Let’s talk university ministry again, and follow up on a question I asked earlier: is there significance in the university itself? I believe so. We’re not agnostic about what students are studying, or the fields of inquiry in which they’re working. Student ministry is not just another, perhaps more concentrated setting for youth ministry or generalised discipleship. In this post, let’s keep following through on that. Part of the mix for me has been Mission as Transformation — a natural home for theology from the Global South and in postcolonial settings. I’ve been circling around the implications of the totalising, integrative nature of the Kingdom and the Lordship of Christ. As Westerners, we might be familiar with this in the words of Abraham Kuyper:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’
Here’s one implication: the living and active ‘word of God’ is not so much a message, a standard of truth, or a marker of belonging, as something creative of God’s rule and God’s ways. And this is something that can only be grasped as we integrate the individual/vertical/personal with the collective/horizontal/social. In light of this, here are some of my intuitions for university ministry. At the moment, these are perhaps more connected with Australian-style student ministry than with something concrete in Tanzania, but they’re a step along the way.
Theology of work assumes a vital place.
Students will be challenged not only to live their lives for Jesus in general, but to dedicate to Jesus their studies, their work, and their entire fields of inquiry and future professions. Disciples in the university cannot be disciples removed from the university. (See my list of ‘faith and work’ groups.)
Ethics is woven into every theological practice.
No longer just for conference electives and extra leadership training, ethics is on view in every public meeting and small group setting.
Evangelism cannot be the primary goal of campus ministry.
Evangelism never has a life of its own. University ministry needs more integrative language, such as witness, or light. Student groups will see themselves as witnessing communities in which a culture of allegiance to Christ carries through into every dimensions of students’ present and future lives.
Bible teaching cannot be the primary content of student ministry.
While all Scripture will indeed thoroughly equip all God’s people for every good work, the Scriptures do not detail a universal or ready-made ethic for every dimension of life in any given society. Therefore the plain teaching or expository preaching of Scripture will not necessarily be enough to equip Christian students for the complexities of their working lives. The question constantly on view is that of moving from the Bible to theology, praxis and ethics.
There is no social engagement without reference to Christ.
Together with all Christians, student groups will eschew human empire-building efforts, knowing that reconciliation comes only from the Spirit of Christ. We can never speak of ‘transformation’ if all we have in mind is community building, education, economic progress or other aspects of ‘development’. So…
Student groups will renew their commitment to the wider church.
The church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of God in the world, in the midst of which the Spirit’s renewing presence is evidenced most clearly. Therefore social engagement is not a strategy so much as something emanating from the shared life of God’s people. God brings transformation as God’s people live by the Spirit in God’s ways. Student ministry flows out of the church; student ministry stands for the church. (Being a parachurch group is about dynamic interdependence in service of local Christian communities. While student groups are not beholden to congregations, councils, or denominations, they seek to understand themselves cooperatively, serving and equipping local communities as part of their purpose.) We’ll take another look at these things in the next post. In the meantime, let me know what you reckon. What sits right? What doesn’t? What should we take into account from Australian student ministry — or elsewhere? Photograph original by jpkso
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.