Easter and the OutsiderAshley Chesnut
A couple of years ago, I started meeting with a college student, a science major, who was a self-proclaimed atheist. She had showed up at a local college ministry worship night, heard a fellow student share his testimony (the cute Christian football player on campus - basically, the campus heartthrob), and had questions about what she heard.
Even though I was working on an M’Div at seminary, I felt so unqualified to meet with her. This girl is brilliant. I mean, what college freshman do you know who has a part-time job proofing math problems in college textbooks? In the time that I knew her, God was clearly working in her, drawing her to Himself. Over the course of 1 ½ to 2 years, she went from atheist to agnostic to “running the reaction” (how she described becoming a Christian because she likened it to a chemical reaction).
I always had to pray for wisdom before talking with her because I never knew what questions she would ask, and we have such different personalities. I didn’t want us to speak past each other, especially with regards to subjects related to faith.
There was one day early on in knowing her that we were in the car when she went on a rant about the Bible, Christianity, and science. I am not a scientist. I’m more of an English/social studies girl. So I couldn’t address her science-related questions. But, I could share with her how I know Christianity is real (see Acts 26).
I told her how I reached a point where I knew that I’m a sinner and felt guilty for my sin. I trusted what the Bible says about Jesus dying for sins, and I was broken over the fact that He died to take my place, that He took my punishment (Rom. 5:6-8; 6:23). And in realizing what Jesus had done in dying on the cross and why He did it, I asked Him to forgive me for my sins and yielded my life to Him, trusting Him to be my Savior and Lord.
Then, I told her how God had worked in my life since I became a Christian. How He provided peace when my dad lost his job during the recession. How He was my hope and provided purpose after a devastating breakup. How He gave comfort after the death of a friend in college, a friend who wasn’t a believer. How He supplied strength and sustained me during two very hard years at college. I knew that I was never alone. He’s always with me, and He perfectly understands.
He has transformed me from the inside out. My attitude and actions - I would not be this way if I were not a Christ-follower. He’s the reason why I care for people. Everything in my life comes back to Christ - how I spend money and time, why I work where I work, who I date, etc. All of these life decisions have centered on Him and His guidance in my life.
This girl had many hard things happen in her life, which prompted many questions and a cynical attitude. She was not “churched.” There was much about Christianity that she assumed but hadn’t studied, so there were misconceptions. Plus, she grew up in the South and knew many people who proclaimed Christ but were hypocrites. I had to avoid Christian lingo. And she is intelligent. Simplistic answers did not suffice. “Just have faith” was not enough for her. If she was going to believe, there had to be substance. It needed to be a rational faith with a God who could handle her many questions - and believers who weren’t afraid to wrestle through them with her.
After that car ride discussion, I felt like I had totally done a terrible job explaining how Jesus has changed my life, and I prayed that God would take my inept offerings and speak to her what she needed to hear. Over the next year, she started softening towards the idea of God, and not just of a God who was “out there” above us but One Who is relational, personal. She definitely knew that following Jesus is not something that could be done half-heartedly. I still remember sitting in a booth at Panera when she figured out that following Christ meant that, if He called her to change her career path, she would need to yield to Him (she was avidly set on becoming a doctor). Counting the cost took a while for her. Trusting someone else with her future and letting go of the vise grip she had on her life plan was not something that came easily.
She has since graduated college and moved up north to continue with school, and I wish I could offer you some sort of neatly wrapped up story about where she is now with Christ. Truth is, I don’t know. She stopped wanting to meet regularly, and we lost touch after she graduated.
But this week, I read an article on “5 Easter Questions to Answer for Millennials” and immediately thought of her because these were all questions she had. Essentially, Millennials are those who were born during the ‘80s and ‘90s, so our current college students and folks in their 20s/early 30s are all Millennials. And, currently, this generation is largely unchurched. They’re outsiders.
Why bring this up? As we head into Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), 78 million of the people in this country - some of whom might actually darken the doors of your church on Easter Sunday - are Millennials. If we want to reach this generation with the gospel, we need to understand them, and we need to build relationships with them. They combine beliefs from various faiths (or non-faiths) and blend them together to create their own spiritual system, and they care less about religion than their parents. But they need to know what Jesus’ death and resurrection means, and they need to know we care about them (that they’re not a project) and that our relationship with Christ changes everything about us.
So this Easter season, how will you share about Christ with those who are outside of the faith?
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” -Romans 10:13-14