Evangelism and Social Action

Today’s college students are drawn toward social justice. Even more, today’s Christian students are concerned with integrating social justice concerns into their experience of the Christian Life.

Since the turn of the 20th Century and the fundamentalist controversy social justice concerns have often been linked with theological liberalism. While churches on the left focused on managing the sin(s) of society, the more conservative churches focused their theology and practice on the evangelization of individuals. With the exception of a few, the conservative churches withdrew from social justice practices to (1) focus on the evangelization of individuals and (2) not be associated with the theologically liberal churches.

Recently, conservative protestants have been moving toward including social justice concerns in the theology and practice of their spiritual journey. Instead of being a marker for theological liberalism, social justice has become a benchmark for a richer and more full gospel. They contend that the numerous old testament and new testament passages that talk about caring for the poor, the stranger, the marginalized and the disadvantaged must be taken as a serious element of the Kingdom of God.

For us, in a ministry like Campus Crusade for Christ, that has a specific calling to the evangelization and discipleship of college students, we encounter a serious question about how to (or even if we should) integrate social justice concerns and activities into our ministry. How and/or do social justice concerns fit into our mission of “turning lost students into Christ-centered laborers?”

My contention is that the integration of social justice into our campus plans will help us to achieve our mission on campus. It can benefit our ministry in four ways. First, it will contribute to the spiritual growth of our students on campus. Second, social justice projects can be an integral part of the community aspect of the evangelism model. Third, it allows non-Christians to be introduced to the people and values of the Kingdom of God. Finally, social justice concerns can connect us with communities on campus that we might not be able to connect with in our normal campus activities.

(1) Contributing to the Spiritual Growth of Students.
Being involved in Social Justice broadens one’s experience of the love and life of Jesus Christ. It challenges students’ perspectives and experiences and pushes their boundaries and understanding of Kingdom values like love, justice, mercy and power. It gives them insight and understanding into the Scriptural passages that address issues of loving one’s neighbor (the first and greatest commandment). In our effort to develop Christ-centered laborers, the words of Christ that address social justice concerns must be taken seriously and integrated into the students’ theology and experience.
(E.g., Taking privileged college students to the inner city to experience the effects of poverty, racism, injustice and imbalances of power.)

(2) Community Life and the Evangelism Model
Social Justice concerns can easily be integrated into the theology and practical outworking of the community mode of evangelism, represented in the evangelism model. Today, as stated before, Christian and non-Christian students are concerned about social justice. To have social justice projects in your evangelistic plan for the year is a way to include non-believers in the community of believers and their involvement in the kingdom of God. (E.g., 2-Mile Project)

(3) Involvement in Social Justice can increase the reputation of your movement on your campus.
The “university” is often looking for the students who are doing “good” on campus. While they may look skeptically at your efforts to do evangelism on campus, they are often impressed with a group’s ability to mobilize a group of students to help those in need in very practical and tangible ways (e.g., Katrina Relief). To be involved in social justice issues on campus and in the local community raises the community’s perception of the university and in turn helps the university appreciate your presence on their campus. Their positive impression, in turn, can facilitate your ability to do ministry activities on campus. While not as measurable as specific gospel conversations, developing a good reputation on campus will allow for more freedom and influence on campus for those conversations.

(4) Involvement in Social Justice issues can connect us to unreached communities on campus.
Minority and/or Ethnic students have traditionally been those that have been most involved in social justice issues. To initiate and plan a project that places your movement into a position to interact with those students gives you the opportunity to have natural conversations with people who you might not have conversations with in your ordinary ministry activities. Partnering with the BSU, Mecha, the Women’s Center or the GLBTSA might help in making your group more attractive to these communities.

A few cautions.
(1) Make sure that your social justice project is both short and inspiring – something that the students are excited and can commit to seeing it through to completion.

(2) Do social justice projects for their intrinsic goodness, not as a means to an end. If anything smacks of a bait and switch (using one thing to talk about another) you will alienate those whom you intended to draw in. But don’t be afraid to talk about Jesus and why He motivates you to be involved in the lives of others.

(3) Balance the community mode of evangelism with friendship and ministry modes to give the students a full picture of evangelism. SJ can easily become the focus of a ministry because it is very tangible and not as difficult as relational and ministry evangelism.

— Spud aka Ron Sanders (Stanford CCC)