Last week, I was away with a group of students headed up to Durham University as Freshers. As part of the weekend, a panel of students took questions about aspects of university life. A question was asked about how Christians should engage in sports team initiations. Here’s some of the wise advice that was given.

1. You don’t have to do anything. Many Christians would feel rightly uncomfortable about some aspects of some sports initiations – particularly involving drunkenness or taking off clothing. Team secretaries cannot ultimately require team members to do anything. You always have the right to say no – and in doing so, you may be a blessing to others who feel similarly uncomfortable, Christians or otherwise.

2. Not all sports initiations are the same. Some are pretty raucous, but the majority are much tamer. Often stories are exaggerated. One student spoke about how the initiation he was involved with for the darts team involved merely playing darts in a pub. (I’m pretty sure that when I was on the Bristol University archery team it was something similar!). Ask the social secretary in advance as to the sorts of activities that will take place.

3. Decide your limits in advance – ideally with input from other Christians. Think ahead to the sorts of activities you will decline to involve yourself in. Some Christians have a teetotal policy during Freshers’ Week or sports initiations, others handle it differently. But by thinking through your limits in advance, you’re more likely to make a wise decision when it comes (even if accompanied by peer pressure).

4. Remember what sports initiations are all about. Effectively the team captain and social secretary will have arranged the evening in order that the team can bond together. Go in with this aim – to help the team bond. If you show that you truly are a team player, and that you’re concerned to get on well with others on the team, you’re less likely to be singled out as a prude or a killjoy. Do the same activities as everyone else, but perhaps drink milk instead. And pray that you can play your part in helping your team bond!

5. Be willing to suffer for the gospel. One student told of how a Christian friend of his refused to drink a strong alcoholic mix of drinks, but keen to do his part for team bonding, instead preferred to drink a vile concoction that the team put together. He was ill for two days afterwards. Team mate after team mate asked why he didn’t just drink the alcoholic mix – and he had great opportunities to start his time in the team as a distinct Christian. Suffering for Christ prompts others to ask of the reason for the hope we have: that includes in the arena of sports initiations.

There’s more from Christians in Sport here.

I believe that halls of residence provide Christians with one of the best opportunities for making Jesus known in the UK today. The description of Paul’s ministry amongst the Thessalonians – of sharing life and sharing gospel – is more possible in these communities than in many others. That’s part of the reason I’m excited about leading a track on making the most of CU small groups next week.

One of the things we’ll do in the track is to give CU small group leaders something to aim at. The idea isn’t that a legalistic standard is set, but that a picture is painted of what CU small groups can achieve. The points have been adapted from our friends at Crowded House Church in Sheffield – what I particularly love is how clearly these aims flow out of the nature of the gospel itself. And the aim is that each small group leader can genuinely affirm all ten statements across the course of any given term. Events would then be a helpful focus and catalyst for evangelism, but not it’s subtotal. I’m certain that many more students would encounter Jesus and that local churches would be built if this was the case.

Here are the ten statements:

  • There are non-Christians who would consider us their friends
  • We have come to know the personal stories of these friends
  • Through listening, we have come to know what their personal idols and functional saviours are
  • We have shown these friends how to celebrate well
  • We know how the bless these friends in a way that demonstrates the gospel
  • We have been and are actively blessing these friends as a demonstration of the gospel
  • We eat together with these friends regularly
  • Part of our social and recreational rhythm regularly includes these friends
  • These friends know the gospel of Jesus
  • We have shared something of the gospel of Jesus with them at least once this term

Some of these aims flow out of the nature of the gospel. When it comes to celebration, for instance, it strikes me that Christians have more to mourn than those around them, but also more to receive with thanks. Celebration is one of the ways in which Christians see all good things as coming from the hands of a generous God. Eating together provides a context for real relationships. Blessing demonstrates a commitment to the good of those that God has placed us amongst. These activities surely ‘adorn’ the proclaimed gospel in setting of the hall of residence.

Every so often, I want to feature a resource that I think can be helpful in assisting students to live and speak for Jesus during their time as undergraduates. I want to start with an excellent resource for a group of students who face a particular suite of challenges and opportunities: theology students.

Kelly Kapic is concerned that theology students should not embrace what he calls ‘theological detachment’ – in other words, theological study which willingly sits in an ivory tower and which does not enrich the lives of its students, the broader church community and ultimately the world. ‘A Little Book for New Theologians’, then, is what the title says it is: a short book (only 126 pages long) which acts as both guide and aspiration for those at the beginning of theological study.

The first three chapters summarise the necessity of theological study: to know God as he truly is – and, as creatures made by God, to rightly understand ourselves and the world around us in knowing him. Such knowledge touches both our understanding and our passions, and calls us to respond in faith and love. It also rightly shapes our experience of living in the world in the day to day: to, as Kapic beautifully puts it ‘know when to shout, when to mourn, when to be silent and when to hope.’

Perhaps the strongest element of the book, though, is where it turns next: the thesis that theology can never be performed in a vacuum. Kapic refutes the premise of modern theology, which demands separation between its study and the life of the theologian. We do not approach the Bible as blank canvases, but as human beings, and so our experiences and practice in wider life both grow out of our theology and inform it. With this in mind, then, Kapic turns to characteristics of the life of the theologian that will best prepare them for theological study.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on faith and reason. Kapic rejects the ‘imaginary neutrality’ of pure reason, and instead calls for ‘faithful reasoning’ – a deep engagement in rational reflection within the context of a prior trust in God (whereby reasoning is therefore faithful to God). Elsewhere, Kapic counters the idea that Christian theologians must choose between prayer and hard work: ‘we cannot choose between prayer and study; faithful theology requires prayerful study.’

Finally, theology should never be engaged upon as a purely intellectual pursuit. Kapic has a striking chapter on suffering, justice and knowing God, which includes this sentence: ‘When we come to the question of knowing God, the Bible plunges us into caring for those he cares for, and thus into living with a concrete concern for the poor, the weak and those who suffer.’ And with that comes another exhortation to take theology out of the ivory tower and to the church and to the marginalised.

I loved this book because it refutes so many false dichotomies that theology students are so often fed, and on which they unnecessarily feel they need to take sides. The sad outcome is that theology students find that their studies either bears little or nothing in common with their Christian profession or their lives in church and CU, or that they fail to engage at all with what they are being taught. Their own discipleship is damaged, and a faithful engagement with non-believing lecturers and fellow students never gets going.

This book might be hard going reading for first year undergraduates – I wonder if it assumes a level of theological literacy that even they might be unfamiliar with – but I’m looking forward to getting it into their hands. As they are increasingly introduced to the philosophy upon which the study of theology is built in their university department, they may find themselves returning to this book and finding a mooring that encourages them to be wholehearted in both their Christian profession and in their studies.

Yesterday, I suggested five practical ways in which you can support CU leaders in your church. Here are five more.

Embedded image permalink6. Encourage them to serve in non-time intensive ways at church. CU leaders will love being part of your church, and will be keen to serve. Unfortunately, like many young people, they’re not always very wise in their time use. Bear in mind that CU leadership is an 8-10 hour per week commitment – so rather than involving them in time-intensive youth work, ask them to serve in important but less time intensive ways. You might add them to the Sunday coffee rota and the PA team for a start.

7. Give them books. CU leaders need to be readers. Place books into their hands that you’ve found helpful, or which you think might enrich them as leaders and as disciples.

8. Introduce them to people. You’ll almost certainly have been in your city longer than your church’s CU leaders, and know more people locally than them. So why not take it upon yourself to introduce them to others? Others who will pray, others who can offer their expertise, others who will be a moral support to them…. Who might you introduce your CU leaders to?

9. Encourage them to share in church gatherings. CU leaders can sometimes be slow to volunteer themselves to share encouragements, discouragements and prayer points in a congregational setting, often because they don’t want to be seen to be putting themselves forward. But you know that the wider church will want to hear what’s going on. Do what’s necessary to get them sharing publicly from time to time, so that the whole church can see CU ministry as part of an extension of the local church’s ministry.

10. Check that they’ve got the resources they need. A few timely questions to CU leaders can make sure that they’ve got what they need – both personally and as a CU – to make the most of missional opportunities. Ask them if they’d like any extra support from church as they lead. And ensure that the CU has all it needs for the upcoming months – you may save them the last minute mad dash to try and find a barbecue, a gazebo, fairy lights, John’s Gospels in Chinese or big enough saucepans!

 

One of the questions I’m commonly asked is: how can we best support the CUs in our city?  Here’s part of the answer: to encourage and support the CU leaders who are already in your church.  Over the next couple of days, I’ll suggest ten things that you can do to support the CU leaders in your church, whether or not you are on your church’s leadership team.

1. Pray for them – and let them know you are. This is perhaps the best way you can support CU leaders. Just as Paul always let those he was praying for know what he was praying, so might we. One friend I know prays for CU leaders as she texts them to let them know she’s praying for them.

2. Ensure they’re getting trained for their role. We ask that all CU leaders attend Forum, our national leadership conference, plus a regional weekend. There might occasionally be other local training too. Encourage CU leaders in your church to get as best trained as they can. Ask them whether they have enough money to pay for conferences and the travel to and from them.

3. Offer hospitality to them. Students love a home away from home – and this is true of CU leaders too. Have them back on Sundays and offer them home-cooked food over which you can get to know them better. Perhaps invite them to bring a couple of friends with them too – this can be a great way of getting to know a few of their non-Christians friends.

4. Offer to cook. Jesus did much of his ministry over food – it was a way of demonstrating something of the welcome and generosity of his kingdom. CUs love using food in their ministry too, but are often hampered by a lack of cooking facilities and/or skill! Ask whether there’s an upcoming event that you and perhaps your home group could serve at through cooking.

5. Ask them questions. Asking questions indicates interest. One of the most encouraging things for CU leaders is to know that others in church are interested in what they are doing. Ask them questions about what’s happening in CU like you might concerning any other aspect of your church’s ministry. That’s what a CU is: students coming together for mission in an inter-church partnership. And asking questions can also sow the gospel into the students’ hearts, leading them to repentance and faith in their own Christian walk as they lead.

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. Last we thought about reaching students at ancient universities, red brick universities, plate glass universities and ex-polytechnic universities. Yesterday we considered the ‘cathedral group’ of universities. In this final post, we’ll think about specialist colleges.

 

Example Universities: Leeds College of Art, Leeds College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music

Specialist colleges in a nutshell: Specialist colleges offer degree level education, but are small (often with less than 1500 students) and have a particular group of courses that the institution offers. Music colleges, art colleges and agricultural colleges would be examples. Often these colleges are internationally renowed. The college tends to be based in a small number of buildings which are close to each other.

Opportunities at specialist colleges: There often aren’t any other student-run societies in specialist colleges other than the CU, making what is offered novel. A small number of Christians can easily make a big ‘spash’ – it’s easy to get to know everyone through wandering around workshops etc. Conversation is easy, and the nature of students being at specialist college often means that they are extremely passionate about their course (and the way it intersects with Christianity). It can be easy to draw a crowd during the day time.

Challenges at specialist colleges: Christians are often very small in number. Students in art colleges can be very hostile to Christianity because of the perception that is forces one single view of the world, which should be open to challenge. Venues can be hard to come by in college. It can be hard to draw together students outside of college time.

Ideas for mission for CUs at specialist colleges:

  1. Get used to asking people what they are currently working on, and why – in art and music colleges, compositions often reflect the deep values of the students
  2. An acclaimed artist who is a Christian can easily draw a crowd, and explain the difference that their Christian profession makes to both their art and the way that they live in the art world
  3. Film discussions can work well in art and music colleges – arthouse films can work as well as more mainstream films
  4. A photography competition or exhibition around a theme can be an excellent way of initiating conversations with others in college. Asking people to write 100 words about why they have submitted what they have submitted and placing this next to their work is stimulating for all who come too. A cheese and wine evening at the opening of the exhibition with a short introduction by a Christian can be in keeping with the event.
  5. Informal lunchtime events, such as Grill-a-Christian panels in college, can work excellently

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to specialist colleges:

  1. Offer space in your church buildings to exhibit work or allow compositions to be performed – students are normally very keen to show off their work to a wider audience
  2. Take a group along from your church to degree shows and concerts: this communicates love and will help you meet students of the college
  3. Often specialist colleges have a high number of international students – ensure that they are offered hospitality and meals, as many will be very keen to have an experience of genuine British culture whilst here. Many are more open to the gospel than their British peers
  4. Volunteer to cater for a Christmas event: there may not be anything else happening in the college, and a short message could be included
  5. Pay attention to aesthetic details in your key evangelistic events – students at art or music colleges will find it difficult to see through naff decor or music. Things don’t have to be perfect, but a clear commitment to excellence communicates a passion for the common graces that these students are passionate about too.

 

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. Last we thought about reaching students at ancient universities, red brick universities, plate glass universities and ex-polytechnic universities. Today’s post considers the ‘cathedral group’ of universities.

Example Universities: York St John, Cumbria, Liverpool Hope, Leeds Trinity

Cathedral group universities in a nutshell: Cathedral group universities are former Roman Catholic or Anglican colleges, which have received the right to award degrees in recent years. Most of these universities began as teacher training colleges, and most of them still have a strong emphasis on teacher training. However, they have expanded to also teach a number of other degrees – often in the health professions, but also others which reflect their Christian foundation (theology, youth work etc.). Cathedral group universities are small, often based around a small central campus, though some have mutliple campuses across mutliple towns. A very high percentage of students are local, mature, part-time (or a combination of the above).

Opportunities at cathedral group universities: The geographical layout of campuses means that a CU group can very easily get a big ‘splash’ so that everyone on campus at that time can know what is happening – this provides great opportunities for forms of first contact evangelism.  Many attending cathedral group universities are at least sympathetic with the university’s Christian ethos and are willing to give Christians a hearing. The scale of the university gives it an intimate and friendly feel which leads to strong friendships being built amongst students (especially those who’ve moved to be at university).

Challenges at cathedral group universities: The biggest challenge is that most degrees involve regular placements, sometimes very long blocks of placement. This can disrupt any sense of momentum over the course of a term or year, and can punctuate attendance of students at an events week. (In practice, this normally makes the first term the key one for evangelism). Whilst the Christian ethos can make students willing to give the gospel a hearing, it can also cause students to assume that they are familiar with its content. A lower percentage of students are actually on campus at any one time compared to other universities, making lunchtime events difficult. In formerly Catholic colleges, there are added complexities concerning similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism.

Ideas for mission for CUs at cathedral group universities:

  1. Do an Alpha or Christianity Explored course on campus in the first term, helping students who’d describe themselves as Christian to learn the crux of the Christian gospel for themselves
  2. First-contact evangelism – a ‘cake for a question’ table, a question board or a text-a-toastie can be very effective, especially if based somewhere visible on campus during the day
  3. Consider doing an ‘events week’ in the first term, when more students are around before long placements kick in. Do it early enough in term that there’s time to draw alongside those who want to investigate things further
  4. Meals are a great way to demonstrate the gospel’s generosity and welcome, and provide a great opportunity to deepen friendships. A ‘Come Dine With Me’ group can accelerate friendships with non-believers in a fun way. ‘Inviting the campus to dinner’, having a number of meals hosted by CU students on the first night of an events week can be a great start to the week
  5. A Theology Network group can present the gospel in an engaging way to religious studies and theology students at the university, sometimes one of the hardest groups to reach

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to cathedral group universities:

  1. Coaches take students to placements very early in the morning. Most students won’t have had breakfast. A church that offers bacon butties to queueing students will do wonders for building relationships, and create lots of gospel conversations
  2. Don’t forget these universities as you plan your term plan – they often come back earlier and finish later than other universities, and churches do these students a disservice through arranging their programme around the other universities in the city
  3. Like at ex-polytechnic universities, clubs and societies are normally small in number at cathedral group universities. A church football team will be popular amongst lads who are looking for an opportunity to play. Similarly, hockey and netball groups can engage female students.
  4. Students at cathedral group universities are often practically-minded, doing vocational degrees. Evangelistic events which help students see the difference that knowing Jesus in everyday life are often engaging, as are hearing testimonies when shared
  5. Term generally goes on longer in the summer, making outdoor-based activities possible for churches whilst students are still around. Barbecues and picnics in the summer before or after a Sunday service can be a great way to introduce non-Christian students to the gospel and to genuine Christian community

Tomorrow, for the final post in the series, we’ll think about specialist colleges of higher education.