Sent: Living A Life that Invites Others to Jesus: Dr. Heather Holleman
What if living “sent” is more than what you do? Professor Heather Holleman offers ideas from her time at Penn State to embrace evangelism as an identity. She offers tips to forming genuine connections and living on purpose in your neighborhood. What could God do in your community?
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What if living “sent” is more than what you do? Professor Heather Holleman chats about evangelism as identity and living on purpose in your neighborhood.
Sent: Living A Life that Invites Others to Jesus: Dr. Heather Holleman
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Daily Title Sent: Living a Life That Invites Others to Jesus
Guest: Heather Holleman
From the series: Sent: Living a Life That Invites Others to Jesus (Day 1 of 1)
Air date: July 5, 2023
Heather: Evangelism is not something I’m doing; it’s who I am. I thought, “I don’t want to do things for Jesus; I want to do things with Jesus.”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.
You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
I [was] sitting on the back deck in the middle of summer in Michigan watching Cru staff training. You weren’t there.
Ann: I wasn’t there.
Dave: I don’t know where you were, but I was sitting out there with my iPad, and I’m watching remote. They introduce this woman from Penn State. She’s a professor, PhD. She’s going to speak. I’d never heard of her. I [thought], “Should I watch this? I don’t know. Do I have time?
She starts her message, and 15 minutes later I’m crying, because God was speaking through her in a powerful way to my identity as an evangelist.
Do you remember me telling you? I said, “You have to watch this right now.”
Ann: I remember coming home. You walked in and you said, “You have got to listen to this woman. She is right up our alley. She is talking about things that resonate with our hearts and everyone’s hearts.”
Dave: —and really with God’s heart. I texted Jim, our producer immediately: “We have to get Heather Holleman on FamilyLife Today.”
Ann: She’s here.
Dave: She’s sitting in the studio right now.
Heather: I’m so excited to be here. I’m having a great time already. That was a nice little introduction to me. No pressure—this great talk.
Dave: No pressure; you’ve just got to deliver like you did on stage that day. Dr. Heather Holleman, how long have you been a professor at Penn State?
Heather: Almost 15 years.
Dave: Oh, really?
Heather: Yes, and I still love it. I still get excited every fresh semester. I do; I love students.
Ann: You teach?
Heather: I teach advanced writing. I know this sounds very nerdy, but advanced essay writing and professional development. But I’m looking with the Shreyer Honor’s College now. It’s a lot of curriculum development to help these high-achieving students succeed.
Ann: You are also married. How many years have you been married?
Heather: We’re coming up on 23 years. We have two daughters. One is at the University of Pittsburgh and the other is applying to Penn State in graphic design.
Ann: You’re going to be an empty nester soon.
Ann: How does that feel?
Heather: We’re excited because we love ministry; we love serving people and helping churches develop a culture of evangelism. So, we have a lot of work before us. We have a lot of fun things, and we love writing books together. So, maybe my husband and I might have another book in the future.
I know you guys do that, too. You’ve written together. You’ve co-written, right?
Ann: We have.
Heather: It’s not easy.
Dave: No; it’s not.
Heather: It’s not easy. You’ve got to be Spirit-filled.
Dave: But what a blessing to be able to do it as a couple. It’s awesome.
Ann: I think, too, Heather—I feel like every woman listening is going to say, “I want to be her friend.” I want to be your friend.
Heather: I want to be your friend, too. I love—warm, close connections are the foundation of a happy life according to all the research, so I’ll take all the friends I can get.
Dave: I think one of the reasons I was in tears watching—and I’ve watched it several times since and shown it to almost everybody in our family—I’d love to hear your perspective on this—because you were talking about your call, not just as a woman and a professor, but God’s call on you as a woman of God to share the truth, share the Gospel with others.
I know as a pastor probably my number one spiritual gift would be evangelism. If there’s a group of Christians and a group on non-Christians standing, I’m always going to run to the non-Christian group. I just want to share the gospel with them. I relate to them. I want to just love these guys.
Something was hitting me, when you were speaking about my life at this point. I’m sitting often in a studio, like we are today, surrounded by Christians, which is awesome; it’s wonderful. I was resonating with “I need to be out in the streets”—where I often [have been] in my life. I felt this “Are you still on fire to share the gospel,” because you told story after story of how God has used you.
I’d love for you to share, not that message, but the heart of that sent identity and what you do as a professor. Because it was so cool to hear that you don’t stand in front of students every day and just teach.
Dave: You have a bigger call than that.
Ann: Maybe, where did that passion come from, Heather?
Heather: I always knew that I had a gift of evangelism. That’s one of the reasons my husband, Ashley, co-wrote the book with me, because he claims he doesn’t have this super-natural gift, but he does the work of the evangelist empowered by the Holy Spirit. God uses him so powerfully. He led our 85-year-old neighbor to the Lord and discipled him during COVID. [Laughter]
But I love talking about Jesus, so when I enter a room, the first question I have in my mind is “Who here doesn’t yet know Jesus?” It’s just something the Holy Spirit does.
But what happened is I was reading the book of John, and I noticed that the number-one way Jesus describes the Father in the book of John is “the Father who sent me.”
As someone who loves vivid verbs, as a writer, I kept looking at that word. “Okay, Jesus understood His identity as sent.” Then in John 20:21, when He says, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you,” I was really overwhelmed with “Evangelism is not something I’m doing; it’s who I am.”
I thought, “I don’t want to do things for Jesus; I want to do things with Jesus. What is Jesus doing? He is building a kingdom for Himself. That’s where—the talk was really about the three core principles that, if you believe them, your life is going to be a supernatural adventure.
The principles are easy: That God is always at work to draw people to Himself; that for whatever reason He uses people to lead others to Jesus; and He’s continually inviting us into that work every single day.
That was the talk. It was the stories of me really believing it’s no accident where God has placed me in the classroom praying for students, being available when they want to talk about the Lord.
It is not an easy environment, obviously, the college campus, but I find that when I tell students I’m a Christ follower, they’re curious. They think it’s a bold statement and they’ll start sharing their lives with me. I think it’s important to identify that I’m a Christian as soon as I can to students.
Ann: What does that sound like? When you tell people what do you say?
Heather: It’s easy because I teach professional development. We were talking about resumes and cover letters. I just said to my students, “Sometimes when you’re writing a resume you may be hesitant to include things that you really care about; like your religious involvements or maybe you’re involved in a church or a club. But I said, “In my own life l like to let people know that I am a Christ follower.” [Laughter]
I was very clear: “I follow Jesus. I like talking about Jesus, so that’s something I include in my professional portfolio.” They were dead silent. Then they want to know about it. They’re interested.
A student came up to me and said, “I’ve sort of forgotten about my faith in college. Where do you go to church?” Those kinds of things. I love the authenticity of it. There’s nothing wrong with identifying who you are in front of students. I love that.
The talk was also about “Sent people not only have a rich theology of place - your neighborhood, your classroom, the gym, but you become people of prayer and then you get to see divine activity as you pray for people.
I ended the talk taking about asking great questions and sharing great stories of your own personal transformation.
Ann: I want to hear some of those stories.
Heather: Yes, right.
Ann: I’m thinking, “Oh, tell us.”
Heather: My favorite story right now, which I do have permission to share, is I have a dear colleague who likes to say that she’s an atheist. It’s very important to her that we know that she’s an atheist. We’re really good friends. I love talking to her. She likes to hear what I’m learning from the Bible. It’s just amazing.
But one of the things I prayed early on was “God, please send others to help.” That’s something that Paul prays. There are all sorts of ways you can pray. I list seven of them in my Sent book. But I said, “God, would you please send other people to help me here with this professor. I can’t be the only Christian that she knows.” I had no idea that God would answer that prayer by sending students into her office. She calls me in, and she says, “Heather, you’re just going to giggle.”
I [said], “Why am I going to giggle?”
She said, “I had a student that came into my office and said, —I’ll call her “Dr. S.—she said, “I believe that it’s end times. I am a Christian, and I think the end of the world is coming because of COVID and all this stuff.”
This professor says, “If you are a Christian and you think the world is ending, aren’t you guys supposed to read the book of Revelation?” [Laughter]
This student said, “I’ve never read the book of Revelation. That’s a good idea.”
So, this professor said, “I haven’t read the book of Revelation. What if I studied it with you?” So, she has Bible study every Friday with this student.
Ann: Come on!
Heather: No, and when I at staff training, when I was at CRU 22, I got a phone call when I was walking around Milwaukee, and she said, “It happened again.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
She said, “A student came into my office wanting to understand the Christian faith.” The professor said, “If you’re trying to understand the Christian faith, aren’t you guys supposed to read the book of John?”
The student said, “Yes.”
This professor said, “Well, I’ll study the book of John with you.”
I said, “Dr. S., you are in two Bible studies. —[Laughter] —You know that everyone is praying for your salvation at this point.” I like that story of the divine activity of when you have people in your life that you really want them to know Jesus or return to Jesus, you’re not alone. You can ask God to send others to help.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest”…. [Matthew 9:37-38, NIV]
Stories like that abound. There are all sorts of opportunities, and people, mostly because of the spiritual language I use, they’ll come up to my and say, “I’ve heard you talk about God.” A prominent woman in our town said, “I hear you say that word.” She said, “Who is God and how can I know Him?”
Dave: Wow! That’s so cool.
Ann: That comes from your own personal walk with Jesus—
Ann: Because of my tendency to get in the grind—like I want to get all my things done on my list every day—I can get my eyes off of people and I can get very task oriented. So, I’ve been trying over years, before I even get out of bed, [I say] Jesus, I pray that You’d open my eyes that I can see people the way that You do. Use my tongue, Lord, to say the things that You would say.”
You guys, God answers that prayer.
Heather: He does.
Ann: He answers it.
Heather: You’ve got to be very careful.
Ann: I remember Dave and I were coming in to do radio and we were on the tram in the Orlando airport, and I noticed—and this is where I feel like you pray that prayer and God will give you those eyes—I noticed and I saw a woman that seemed a little flustered, seemed a little sad and a little confused. So, I scooted up to her a little bit, and I said, “Are you doing okay?”
Instantly, she started crying. She said, “I just lost my husband recently, and this is the first flight I’ve ever taken without him in 40-something years. My daughter’s going to meet me. I don’t even know what to do or where to go because my husband has always done that for me.”
I got teary, and I put my arm around her. I said, “I can’t imagine how hard that is. I’m so sorry. Isn’t it sweet that we have a God that sees you and knows. I’m going to help you get to your daughter.”
Heather: That’s perfect. He sent you.
Ann: Yes. It was the sweetest gift. It was just five minutes. I helped her make sure she met her daughter. But I said, “Oh, Lord, that was the greatest blessing to me that you allowed me to see [her].” Heather you’re doing that every day; you’re seeing these students. You’re really being Jesus.
How is your faith ignited? What are you doing personally that you’re on fire for Jesus?
Heather: The answer’s really simple so probably everyone is [saying], “Oh, we know that.” But it’s really reading God’s Word and connecting with Him every day. I take seriously the habit of connecting with the Lord and having that prayer journal. It’s not hours. It might only be a half hour before work, but I tell the Lord the things I’m thankful for, I write down the names of five people that I’m praying for that don’t know Him that I know I’m going to see that day.
I like praying the same things that Paul does, that God would give them a spirit of revelation. I love from Psalm 119, where the priest says, “Let my heart not be drawn to what is evil.” I pray that for people. I read God’s Word. We know that it’s God’s Word that is at work in people. I love in Romans 10, that faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. [Romans 10:17, Paraphrased]
The other reason to spend time in God’s Word is whatever I learn that day, I love telling people throughout the day, as a great evangelism strategy. I’ll say, “I just read something really great in the Bible. May I share it with you?” Nobody says, “No.” Nobody has said, “No.” It also gives me something to text my girls, my daughters, because I don’t want to always be talking about Jesus with them in a way that makes them feel bad like they need to perform for me or do anything. But with kids I really do love sharing something joyful that I read in Scripture with them.
Dave: As a family ministry—you’re a wife and a mom—how does this sent identity. how to you transfer that, how do you teach that, how is it lived in your marriage and in your home? Help parents understand how we can do this.
Heather: Since we live in a neighborhood, probably the most important thing is to let the whole family know that we have a personal mission statement where they are to bless neighbors and to pray that God would open their eyes and they would come to faith.
What we’ve done is all sorts of things. I guess you could apply it to whatever situation you’re in. When they were little, we did a lot of gatherings of the neighbors to bless them. We did neighborhood fitness groups. We had a walk-to-school campaign. We had Saturday morning pancakes.
But then when the girls were teenagers, they did say that it felt like too much, that we had too many people in our home all the time. So, we did dial things back in the teenage years, but we still always made sure we had times where we were gathering and connecting with people who didn’t know Jesus.
Most recently we did donuts and coffee in the driveway for the neighbors, and 40 neighbors came—40. Just have donuts. They know that we’re church goers; they know that we love them, so it’s a lot of acts of service. The girls know that if somebody’s sick, I’m going to be making a meal. If someone’s had a baby, I’m going to be making a meal.
So, weaving it into the natural way that your family works. Almost whatever we’re doing, inviting people into that.
Ann: You have to be so intentional, because—
Heather: It’s intentional; yes.
Ann: —you’re a professor, you have a full-time job, you’re a mom, you’re a wife. Your girls are busy; they’re doing things. You’re active in so many things. But this is a priority for your family.
Heather: It is, and it’s also something Spirit-filled. I had to pray and ask God: “I don’t really know what will bless these neighbors. What can I do that will not take a lot of their time? What is something they need to do anyway?” That’s where the walk-to-school idea came from. I said, “Just bring your kids to the front of our house and we’ll walk the mile instead of driving them in the minivan.”
We walked for eight years. Four people came to the Lord through that walk-to-school campaign. Part of it was I was walking with a professor who had converted to Hinduism. I said to her one day, “What does your tradition say about Jesus? You know I’m a Christian. What does your tradition say about Jesus?”
That single question led her to explore Christianity, and she prayed to receive Christ. She led her husband and children to the Lord. It was all just in the context of neighborhood living.
I do say to my neighbors: “Does it bother you all that I talk so much about Jesus?” [Laughter] And nobody every says, “Yes.”
But my most recent thing that I write about in the book, Sent, is doing a—I call it a soup and story night—because we have a lot of professional people in our neighborhood, so it’s hard to gather them. We do a soup night on Monday nights. I said, “Just come; come in your scrubs, come in your work outfit and we’ll have soup,” because you know it’s cold all the time in the winter. [Laughter]
I called it soup and story, because they would say, “What can we bring?” and I would say, “Nothing but a story about your day.” I was researching the epidemic of loneliness, and I said to the neighbors when they came that night: “Look, I’m lonely; you’re lonely. We’re going to do this. We’re going to be together.” One of the women around the table said, “How do we begin?” She said, “What if we all went around the table and you can either share a breakthrough, a breakup, or a breakdown. I’ll go first. I’m breaking down.” [Laughter] She just needed to connect.
There are all sorts of things you do. But I did pray: “What would help people?” What if you did an hour dinner after work? Nobody wants to cook dinner. Have them stop by for an hour: “Get your bowl of soup, get some fresh homemade bread, tell me a story about your day, and then be off on your way.” That’s our current thing that we’re doing, and the fire pit. Don’t forget the power of the fire pit.
Ann: I am so inspired! Are you hearing this? [Laughter]
Heather: Ann, are you going to start inviting some neighbors over for soup? I’ve got great recipes.
Heather: —Thai carrot soup.
Heather: Also, you’ve got to do food allergies. We’ve got vegans, we’ve got dairy-free, we’ve got gluten-free. I had to learn so much about soup. [Laughter]
Ann: Do you make all your soups, too?
Heather: Homemade soups—you don’t have to, but I did because that was part of the draw; like, “Come and get a nice….” Because we have a lot of people that deeply care about health, so I wanted good—and I made the homemade bread. That took some time.
Dave: Yes, I’m inspired. I’ve taught this before and I’m sure you’re aware of this: Jesus in the Beatitudes saying, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” [Matthew 5:14] When you look at the original Greek of “a city set on a hill,” it literally means “a city strategically placed on a hill.”
He’s getting at—they knew in those days, there were city planners—you didn’t just throw a city up anywhere. They were put in strategic places where people in the dark would find safety and refuge.
I believe what Jesus was saying to His disciples is just as a city isn’t just randomly thrown anywhere, you aren’t either. What you’re saying—I’ve always tried to understand this: “Where we live—I mean we chose this house, but God is saying, “I placed you as the light in that cul-de-sac, in that apartment building, -whatever. You are living that. It’s like every listener listening should be “Wait, so where I live isn’t random?
No, no, no; God has placed you.
Heather: Acts 17, “He searches out the exact places.” It does make it a supernatural adventure at the point.
But back to your question about how to incorporate the kids, that other thing is to bring them into the prayer time of praying for neighbors and helping them realize that they can be agents of blessing in their school. So, even say, “Do you have people that you would like to put in the prayer journal that we can pray for who are having a hard time?” That does help kids get less self-obsessed, because teenagers—you know. [Laughter]
The prayer journal is really a powerful tool in a family. I love the prayer journal; I love just asking God for what we need and reflecting back at the end of the day.
Ann: I love the idea, as a family, talking about this: “How can we love our neighbors? How can we serve our neighbors? What would that look like?” And then to partner, because Jesus is all about that—partnering with Jesus asking Him: “Lord, what would be the best way for us to be,” as you said, Dave, “that light.”
Shelby: Now, you might be thinking, “I have a completely chaotic schedule and life. There’s zero chance I can incorporate what she’s saying into my life.” Well, hang on, because Heather both understands that and also derails the idea that it’s not possible for busy schedules.
Proactively becoming agents of blessing as a family, is not something we typically think about, but it’s such a beautiful way that God uses us to change other lives and mold us at the same time. It’s a win, win, win, win, win, win, win.
I’m Shelby Abbott. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talk with my friend, Heather Holleman, on FamilyLife Today. Isn’t she the best?
She’s written a book called Sent: Living a Life that Invites Others to Jesus. You can pick up a copy of that book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800- “F” as in “family”, “L” as in “life” and then the word, “TODAY.”
I’m excited too, because coming up tomorrow and Friday, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to have Paul Miller in the studio. He’s written a book called Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus. His writing is and encouraging and convicting look at Jesus’s life on earth. Then through that lens, it gives us practical answers to really tough questions.
This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially at FamilyLife. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, as I mentioned earlier, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800- 358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.
Alright, here’s Dave, Ann, and Heather with how to make this agents-of-blessing thing work in your life.
Dave: I’m hoping that families after listening to this broadcast today are saying, “Let’s have a conversation tonight. God has placed us here. We have a sent identity. What can we do?” Be creative. There are some new ideas, whether it’s a fire pit or marshmallows or—
Heather: —or football games.
Dave: —or football games.
Heather: My husband said to me, “Stop doing things for people and start doing things with people.” So, if you’re really busy and you can’t do another event ask yourself: “What am I doing that I can invite other people into?”
I thought, “I’m walking to school every day. I make soup on Mondays,” and we do watch footfall every Saturday, so invite people, make a little tail gate.
Dave: I just want to note, I did not mention football.
Heather: I brought up the football.
Ann: Yes, you did.
Shelby: Now, coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Paul Miller. He’s going to talk to us about the ins and outs of what it looks like to love like Jesus. That’s tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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