The Gospel Goes to College

Audio Version

When Tom Short first trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior, his mentor asked him, “If you could do anything, and you knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you do?” Tom immediately knew the answer. He wanted to travel to colleges around the US sharing the truth about creation and the gospel.

He started by planting a student church at the University of Maryland in 1980. Then, taking his cue from the book of Acts, he began preaching in public places, and he has visited over 100 campuses throughout the US and Europe. Today, Tom’s preaching has blossomed into a ministry, Truth on Display.

Tom sets up large, apologetics-oriented banners on campus in high-traffic areas. The banners address creation, the existence of God, and the reliability of the Bible, and they present Jesus as the only way to come to God the Father. Then, for five or six hours each day, he speaks with students who stop to look at them.

At first, hundreds of students would stop to hear him speak, and many left with changed hearts. Students began attending local churches, and baptisms of these converts were a regular occurrence. But over the years colleges became less and less open to Christian activity.

Once a professor told Tom, “You can say whatever you want in your church, but this is my turf. You don’t belong here.” Tom says this attitude reflects the reality at many colleges around the globe. As a result, most students who arrive on campus as professing Christians are leaving their faith by graduation.

The professor’s rebuke convinced Tom that the time had come to begin invading other professors’ “turfs.” Since then he has visited more than 100 colleges, including Ohio State University, the University of Florida, Texas State University, and West Virginia University.

“In over 35 years of campus evangelism, evolution has been the most common excuse students give for not believing in God.”

“In over 35 years of campus evangelism, evolution has been the most common excuse students give for not believing in God,” Tom explains. “Many students ask me how old I think the earth is. They think bringing up science is their ace in the hole against Christian faith. But because we have the truth on our side, we don’t back down when they raise these questions.”

Tom says students often think Christians are uneducated, ignorant, and gullible for not embracing Darwinian evolution.

“These students are constantly told evolution explains everything. Science has all the answers. Religion was created by those in power to control the weak,” Tom says. “Add to these arguments the peer pressure from living in the dorm, and it’s a wonder anyone remains a Christian in college.”

Of all Tom’s encounters with students, one reaction stands out because it is typical of many. He met Harvert when he was preaching at the University of Florida. Trained as a scientist and a self-proclaimed atheist, Harvert challenged Tom about evolution. But Tom wanted to know why Harvert didn’t believe in God.

Harvert answered him, “Tom, think about it. You and I are just two people among several billion others on this earth. Earth is just one planet of billions in our galaxy, and there are billions of galaxies. Face it, we are insignificant and meaningless in this vast universe. How can you really believe there’s a God out there who thinks about us?”

Tom remembers telling Harvert, “That’s the same question David pondered in Psalm 8. In light of the heavens, we should feel insignificant, but down deep, we know we have value. Why? Because we are created in the image of an almighty God. We’re more than just advanced animals. We’re made in the very image of God.”

Although Tom never saw Harvert again, he trusts God’s promise that his Word will not “return empty” (Isaiah 55:11). And Harvert was exposed to biblical truth that day, which is ultimately what the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts.

Tom stresses that he doesn’t present the Bible as his own opinion, nor does he suggest it as an option. Instead, he declares that every word is true from Genesis to Revelation.

“It’s hard to ignore us when we speak with such conviction. I shake the fence so that people come down on one side or the other—either for the Lord or against him—but it’s hard to listen to our interactions and remain on the fence in your relationship with God.”

While preaching at Ohio State University, a place he visits frequently, Tom spoke with an older student named Keith.

Keith said, “In all my years, I never realized I could read the Bible for myself.” Keith dug into the Bible, and not long afterward he became a Christian. He also began sharing his new faith publicly in the center of campus.

“Rarely does a day go by when we don’t see positive responses to our message. But a day rarely goes by when we don’t also experience hostility. Of course, this is to be expected. I am taking God’s truth and light onto highly secular university campuses. Our bold, confident public presentations challenge secularism and unbelief right on their own turf.”

Even on those days when the opposition seems heaviest, Tom is determined to speak truth and give answers. He trusts God’s promise that God will bless his efforts to share the good news about Jesus (Romans 10:14–17).

For more information on Tom and his ministry, go to

Tom’s Tips for Evangelizing

From the earliest days after his conversion, Tom longed to tell others about the Savior. But he wasn’t very effective. At first, he depended on his own ability, but he soon realized he needed God’s strength. “God wants us to turn to him, humble ourselves, and seek his strength.” As he kept sharing, Tom developed a list of evangelism tools:

  • Speak with confidence. No need for constant caveats like “in my opinion” or “in the Christian’s view.” After all, we have the truth on our side (Acts 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
  • Speak with patience. We were once ignorant and blind to God’s truth, but we sometimes forget what it’s like to be on the other side of the discussion (Titus 3:1–7).
  • There’s nothing wrong with occasionally not knowing an answer, but if it happens too often, we’re not doing our homework (1 Peter 3:15).
  • Be bold enough to say what needs to be said. Don’t be afraid to call sin sin (Ephesians 6:19–20).
  • Share the gospel of Jesus a lot. If we want an abundant harvest, we need to sow abundantly (2 Corinthians 9:6).
  • Sowing can be easy and reaping is fun, but if the ground is hard, we must do the difficult work of plowing the soil. That includes building relationships, listening carefully, and giving thoughtful reasons for our faith (Psalm 126:5–6).
  • Never let what we don’t know keep us from telling others what we do know (John 9:25).
  • Pray that people we witness to will have open eyes to see Christ’s glory, open minds to understand his message, and open hearts to receive him as Savior (2 Corinthians 4:3–4; Romans 10:9–10).
  • God’s Word is powerful. Use Scripture whenever you can and challenge others to read the account of Christ (the Gospels) for themselves (Isaiah 55:11; John 20:31).

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May–June 2018

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