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Entrusted with the Gospel: How to (NTE 2010)

In the last post, I asked whether NTE had the right balance of what the gospel is. In this post, I ask whether it had the right balance of what we should do with that gospel.

I said in my original post that one of the things that AFES does really well is to present the priority of the lost. There are people who need to hear about Jesus! Lots of the students who were at NTE see the importance of this. When we told people we were headed towards student ministry in Africa, their faces lit up! The sessions with missionaries were well attended and there were lots of questions. It was clear that students were keen to spread the gospel and open to hearing the possibilities for how to do that.

Yet, I felt that the possibilities presented were somewhat narrow. The most blatant comment came from Don Carson who challenged the students to give up their ‘little dream’ of becoming (for example) a medical doctor and instead do something more important, like full time ministry. This has been a discussion in evangelical circles for a long time: is full time ministry more important than having a ‘normal’ job?

This is, of course, related to the discussion about proclamation vs. social justice as well. There was an attempt to bring a social justice component into NTE this year with the ‘Act Now’ exhibition where students could write a letter to encourage other students or bring along a Christmas present for needy children in Canberra. It was more content on top of an already packed program but since fewer people went offsite for free time, it seemed to work.

Aside from Don Carson’s call, the response form in the booklet also indicated a preference for full time ministry. After the options to commit/recommit/affirm commitment to follow Jesus the options were:

  • share the gospel with someone who is not a follower of Jesus
  • read the Bible with someone who is not a Christian
  • talk to an AFES staffworker about doing a ministry apprenticeship
  • investigate an overseas mission opportunity

While this list encourages students to share the gospel now, something that most students could do, the options for the future were targeted towards full time ministry. I wondered whether we could have asked students to commit to plans for the future like:

  • working a maximum of 40 hours in my workplace after I finish uni
  • choosing a church planter / missionary to support for the next X years
  • being a witness in my workplace.

Of course, there are a myriad of other options and NTE’s not the only place where students are getting input. Their campuses should also be presenting them with the compelling alternative of an ‘ordinary’ life lived for Christ. With the right frame of mind, that’s not a ‘little dream’: that’s 50 years of working life and witness among those who don’t know Jesus! I told a number of students that I led more people to Christ in 2 years of teaching than in my 2 year traineeship. Additionally, if we’re serious about proclaiming Christ in the Muslim world, that won’t happen through pastors and preachers but through engineers, teachers, accountants, health professionals, etc who can get a visa! Continuing with your profession may actually be the most responsible way of guarding and proclaiming the gospel with which you’ve been entrusted!

When I worked for AFES, we had a missionary come from Pioneers. He didn’t consider himself cut out for ‘full time ministry’ but was working in Thailand as an engineer and it was giving him opportunities to speak to people. The engineering students in the group were just about salivating – here was something they could do for the gospel! While I want to encourage the right people (not all people) into full time ministry, I’m keen that those who don’t go into ‘full time ministry’ are presented with gripping alternatives for living and sharing the gospel.

(Photos from NTE 2010 by David Johnstone)

Categories: University ministry Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

8 replies

  1. “The most blatant comment came from Don Carson who challenged the students to give up their ‘little dream’ of becoming (for example) a medical doctor and instead do something more important, like full time ministry.”

    Ah, my eyes! The bad theology, it burns!

  2. Yup, I’ve been consistently told to give up my ‘small dreams’. In some ways I need to be told this if I’m clinging to these dreams for reasons of pride, status, and security. But I agree with you about the need to support people in being witnesses in the workplace. I have seen friends struggle with the idea of entering FT work because they feel they are ‘selling out’, even though they don’t feel called/interested in/gifted for FT ministry.

  3. I work full time in ministry and that means I spend way more time with Christians than I do with non-Christians as a result.

    It is a shallow theology that can’t reconcile serving others with spreading the gospel. Actually, the largest proponents of social justice I know are also the ones who talk about Jesus the most. Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins come to mind. I picked John Perkins up at the airport once when he was speaking at a local university. I’ve never met a person who talked about Jesus so much. He couldn’t stop proclaiming the gospel. But his entire life’s work was serving the poor because the gospel compelled him to do so.

  4. In Don’s book ‘Basics for Believers’ he gives a more considered view (I’d quote him but for copyright). First, all work is good, glorifying to God and not to be set aside as of peripheral importance. Second, some things that we do, such as intercessory prayer or evangelism, have more direct eternal significance than other things, such as computer programming or packing meat.

    It’s a case of attending to the weightier things without neglecting the others (Lk. 11:42).

    I wouldn’t want to justify Don’s comment at NTE (I’m not going to condemn it either without hearing it in context – I wasn’t there), but I agree with what he says in the book. There are movements that stress the holistic nature of the Kingdom of God to such an extent that evangelism becomes no more important than washing your car. I fell prey to this thinking years ago in my desire to justify a ‘little dream’ of my own.

    I do agree with Tamie’s concerns though. We need more vision for the workplace. After all, it was a Reformation principle that obedience to one’s calling is what’s important in God’s eyes, regardless of what shape that calling takes.

  5. This shows the limited value of trying to make decisions about vocation based on the criterion of which kind of work is the most ‘important’. Even if carpentry was the most important job in the world, I still wouldn’t be able to do it because I have no manual skill. What is the point of trying to make uni students believe that ‘full-time ministry’ (the worst phrase invented by Christians in the past century) is more important than secular work? Not all of them will be gifted or have the opportunity to do it, and you’ve just created a guilt-inducing situation for them, and reinforced unrealistic views of ministers as special and more important. Why not just encourage them to discern the opportunities and gifts they do have?

  6. In the book Don doesn’t compare so called secular vocation with full-time ministry, he says that for every Christian, no matter what calling they have, there are certain acts of worship and service that take the highest priority.

    What he said at NTE sounds a bit different to that, but again, I’d want to hear it in context.

  7. Something else comes to mind: the apostle Paul encourages Christians to aspire to gifts and callings that not all possess. For example, he speaks of singleness as preferrable to marriage, because of the opportunity it gives for greater devotion to God (1 Cor. 7:29-38); he speaks of prophecy as being greater than other gifts, because of the extent to which it edifies the church (1 Cor. 14:1-5).

    Perhaps this idea of godly aspiration should also inform the discussion.

  8. Yeah, that idea of ‘godly aspiration’ might be a fruitful one — such as the challenge for a Christian IT technician to use their skills to specifically serve the church, perhaps in a majority world setting. But in the over-emphasis on “word ministry”, not even these sorts of “supporting” roles seem to get much of a look-in…

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