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)
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.