University ministry 1: Does the university matter?
What should a university ministry look like? In the weeks to come, I’ll be teasing out a couple of ideas about the purpose of student ministry. As always, I’d love to have your input along the way. What has defined your experience or practise of university ministry?
First up, I want to ask what meaning there might be in the location of student ministry.
In one approach, the distinctive factor is the youthfulness and life stage of students. Here’s an example from an Australian student ministry:
Universities in Australia are full of students who are poised to make life-changing decisions about what they believe and where they are heading. AFES works in this God-given window of opportunity to reach students for Christ.
But is there any further significance in the university itself? Maybe it’s just incidental that this ministry happens to take place in a university. Here’s a comment by one of Australia’s pioneering student ministers, Phillip Jensen:
Contrary to popular opinion, or that of their parents, university students are not the most important people in the world. Nor is ministry amongst them important because of some supposedly elite status — ‘the future leaders of industry, government and the professions’. The world may think like that, but it is not a gospel perspective.
Now, let’s be clear that university students are certainly not the world’s most important people. After all, they’re the privileged ones — the ones, perhaps more than anyone else, who are playing the game of life on Easy Mode.
Yet there is something distinctive and significant about them as university students: they are presumably the main pool that flows into industry, government and the professions. To focus on students in this way needn’t be elitism, for example when it becomes a focus on their communities — the communities served by the industries, governments and professions in which they’ll end up.
This is also exactly where a ‘gospel perspective’ comes in. If we believe that the gospel changes people at the social, collective level as well as the individual level, then we cannot consider university students apart from the communities from which they come and to which they are going.
University ministry must therefore take into account where students are heading, not just where they are at present. In the posts to come, I’ll continue to explore how that might play out.
Photograph original by jpkso