. Whenever possible, I had someone else “emcee” the outreach so that I could focus on giving a challenge or teaching a life skill. I also enjoyed being the “emcee” and watching other people refine their preaching and teaching skills. That allowed me to better read the cues of the kids and detention officers.
If you are a college student, try to view ministry opportunities in terms of “seasons.” Juvenile detention was neither my first nor my last season of ministry during my time in Greenville. You will hopefully get to experience a variety of ministry settings, but God shapes those who faithfully throw themselves into whatever opportunity is in front of them.
It may seem impossible to “commit to anything extra,” but you can commit to a season. Consider the stakes. Everyone needs a cause. But if we fail to make the Gospel our cause during the college years, we will eventually look to the world for a cause. This has become a trend with Christian college graduates who failed to prioritize personal ministry. If you wait until you are rested and ready for every Gospel opportunity, your diploma will mean very little to you when you hit 26. Am I saying that you should live a slightly unhealthy or unbalanced college life so that you don’t have any regrets? Well, you probably already do. And if not now, then just wait until senior year. We all sacrifice resources for things that give us meaning, so choose your cause carefully. With eternity in mind, you can invest for a season of outreach and then prayerfully re-evaluate. Remember the stakes.
My older sister gave me some life-shaping advice as a freshman: “You don’t own your weekends.” They aren’t a loophole to spend entirely on fun, on homework, or even on ministry. Weekends must instead be viewed in smaller segments of time and invested appropriately. At the time, I thought it was a college advice, but it has turned out to be a ministry advice. A college degree is earned in small, intentional segments of time, but so is Christ’s Church. For the rest of your life, you will make small decisions to exchange comfort, convenience, and career confidence to build the Church. For the rest of your life, you will be presented with unseen and unsung opportunities to invest in eternity. Hitting the snooze button or clicking “play next episode” sidelines us from the advance of Christ’s Kingdom. Once more, the Church is built by small, sacrificial decisions to prioritize the feeding of Christ’s sheep.
Don’t underestimate the spiritual opposition you will face when you wake up on a Saturday morning, having to make a decision with how you will spend your time (1 John 5:21). Don’t underestimate the weight you will feel as you look into the eyes of people who were questioning your motives even before you arrived. Don’t buy into the lie that meaning can be found while grasping for predictability, comfort, or even community. Your mind can be at peace with God even when nothing is certain. The busier you are, the more you need an outlet. The more you are being invested in, the more you need an outreach.
If you are leading an outreach, surround yourself with a good team. Give people opportunities while you shoulder the responsibility. Take notice of unlikely people and find out what they are good at. Invest in future leaders with an open hand. Your investment will bear fruit in God’s timing even if your own outreach never visibly recoups on your investment.
God may put a thorn in your flesh in regard to your outreach—a logistical complication, a health condition, a class, or a person, but the fears you surrender daily to God will grow you. Experiencing weakness while remaining faithful is a participation trophy we receive for God’s glory.
Start now to build your expository ministry, whether you are a preacher or not. In addition to your devotional books, invest in a few commentaries. Have your own interactions with God’s Word and let the truth you mine from the Scripture spill over wherever you go.
Make this season of your leadership a success, but realize that leaving a ministry legacy amidst the high turnover-rate of a student body is both unrealistic and meaningless (Ecclesiastes 4:16). You can hand over a finely tuned machine when you graduate, but God’s choice of replacement may be just as reluctant and dazed as you once were.
Today, a large portion of my ministry is at a tribal detention center in Arizona. My central focus is on the adult men, but I continue to use the avenue of Life-skills to reach juveniles. I’m still “building redemptive relationships with at-risk youths.” My undergrad diploma is meaningful because I know what God taught me during each season of ministry. Several of the kids whom my outreach team invested in at the JDC are either serving life sentences or dead, and the ups and downs of our college years stand against that backdrop. Although we made all kinds of cringy mistakes, we had a cause. I often felt like I was just putting in a rep for God’s glory. As it turns out, that’s how it is supposed to work. I expected outreach to shape my skillset, but God used outreach to shape my soul.
Evangelism is a Lifestyle
Benn Silveira, Junior Biblical Studies Major
I was born again on November 3rd, 2013. I remember the date, the time, the place, the song my youth pastor played to me… I even remember kneeling to pray as I asked Jesus to come into my heart. It’s easy for me to remember all those details because I was radically changed on that day. It was as if God lit a flame in my heart, and the flame has only grown brighter and stronger since Christ invaded my heart. This flame burns constantly for two things: to know God and to make Him known to everyone I encounter. Since November 3rd, 2013, I can see how God has used me to build His church through evangelism.
My Beginning Days of Evangelism
The very lady who led me to the Lord that Sunday night is the same lady God used to inspire me to pursue evangelism. The lady, Jean, is so passionate and bold for Jesus that she has spent most of her Christian life on the streets of major cities around the world asking men and woman this very question: “if you were to die tonight, where would you go?” A few months after I got saved, Jean took me street witnessing. I do not remember the exact conversations I had that night, but I do remember how excited I was to tell others about the risen Christ and how expensive salvation costed Jesus, yet so free for us! I give a lot of credit to Jean and Paul Steifvater for exposing me to urban evangelism. They planted a seed, but God watered it and continues to do so.
Needless to say, when I arrived at BJU in the fall of 2018 and discovered that the school has an outreach dedicated to urban evangelism, I immediately signed up. I actually thought of starting my own group if BJU did not already have one. I credit Luke Davis, who was a junior leading the outreach at the time, for formally introducing me to the outreach. I remember the night he came into my room to discuss my interests in the outreach after he heard through one of my friends I was interested in evangelism. I was so excited and amazed at how God orchestrated everything. The existence of the urban evangelism outreach was a confirmation from God that BJU is where God wants me.
My Three Desires: Salvation, Sanctification, and Exhortation
From the first Friday night I went out until today, I can honestly say I have gone out every chance I’ve had. There is an eternal reason for why I spend my Friday nights telling others about Jesus: we are not promised a tomorrow. It breaks my heart to know that people are dying and going to hell every day! The imminent fact of death is what makes urban evangelism necessary and all evangelism for that matter. When I am out on the street, there is a double-edged sword within me. On one side I am excited to see everyone having a good time; on the other side, I am extremely worried they do not understand the weight of their sin and the amount of love God has for them. These are the thoughts I think should accompany every person when they evangelize—whether on the street, at a coffee shop, at home, school, or even church.
I not only go out for the sake of other souls, but also for the sake of my own soul. Steve Pettit once said in chapel, “evangelism is a vital part of personal sanctification.” Too often I have been stumped with genuine questions that people have on the street regarding the gospel, and instead of getting discouraged, I return home and search for an answer to their question. My pursuit of truth has cemented my understanding of what I believe about God and why. My reasoning is this: if you can’t share your faith, how can you grow in your faith?
Beside my burden for lost souls and personal sanctification, I also have a burden for the spiritual growth of my brothers and sisters in Christ. As I tell others about Jesus, I also have the chance to exhort my fellow believers who are on the street that night (Hebrews 10:24). Although my time is brief when I do encounter a brother or sister in Christ, my time with them is always profitable because I have a chance to encourage them. Often I am the one who ends up being encouraged! It is not ideal to have evangelism separate from discipleship. It is a great blessing to know that after evangelizing I was able to both share Christ with a lost person and encourage someone in the household of faith all in one night.
My Burden for BJU Students
In addition to my desire for evangelism and discipleship, I also have a burden for those who want to share Christ with others but do not know how to or where to start. A part of me wishes there existed a three-step process for how to better evangelize. There are many good books and articles on the topic of improving your evangelism; however, in my personal experience of evangelism, I have found how we view people affects our evangelism. If we don’t see people the way God sees them, then we won’t love them the way we ought to. The greatest way we can love others is to tell them about Jesus Christ. So, what stops us from spreading the Good News? Unfortunately, Satan knows and exploits our weaknesses of fear and ignorance. For those who struggle with fearing what man will do or say to you, the first and main step is to grasp the weight of the gospel. The gospel concerns life and death; therefore, we are to take the good news of Christ and tell others out of love. Letting the fear of a few awkward moments stop us from sharing Christ is at its core unloving. It is selfish to allow the thought that sharing Christ with someone will result in an awkward conversation, make you feel weird, or even make you feel like a stereotypical Christian. When we neglect to tell someone about the risen Christ out of a fear of man, we are essentially “protecting our pride at the cost of their souls” (Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism). When you realize that the message of the gospel is more important than man’s reaction to you, nothing or no one will stop you. For those who want to share the gospel but feel inadequate, please understand that God qualifies you for the ministry just the way you are. By focusing on your inadequacies, you’re limiting God. God’s primary concern is not how much or how little you know the scriptures, although that is important; He is concerned with your willingness to trust Him as you evangelize. Take courage in knowing that Christ will not only minister to you but through you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
My Advice for Taking The First Step Toward Evangelism
The key ingredient that I have found for effective evangelism is prayer. If you’re wondering where to start, pray for an opportunity to share Christ. Trust me, that is one prayer request that God rarely denies. Since evangelism is a lifestyle, it is imperative to always have an attitude of prayer. Let me be the first to say it is never easy the first time you share Christ with someone. Take heart and remember: “You are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Mitch Miller, Pastor at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
One key to pastoring in a low-income area is to see yourself not just as the pastor of your church, but the pastor of the entire neighborhood your church is in. This simple shift in thinking changes everything.
When I came on board to pastor Griggs Memorial Baptist Church in the neighborhood of Poe Mill, I looked at my role through this lens. First thing that was affected was my time. Instead of cooping myself up in an office, I started knocking on doors, having conversations, hearing about needs and, when possible, meeting those needs regardless of whether or not the one in need was coming to my church.
Within a pretty short amount of time my phone was ringing off the hook. About a year into the role, I would get a call whenever anyone in the neighborhood was in the hospital, needed a preacher for a family member’s funeral, needed $30 to turn their water back on, had lost their job, or just been through a heart break. Sometimes these calls came within the work day, sometimes late at night. Sometimes the people started visiting the church after I tried to help them. Some of them still haven’t visited.
All of that is ok. The joy comes not from my comfort, but my opportunity to comfort those in pain. It may be that you too are ministering in an area where many are in pain on a daily basis. What do they need? They need a pastor. Don’t make them show up to find one. You show up for them. Here’s how:
One thing we have to recognize is that most people in our neighborhood aren't going to bring their problems to us unless they're big, life-or-death problems. Very few people will be knocking on the door of the church just because they have a car trouble or the flu. That's why we have to check in with them, just to see how they're doing.
This is as simple as a knock on the door, a piece of mail we send out, or a text or Facebook message as we get to know people better. We contact them even if they don't come to our church but say, "I pray for folks here in the neighborhood each week. Is there anything that I can pray for you specifically, big or small?" And don’t forget to actually pray for them.
Sometimes you may get a sense that something isn't right with a neighborhood family. You might see or hear something that prompts you to reach out. Always follow that prompting.
The other day I was talking to one of our members who told me he saw a kid on our church van knock an ice cream out of another kid's hand on purpose. The ice cream was totally ruined, laying on the floor of the van. The child being bullied said he would never come back to our church.
After figuring out who it was, I personally stopped by his house with a gift card for another ice cream. I was able to chat with the little guy and encourage him. The next Sunday he was back in kid's ministry. This was also a chance for me to meet his family, who later came to our church and heard the gospel!
I’ll take a second here to give a shout-out to one of my deacons. There's a homeless man who attends our church. Our deacon saw the obituary of this gentleman's mother one day in the newspaper and called me with the funeral information. At his suggestion, I went to the viewing just to stop by. All I did was quickly shake our homeless friend's hand and tell him I was sorry for his loss. That's it.
Several times now that guy has stopped me in the parking lot and told me how much it meant to him when I showed up. I can tell he means it. It’s not everyday that someone goes out of their way to be there for him, so it's powerful when that happens.
Simply making a shift in how you view yourself will do more for most of the people in your neighborhood than any sermon you ever preach. I'm not saying to give up the latter for the former. We need to preach and to preach well. What I am saying, however, is that there should be more people who consider you their pastor than hear you preach every Sunday. Eventually, by God's grace, both of those numbers will grow for the good of others and the glory of God.
You may find your weekly to-do list a little bit more uncomfortable, but many will be comforted by Christ through you, which is a tremendous joy.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.