In these formative early years, I learned to put a premium on living so as not to compromise my witness. I came to appreciate how important a witness of integrity is to our efforts in evangelism.
My subsequent attendance at a Christian college reinforced the idea that it was important for me to work hard at living a sin-free life. But there were a couple of major differences. In high school, our evangelistic witness was on the line every day. In college, it seemed like it was our Christian college's image that was at stake. (The few non-Christians attending our school were assumed to know what they'd gotten into by choosing to come to a Christian college.) In high school, Sally's partying received some loving interpersonal confrontation. In college, it was just as likely that her drinking would receive a swift disciplinary response on an institutional—rather than interpersonal—level.
The stakes for living an exemplary life had been raised. In fact if you were a Christian college student still struggling with temptations, it was better for your academic career—if not your soul—to keep those struggles hidden.
Being a good witness became synonymous with having an impeccable public image as a Christian. An unintended consequence was the inclination to cover up anything that might detract from being seen as a good example, one marvelously submissive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
This atmosphere of underground authenticity wasn't conducive to evangelism. Even though there weren't a lot of non-Christians attending my school, I'd become friends with a significant number of them. It was maddening to feel the need to defend image-preserving institutional responses when I wanted to engage my buddies in an honest exploration of the claims of Christ on their lives. And of course I thought my own impeccable image was essential to my witness.
As I moved into full-time ministry, I brought with me the conviction that Christians ought to be exemplary witnesses of what life in Christ should be. The better our examples, the more fruitful our evangelism ministry would be. Along with this luggage I brought an additional carry-on that I wasn't even aware of: Don't ask, don't tell…and you can assume that it's all good, brother!No Time
A ministry of evangelism among students is highly demanding. Those who want to be steadily fruitful find out quickly that they need to regularly renew their commitment to personal discomfort. The real action is in the trenches where kids live and need to be engaged. When you're on a ministry team that's passionate about reaching teens, the military metaphors seem to fit. You work hard, expect opposition, and celebrate victories without a lot of time to pause and ponder, let alone share. Our job was out there, and if we spent too much time together, we might lose some of our battle toughness.
At least that's how I attacked the job. And I recruited others who wanted to join in this adventure. My fellowship with these ministry partners was cemented by our appreciation for the work rather than the inner thoughts and feelings we exchanged. This was ministry survival of the fittest, in which the only shame was not keeping up with others' productivity.