This article is the last in a three part series that highlights how the Wheaton community shares Christ at home and abroad.
“I’ve always believed that what we believe about God matters more than anything else,” Sean Luke tells me, sitting at my kitchen table, a steaming chai in one hand, enthusiastically gesturing with the other. It’s hard to imagine a time when Luke wasn’t so deeply passionate and expressive about his faith, but his own story of transformation is what feeds his evangelism.
Raised in Naperville, Ill., by a Christian mother and a father who was antagonistic towards Christianity, Luke is no stranger to the tensions that tend to escalate around religion. While his mom was faithful to create a Christian environment by praying over her family, his father saw Christianity as “so ritualistic, it was just something you did.” Until Luke was 15, he did not truly understand the Christian faith or commit to following Christ. “I kind of just believed in case there was a hell,” he said of that time.
It took his older brother George coming home one night “on fire” for Jesus and encouraging Luke to lean hard into his questions about faith to bring Luke into rich study of Scriptures. “I would come home from high school, day in and day out, listening and reading for hours. I just wanted to know if it was true.”
After months of study, being both humbled and emboldened by the convictions of the theologians and commentators he came to consider his mentors, Luke came to a conclusion: “All the evidence is pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of God. But then I realized. Man, this is really a heart issue. So I said, ‘Lord, I am always going to be uncertain, unless I fall in love with you.’” And he did.
This fervor is evident in Luke’s life today. He chalks up his conversion to many people — his mother for her constant prayer and authors and speakers who had influenced him. “It took a lot of time,” he said, “a lot of people pouring into my life and challenging me a lot of people I’d never met who challenged me.”
It was in the midst of wrestling with his own questions about God that he evangelized for the first time with his brother, Thomas. “I was sitting on my parent’s bed,” he recalls, “and I Thomas over and I , ‘If this is all true, then that means that the same God who made every single star in the sky and every blade of grass loves us.’” While it still took time for Sean Luke to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, this one true phrase about the love of God was enough to convince Thomas: “He walked out of the room, accepted Christ that night, broke up with his Muslim girlfriend, dove into the Scriptures and was totally different overnight.” It was Thomas’ powerful reaction to God that finally motivated Luke to dig deeply into the Scriptures.
As a new Christian in his sophomore year of high school, Luke was put into leadership of the Christian club on his campus, a move that he laughs about now, saying he was “not good, not adept at sharing my faith, actually pretty abrasive at sharing my faith.” He remembers lugging around his Bible whenever in proximity to his Muslim friends, hoping that they would ask about it and start a conversation. “They totally knew what I was doing, they were able to sniff it out,” he laughs. But this leadership opportunity, however hasty, led Luke to connect with the California School Project — now known as the National School Project (NSP) — his senior year of high school. Through CSP and working with college mentors, he learned new ways to better share the gospel as well as how to engage his high school campus in conversations about Christianity.
After months of preparation, his first outreach lasted a week and resulted in a range of reactions, including “people who had never really considered if there was evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It was cool that drew that kind of .”
When I asked whether the negative reactions ever upset him, Luke shrugged, saying, “rejection a non-Christian has never really gotten to me.” The hostile debates about Christianity that his father instigated while he was growing up prepared him well for the lack of reception to the gospel. Sometimes this hostility even encourages him. “Jesus said this would happen, so it’s okay that it does,” he said, pointing to the book of Matthew.
The power of his successes has far outweighed the rejection sometimes incurred along the way. Now as a junior at Wheaton, Luke has been involved in NSP for three years, returning to the same group that fueled and shaped his passion for evangelism. As a student leader, he recruits and coaches other college students to train high school students in the same way he was trained. To Luke, success isn’t strictly conversion numbers, but watching relationships with new Christians form and grow deeper over time. “What’s been really cool is to see high schoolers being faithful to the call to make disciples, to share the gospel, and then faithfully wanting to follow up with these people.”
Luke identifies two types of evangelism: contact evangelism and relational evangelism. Relational evangelism involves pouring into a person for more than just the purpose of sharing God with them — to fully know and befriend that person before presenting them with the gospel. “Relational evangelism,” Luke said, “is good as long as you actually get into the evangelism part.”
Contact evangelism, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: approaching someone with the clear intention of having a conversation about God. Regardless of whether a relationship is already in place, one enters the conversation with a clear objective of sharing the gospel. “I’ve had friends tell me that is bad missiology,” Luke says, “but I think a lot of those critiques are misguided because there’s a certain image of contact evangelism that pops into people’s minds, namely the pushy preacher on the side of the street.”
But contact evangelism can be done well, Luke says. It begins with taking God seriously. “If there is a heaven and a hell, if there is life with God or eternal death, man — that matters. So, so much. That’s the last thing you want to be lackadaisical about,” he says. Luke has found deep conversation with folks who share his reverence for and interest in God, even if they don’t yet know the truth.
Luke recognizes that waltzing up to a stranger on the street can still be anxiety-inducing for many, and there’s an aspect of boldness that’s necessary and beautiful to good contact evangelism. Luke worked with the Chicago Evangelism Team frequently during his freshman year at Wheaton and loved to see the people who spontaneously chose to join CET inspire the regulars with their boldness and willingness to share their faith even if they had never done it before. “Just don’t be afraid,” Luke advised. “There might be five seconds of awkwardness, but that’s about it.”
According to Luke, contact evangelism is necessary. “Consider what’s at stake,” Luke urged. “If people are really going to an eternal place of God’s infinite anger, the stakes are really high.” There’s a sense of urgency that comes with truly understanding the depths of depravity that all humans fall into, he explained, but also the depths of grace that are available to us. The stakes of a stranger’s soul outweigh nervousness or fear caused by awkward encounters.
“Find a non-Christian person that you can pour into and go for it,” Luke concluded. “Whether that’s with CET or at College of DuPage or a close non-Christian friend. Open this conversation. Consider the stakes, consider the joy that we have in Christ that you want to share and then go for it.”