So that’s it then. I’ve almost caught up with my sleep. And there’s a bit of distance between the week of mission and now. People at church asked me what I’d made of the week. And so I had to begin formulating and articulating an answer. It’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m very grateful for the week at Brookes. It was good for me. It was good for the students. And most importantly of all, it was good for the gospel.
Here are a number of random observations.
Student leadership can work. I’ve had some ropey experiences of student led ministry. Students can sometimes be painfully disorganised. But I have to pay tribute to the Brookes’ Christian Union. They were magnificent. Student leadership isn’t always the most effective way of ensuring that the gospel gets heard on campus. You need good leaders. And Brookes has a number of those. It meant that people knew what was going on, where it was going on and who was doing it. They’d plastered the campus with publicity so students could access the events that they’d organised.
Lunch bars are really effective. People came. Where we were wasn’t the busiest campus in the world. But people pitched up and lots of them had no Christian faith at all. Lunch is a good time to provide something that people can access. And if you offer a student free food then you can guarantee a crowd! But since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, they had to listen to me for 20 minutes. But most of them seemed very happy to do so. And the interaction afterwards encouraged me to think that they’d really engaged with the issues, even when I hadn’t been at my engaging best!
Apologetics talks just stand alone. They don’t need wrapping up and hiding in something more appealing. The talk titles were reason alone for people to come. They didn’t come because we were putting on an evening event of Turkish Belly Dancers after which one of the members of the Christian Union would give a five-minute talk about why Jesus will fulfil you more than dancing. Just for the record, this wasn’t an event. At least not at Oxford Brookes. People came simply because the topic was their issue. Sure some probably came because their friends nagged them. And there was the free lunch. But it was hardly ‘Pret a Manger’. But lots simply came because these were talks that addressed their objection to pursuing any interest in the Christian faith. And they came back because they realised that they were being taken seriously. I’ve come away thinking that we need more apologetic preaching dropped into our regular preaching programme and not simply wheeled out for the annual mission. It’s not the first time I’ve had that thought. But I seem to park it every time I get back to church ministry.
Students benefit from discipleship. It’s no coincidence that the leadership of the Brookes’ Christian Union is strong and that there are (at least) two mature Christians reading the Bible with these fine young men and women. During the course of the week I met a male UCCF worker and a local male church worker. They make themselves available to the CU to encourage them in their Christian lives and train them in ministry. And so it’s no surprise that there are a number of male leaders right out of the top drawer. The young women were also excellent. But, in my experience, CUs are often less characterised by having good and godly blokes to take a lead.
We all too easily lose our passion for the lost. I felt chastened by the evangelistic zeal of the Brookes’ students. They were involved in the lives of their non-Christian mates. They were intentional about who to invite. They set aside time to pitch up to events. This week was big for them precisely because it was a chance for their mates to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. I left rebuked at the way that I’ve settled into a lifestyle that doesn’t always put evangelism at the top of the agenda. Our kids have been in primary school for six years, perhaps longer. That’s a long time of friendship with a large number of people. I’m not sure that all our kids’ friends’ parents have heard the gospel from us as we’ve shared a meal around the kitchen table. That’s not great. Lots of the students I met weren’t going to die wondering. They believed the gospel was the power to save, they loved their friends and they made the time to be involved. I felt rebuked. Rightly so.