This week I am leading a series of evening events at All Souls Langham Place, home church for the legendary evangelical statesman Dr John Stott. It is part of a week called Uncover a combined mission event for London campus groups (mostly Christian Unions). London Christian Unions are an interesting group – with a combination of strong church presence (All Souls , Holy Trinity Brompton, St Helens, Hill Songs, Jesus House to name but a few) all running strong student ministry programmes and the fact that many students live at home and commute into study so do not have the “campus life” experience mean that Christian Unions are relatively small. In my days as a full time student worker Kings College was a large university with a CU of about 30 people while Warwick university similar size student body but with a strong campus feel would have around 150. So for the second year in a row the CUs have gone for a joint mission event.
We did a two question survey
Question 1“if you could ask God one question what would it be?
Question 2 “what is your favourite film of all time?”
We used the student response from the survey as the basis of building a programme of evangelistic lunch bars with a format of 20 mins of free food, 20 mins of talk and 20 mins of questions. Each day tackling one of the major objections raised in question 1 and then doing 3 film themed evenings on the top 3 films on campus.
Running Order of the Event
Tonight was night 1 of the mission. Here was the running order:
6.00pm International student meal (English night)
6.15pm a swedish student explained his testimony
6.20 pm I gave a short talk about racism, identity and knowing the who Jesus is based on Luke 9. Students had copies of the text infront of them and then I took questions. Had some wonderful questions:
Chinese student from UCL “I always thought Christianity was a western religion is it really for everyone?”
Singaporean student from Imperial “You said Jesus was God but I thought he was a man. Can you explain that?”
7.00pm close and invitation to join the Film based event upstairs in half an hour.
7.00pm Live Jazz music with the room beautifully decked out by a professional events organiser (volunteer) see photos coming soon. Tables were set up pizza and drinks were available. There’s a popcorn machine and mini clapperboards on the tables. Nice touch ;o) Mood lighting and rotating set of images and challenges are on the screen. ( I think we might need to encourage table leaders to be a bit more proactive with the icebreaker discussion starter).
7.30pm welcome from student hosts Tim and Catherine – great job – very confident and good at putting people at ease.
7.35pm great testimony interview on bar stools with a Northern Irish Arts student. Key question we asked him at the end “What would you say to someone who is exploring the Christian faith for the first time?” He did a great job of enthusiastically encouraging people to “check out Jesus” for themselves.
7.40pm Bible reading in Cantonese and English – impressively read by our host Catherine with lots of eye contact and a well paced delivery – she had almost memorised the reading.
7.45pm Jesus and Lord of the Rings presentation.
Drawing on Stott’s double listening (to culture and scripture) I sought to explore the history and themes of the lord of the Rings films. Exploring Tolkien’s faith, his approach to language, myth and story and exploring his role in helping CS Lewis to faith. We had a number of clips a bit of interaction ( I planned more) and then I segwayed onto Luke 9. On reflection I think I over prepared Tolkien went a bit heavy on the apologetics side and then got to the text later than I had planned. For night 1 of a mission week there was a lot of ground setting in terms of why the theistic story makes sense of the world etc. As an expositor I wanted to get to the text more quickly but as a missiologist / apologist I wanted to do justice to the film. There’s the tension.
8.35pm Close then drinks and invite to a further discussion
- I think we missed a trick not making the linkage to the late night late event more visible.
9.00pm Further discussion meeting Nevertheless some really encouraging conversations with a Phd maths student, a visiting Chinese student and students from Hong Kong and Singapore.
5 Things I learned
1. We are better together
It was great to be working with All Souls, UCCF, CUs from across London as well as visitors from Alpha etc. There is a buzz about the size of the crowd that the joint event pulled out that individual CUs wouldn’t have managed to attract on their own. It would have been even better if the bigger churches had joined in but there is tribal politics on all sides that make that difficult – here’s hoping for the future.
2. Engage the arts and imagination
Any church on any given Sunday can do the straight Bible talk so my plan was a deep engagement of the movies and Tolkien’s story . Playing with Tolkien’s Eucatastrophe and the conversion story of CS Lewis and the way that the gospel answers the longings of our culture hopefully connected with those that love the films and the books and gave christians another perspective on how to relate the gospel and culture.
3. Christians need to think
The talk engaged with the nature of myth, the power of story, the dehumanising and addictive nature of some uses of power. I tried to pitch it a little higher intellectually but still keep it accessible linguistically to international students. I wanted to demonstrate the coherence of the Christian faith and to show we are not afraid to think. I am nervous that we often offer people a simplistic gospel that doesn’t deal with the tragedy and challenge of life and so ultimately doesn’t satisfy or sustain faith in the real world.
4. Call people to a courageous level of commitment
I used a scene from the film to explore the level of commitment the quest of the Christian faith involves and riffed off of Luke 9. After explaining how Jesus’ death was the eucatastrophe of the apparently weak Jesus that turns to the restoration of all things – I called people to a whole hearted discipleship laying their dreams, ambitions, studies and money at the disposal of Christ the king. The King Jesus gospel as Scott McKnight calls it is costly and courageous.
5. Give people questions that will haunt them and assist them
I wanted to leave some cultural exegetical skills and some questions that would help them understand their need for Christ. I was trying to help people evaluate which story their lives were really part of – not just intellectually aquiscing to the status quo – but which story their lives actually demonstated.
This is what I was aiming at, there’s always lots to learn so I am very happy to hear your comments.