Animal House Considers God
By Rusty Wright
How would you like this introduction for your speaking engagement?
The terrazzo floor is glazed with stale, dry beer from the weekend’s wild party. As students stream into the dining room, it is obvious no self-respecting cockroach would have wanted to live in the adjoining kitchen. A few composite portraits of members hang — somewhat askew — on the paneled walls. The room buzzes as the 60 men swap stories and engage in friendly banter. Then their leader gavels them to order. Welcome to the fraternity chapter meeting.
First up is a profanity-laced tirade by the president condemning two rival University of Miami fraternities and a um campus administrator. Next, an officer blasts some members for lagging participation. A sharp crack of the gavel awakens a sleeping brother, who responds with an obscene gesture. The president declares he is stressed out and cannot wait to get away for spring break so he can get drunk and sleep with some chicks he does not know. A few minutes later he announces a speaker who has come to talk about brotherhood.
As you step up to speak, you might think, So, I break my back raising support to get to do this?
Some friends, Christian campus workers at the University of Miami, lined me up to speak at this fraternity. Ken and Robert were eager to reach the campus Greek community. Of course, fraternity and sorority members have no special standing in God’s eyes. But Greeks are leaders on many campuses, with significant potential influence for Christ. They often live together which helps facilitate small groups and discipleship. Ken was a member of this fraternity on another campus, as was I, and his relationships in the Miami chapter opened doors. We prayed that God would work through this meeting.
My opening joke bombed. My stories and illustrations about communication skills, conflict resolution, and brotherly love seemed to connect; they laughed and appeared more relaxed. The chapter advisor had told me that internal feuds were affecting his men. As I spoke, I was convinced the Holy Spirit had arranged this presentation on this topic for this audience at this moment. To catch a glimpse of what went on that evening, here is a bit of what the men heard.
Backfired Road Trip And Brotherly Love Quotient
I related this incident: During my freshman year in college, two other pledges and I took my fraternity big brother (an older student mentor) on a road trip. We borrowed his car (he was generous), took him to dinner, and then drove to a remote location with plans to strand him there. All went according to plan until we arrived at the remote location. Somehow, he overpowered us, grabbed the keys, and drove off, leaving us to find our way home. Of course, we were red-faced. Eventually, his forgiveness soothed our embarrassment.
In the same way, these men to whom I spoke could forgive when wronged, but care enough to confront when appropriate. Balancing truth and grace can be challenging.
Some questions helped them analyze their attitudes and brotherly love quotient:
- How often do I use biting sarcasm?
- How do I act toward members whose participation lags?
- Do I participate in chapter activities as I should? How is my attitude?
- How do I feel about the brother who casts a vote against my favorite rushee (prospective member)?
- How do I relate to rushees to whom we did not extend bids to join the fraternity? Later, when I see them on campus, do I give a friendly smile and greeting? Or was all that just for rush?
- I am madly in love with the beautiful blond in Chemistry 101. So is another member of my chapter … and they are going out tonight. How do I feel toward that brother?
Number six may be the ultimate test of brotherly love.
How does one get the internal power to love and accept others unconditionally? I related to these men that as I struggled with this question some friends suggested I consider the spiritual dimension. I learned in coming to faith as a freshman that God can provide inner power to enhance life and relationships.
The men seemed fairly attentive and were gracious in their applause. Had the Holy Spirit penetrated hearts? The men’s written comments gave some clues:
- “On target.”
- “Very good but a bit idealistic to me.”
- “If I did not know any better, I would have thought that you had lived here for months. You clearly know the ins and outs of fraternity life, and you hit the nail right on the head. I especially like what you said about the situation where two brothers like the same girl [sic]; it happens more than we would like to admit. Thank you.”
- “Very sincere. I am not the most spiritual person. But you made sense.”
- “You read my mind.”
- “I would be interested in receiving your articles and more about brotherhood.”
Arrogance, wrath, and lasciviousness sometime mask empty hurting hearts.
Ken continued his ministry in that house. Two years later, the chapter gathered at 11 p.m. to hear a Christian perspective on sex. When my host and I departed after midnight, several men followed us out the door with heartfelt questions. Animal house was not a church sanctuary, but God was at work.
Lessons For Communicating In Secular Universities
Consider some lessons from this story that relate to one-on-one, small-group, and public speaking situations.
Ken, Robert, other friends, and I prayed before the outreach. The warm response was God’s answer. Wisdom and skill help, but ultimately it is God who works in hearts.
Meet on their turf
To present Christ to hardened nonbelievers in their own home might seem scary, but they feel much more comfortable there among their friends than they would in a church or a neutral campus location. Use various outreach venues as appropriate, but also go where people are. Jesus and Paul went to homes, the marketplace, synagogues, and schools.
In a Greek house or dormitory, you may encounter uncomfortable scenarios: pinups, porn, drunkenness, and foul language. At a campus-wide outreach meeting in my fraternity house, one member welcomed guests while tied to a cross. Other members heckled the speaker. The speaker responded with poise, engaging them in friendly dialogue about Jesus. We are seeking to rescue lost people who do not always feel lost. Pick your battles and learn to overlook the natural flaws of natural people so you can relate spiritual truth.
Establish personal relationships
Ken’s friendships with fraternity leaders helped open doors for our meeting and for continued ministry there. That we were both members of their fraternity did not hurt. Use the opportunities you are given; but warm, personal relationships can open many doors for the gospel.
Use humor and stories
Those men could relate to the story about my backfired road trip, laughing with — and at — me. Humor can involve risk. I have studied, written about, taught, and used humor often. I also have had hilarious stories fall flat. Learn from these situations, develop recovery techniques, but realize that circumstances and specific audiences may generate different reactions. Do not be discouraged when your best zingers or illustrations bomb. Ask others to critique your presentation, but keep telling stories to connect with today’s campus culture.
Connect with their situation
Learn your listeners’ intellectual and emotional languages. This applies to any people group you seek to reach, whether they reside in remote forested jungles or nearby academic ones. In this case, stories about fraternity life and recognizable social situations — using terms familiar to them — helped gain and hold attention.
Connect their interests with spiritual matters
The brotherly love quotient questions helped listeners consider their need for inner strength to love unconditionally. From that point, discussing spiritual matters, God’s inner power, and my own journey to faith followed naturally. Do not simply tack the gospel onto your secular material. Show a clear connection.
Trust the Holy Spirit for long-term fruit and open doors
After Paul presented Christ to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, “some laughed, but others said, ‘We want to hear more about this later.’ … Some joined him and became believers” (Acts 17:32,34, NLT).1 Similarly, in our attempts to reach secular students and professors, some will scorn, some will want to know more, and some will believe. As we are faithful to trust the Holy Spirit to open hearts and doors of opportunity, God will work. “The king’s heart is likechannels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1, NASB).2
1. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from The Holy Bible New Living Translation, copyright Â©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
2. Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard BibleÃ†, Copyright Â©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org).