In campus ministry we use a variety of educational mediums. Our group Bible studies involve discussion and discovery, and our training sessions involve lots of one-to-one meetings and workshopping.
Why then, when it comes to our ‘mission’ events, do we continue to emphasise teaching from the front? Do we believe that some mediums aren’t relevant?
We say that evangelism involves ‘communicating’, yet the mainstay of our ‘mission’ events is still the sermon — in other words, our communicating is mainly about us speaking. Even debates are a kind of pulpit in disguise: behind the give and take that hopefully occurs, the point is still to get our point across.
So let’s try something out: the sermon is not sacrosanct. The idea that ‘vivid exposition’ or ‘authoritative monologue’ is the unique medium for our message is probably more a reflection of our evangelical heritage than a biblical injunction or missiological rationale. For those who would stress the superiority of the sermon, let’s just note that it’s not the kind of pedagogical approach our Lord was known for.
But what about our existing regular public events? Aren’t they part and parcel of a good evangelistic environment? I would contend that our public events are not very ‘public’ in that they are about our own internal messaging. We might advertise them publicly and encourage students to invite friends, but I suspect that attendance requires a high level of existing interest on the part of outsiders. These are not truly open events.
I take it that our contribution to the life of the university and the faithfulness of our witness must in some way be proportionate to our capacity to move outside Christian spaces. And that will involve working with educational environments geared to something other than preaching.
Conversation is a vital medium of teaching and learning, as evidenced by the educational environments we’re making use of today. Coaching trainer Tony Stoltzfus talks about the shift from positional authority towards personal influence, for example (‘If you can’t lead by influence, you can’t lead’). But maybe what I’m getting at can be seen most clearly in podcasts. Conversations with Richard Fidler has a classic interview format. Truth’s Table has a casual forum format. Imagine if we hosted events in formats like these, not just for training Christians, but open to the whole campus, and designed to be genuinely interesting to others. Edit: two Australian experiments with conversation format for TV are You Can’t Ask That and Hear Me Out.
One of the possibilities raised by all this is that we might need more porous boundaries in the Christian fellowship (a bit like what City Bible Forum has been pitching at perhaps?). This in turn might necessitate a stronger sense of difference between internal events and open events, and simultaneously a stricter or more visible membership process. It will definitely mean reducing the number of internal events in order to increase the number of open events, moving our role from the centre of the platform to that of host, emcee and/or patron. I’ll pick up on that point again soon.
Image credit: Joshua Earle
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.