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
Categories: University ministry Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
I’m doing some AFES work in Hobart at the moment and these reflections have come at a helpful time.
Thinking out aloud: I reckon the best thumbnail slogan is “transformation and disciple-making-disciples”. I feel that encapsulates the Reformed idea that all human culture making should bring glory to God, keeps the sharp edge of evangelism but puts it into the relational/growth context of discipleship.
Also interested by your comments towards the end about the relationship between Uni Ministry and local churches. Are all para-church groups created equal? What are the categories of relationships between para-church groups and local churches? (From I guess, service – the para-church group serves the local church, to partnership through to parallel duplication and then where the Salvation Army ended up.)
So-called mission as transformation (etc) is a bit of an awkward label because it’s really just a way of saying “this is how things are”. Here’s one good expression of it:
Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world.
I reckon one of the main things with parachurch relationships is establishing that denominations ≠ the local body. Or, in Howard Snyder’s conception, that all structures and institutions, including denominations, are “parachurch” because only the local body is “church”. But I guess you’re asking whether a local church should relate to (say) its local Anglicare in the same way as to its local AFES group. I think it’ll be different depending on the character of the local body. I mean, we don’t expect every local body to cover every single thing that Christianity globally concerns itself with. So some local bodies will more actively support student groups while others will just have students as active members, while others will have no relationship at all… Anyway, I’d like to think more about this!
some good thoughts I reckon. What would you say the primary goal is then?
i.e you say “evangelism is not” and “bible teaching is not”. Then what…? are you just saying that there are multiple objectives?
My thinking is that there are indeed multiple objectives – disciple-making-discles being a good way to capture the idea of growing faith, godliness, witness, living for Christ in a complex world.
I reckon witness to students on campus deserves pride-of-place in the student context though. It’s the unique thing that student groups can do that local churches can’t.
“Student ministry is not just another, perhaps more concentrated setting for youth ministry or generalised discipleship.” I agree! well said!
I want to avoid saying there are multiple objectives because I think it invites creating a hierarchy (see here). I’d say there’s one objective with different dimensions/angles/facets.
I reckon there are multiple things that are unique to student ministry: only a student group can help students understand the university and their place in it, for example.
So, the purpose of university ministry? I’ll return to that in the posts to come, but I think I’d say that it’s about creating a community of witness to the university. It’s different to saying, “We’re a church on campus” but it’s broader and more integrative than saying, “We’re an evangelistic task force.” It means, for example, recognising that proclamation goes beyond the individual level (see the quote in my comment above).
Keep coming back at me about this stuff!
Interesting. well i’ll stay tuned then!
Your thoughts largely mirror my own reflections on my last year and a half of student work, especially on theology of work and evangelism. I think our tendency in modern university ministry (in Australia, at least) is to abstract discipleship and our theology of work (something which, if I may be so bold, Sydney Uni has been historically stronger on that some other university ministries) from what our students are actually studying. It becomes ‘how do you stay a Christian working for a bank or a law firm’ instead of ‘how might Christians think theologically about banking and lawyering?’ In short, the discipleship of our students is disconnected from their disciplines. The same happens with evangelism: it becomes abstracted from what is actually happening on campus and in lectures and tutorials, and instead becomes a moderately more in-depth treatment of propositional apologetics. In short, we need to recapture a theological and practical engagement with culture (in this context specifically university and academic culture) as a core component of the ministry.
Hey Luke, Reuben, Richard — post number 4 will be up by the time you read this. (And Terence Halliday’s talk is especially stimulating — only just came across it.) I reckon this is important stuff deserving a wide hearing in our AFES circles. Hope you’ll join me in sharing it around and adding momentum! (Reuben, think “Logos” 2.0 — with added clarity!)