On a damp February morning in Reading, I am working with a team of 40 university students to help some of the 25 ooo students at the University of Reading to explore the Christian faith. Each year I make sure I take time to do a university mission. I started leading them when i was 20 years old. Sadly I can only afford to do one a year, which means this could be my 20th uni mission. But why bother?
Why bother with student missions?
1) Future / Present- I believe the universities are a key place for the future and the present state of the church. As we are seeing a major lack of 20-30s in our churches the university is key place to work out how to contextualise the gospel for this rising generation. Without the 20-30s engaged we risk being irrelevant both today and tomorrow.
2) Experiment – the thing I love about lots of students is that they are normally up for an innovation and experimentation. This year we are exploring doing “double lunch bars” doing a different talk 12-1pm then another one on a related but separate subject 1-2pm. Some students stay all the way through for the two hours of conversation. (This is an idea borrowed from a mission I lead in Sydney – nice one EU Syndey!). I am experimenting with a social media idea – “how would you tweet the meaning of life” was a question I asked from the second seminar today. I am increasingly conversational in the presentations – pausing for questions and asking questions throughout the talks as a result of my university work.
3) Global village – our universities are still attracting students from all around the world – today I prayed with a a girl from a Hindu background from Nepal, and chatted with an Asian guy from Kenya, a visiting student from USA, and a girl from Mexico City and another girl from Bogota, Columbia. That was just in a single lunch time event. Reach universities and help reach the world.
4) Training – working with CU guests means there are young and emerging evangelists to help train up. This year I am working with some of the staff from the Evangelical Alliance as well as workers from Emerging Culture and local church interns and apprentices. We are using students and guests in panel discussions at the end of each lunch bar to encourage them to have a go at answering questions. The lunch time talks were: Has Science Killed God? and Is there a point to life? It was great to be able to encourage students to think critically about the conflict metaphor between science and Christianity – to show how the epistemology of John’s gospel works and does not pit evidence and reason against faith and to bring the idea of life from John’s gospel into dialogue with the implicit existentialism and nihilism of much contemporary advertising.
5) Listening – I am trying to hear the questions that students are asking. I always encourage CU members to ask their friends for their top 3 questions they would ask god and use that as the basis for the lunch time seminars each day. We then ask students for their top 3 films and use them as the basis for a film based conversation each evening. I really want to make sure that when I am writing and speaking elsewhere I have heard what people are asking on campus and also had a chance to field test material in places where people have had a chance to comment, question and object. Students are often at the cutting edge of interacting with digital and popular culture. Finding a way to connect the gospel with the lead edge of our culture is a great opportunity for any evangelist. I spoke this evening on Jesus and Inception and it was really exciting to hear the gospel sing to the longings and questions raised by the film.