I’ve occasionally been asked by different local church leaders how they can support student ministry, and my answer is: teach the gospel to the students in your church.
Teach them that the gospel is not about a decision made at a particular point in time, but about a whole life transformed. Teach them that the gospel is not about being religious on a Sunday and perhaps one midweek evening as well, but about living every day in the light of what God has done for them. Teach them that the gospel is not about getting into a fairyland when we die, but is about the certain hope of a redeemed creation transforming the way we live now. Teach them that the gospel is not about feeling happy and having a better life, but is about serving the living God which will involve hardship and suffering. Teach them that the gospel is not about God loving and accepting people as they are, but about Jesus paying the price for our sin so that God can forgive us while still upholding justice. Teach them that the gospel is not about fixing people’s physical needs in this world, but about a far more permanent and effective fix of the consequences of sin. Teach them that the gospel is not of purely spiritual relevance, but that the gospel shapes the way we live and think. Teach them that the gospel is not primarily about me, but about God. Teach them that the gospel is not about getting the best out of life now, but is about the eternity to come that is worth the temporary sacrifices now.
Teach them that the gospel is good news.
As I’ve been reading Mack Stiles’ “Marks of the Messenger”, and reflecting on the challenges of reaching students for Christ in Auckland, I think one of the biggest challenges is that many Christian students don’t understand the gospel. Most would be able to summarise what God has done through Jesus, but I think many don’t really understand how that completely transforms us, our perspective and how we live (and to be honest, I’m still learning that). If we don’t understand how the gospel is good news, not just in some vaguely spiritual getting-you-to-heaven kind of way, but in an everyday life, big-picture-perspective way, then of course we don’t want to share it with our friends – especially if they all seem pretty content with life at the moment.
And that’s why I would ask local church leaders to teach the gospel. Don’t assume they understand it, and don’t expect that they can take abstract concepts and work them through into concrete examples by themselves. Teach the gospel clearly, explain how it transforms our lives with examples of what that looks like in real life. Teach them how incredibly amazing the gospel is so that they understand that the best thing that can happen to anyone is that they know the living God. (I’m talking to myself as much as to you in all of this!)
Sure, there are other ways that partnership between the local churches and student ministry can be helpful. But I really believe this is the primary way churches can help mission on campus: teach the gospel.