This August I’ll be entering my sixth year as the UCCF (the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship) Team Leader for Wales. It’s been a privilege to serve our Welsh Christian Unions as they seek to make known Christ’s name on campus. Without doubt though one of the high points of the job has been seeing and receiving the often extraordinarily generous support of local churches around Wales. Support has come in so many forms, everything from monetary gifts, minibus drivers and speakers to a candy floss machine, 200 angel cakes and a chocolate fountain!
With this idea in mind here are five reflections on how you and your churches can better support our Welsh Christian students on mission.
Our Christian Unions are set up to be the missionary arm of the local church on campus, and so easily the best way for any church to support a Christian Union on mission is simply to invest in their students – strengthen the arm that holds out the word of life on our campuses. Please get alongside our younger brothers and sisters and disciple them. Run rigorous Bible studies for them. Let them ask all their questions.
When I worked as a student worker in Cardiff I couldn’t get over how many of the students were desperate to meet up with more mature men and women within the church family for Bible study and prayer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of waiting for the students to take the initiative they are instead invested in as a matter of course, one on one?
Christian Unions can only be as strong and mature as their represented churches make them. Remember, your students are being challenged with deep questions day in day out and just letting them continue with simplistic answers and a weak theological backbone will not only fail to support them but it can actually make them more sceptical of Christianity. So please invest in them, take them deep and do it often. Don’t be scared of teaching the more challenging stuff – like what the Bible teaches about gender roles, sexuality, and divine punishment. Speak truth convincingly, with clarity and grace frequently.
It was when the first church shared everything (their lives, faith, things, time, etc.) and there was no need among them, that Luke reports they had favour with all the people, and God added to their number daily those that are being saved. Loving well is the church’s greatest persuasive power and one of the best ways any of us can support a Christian Union well is to love the students in our care generously: open up your homes and lift them up regularly in public prayer!
I remember two dear couples when I was at university. They each used to invite me round to their home once a term with an invitation to bring friends. By my fourth year there were ten of us going to these get-togethers, several of them non-Christians. All of us were touched by their gospel-motivated generosity and care.
One other thing: don’t forget to love those locals who’ve gone away to university too. Let them know from afar that you’re praying for them. Invite them for meals when they come home for the holiday. Remind them, perhaps by social media, that they might be out of sight but they’re not out of heart and mind!
There was a striking moment at a Christian Union morning prayer meeting during an events week last term. There were about eighty of us praying and as we wrapped things up one of the students pointed out that between us we represented some 18 or so churches from just one town. ‘Where else does this happen?’ she asked me. I couldn’t easily give her an answer.
Local Welsh churches are wonderful at working with each other at a student level – they faithfully send their students to work together under the one banner of Christ. However, we are generally less good at modelling this kind of unity outside of a Christin Union context. Modelling and living in interdenominational gospel unity is another way that churches can support their students. What might that look like for your church? Maybe it’s running town/city wide prayer meetings for mission? Here’s one example for you: inspired in part by the Christian Union model, one church in Wales reached out to other churches in the local community to put on a series of evangelistic events much like a university mission. The week of events had a very different feel, but nonetheless God was faithful, they saw new life and students were further encouraged.
Giving ‘stuff’ is the typically assumed way our churches can help support student mission. Chief among those has of course been monetary support and edibles. We have some of the richest opportunities on the university campus to share Jesus. They are also becoming increasingly expensive opportunities too. As a result they are always hugely appreciated!
But have you thought how else you might be able to give to a Christian Union? I mentioned earlier the need for us to be proactive with our time and energy to reach out to students. In my first month at university a guy called Alister invited me for dinner, then Bible studies. It was a highlight. But it’s not just time. Think about how you can give or share your faith with students, your time and energy, your gifts. Please get in touch with students in the Christian Union to see how you can aid them.
UCCF’s commitment to the local church is very much the foundation of work. We have no students of our own so the whole missionary outfit is run and led by students belonging to churches like yours. Simply put, without the local church there are no Christian Unions.
The aim of your local Christian Union may be to give every student on their campus the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ but how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? Sometimes we can either be slow to advocate the Christian Union or, worse still, never mention it at all. Sometimes we can get a little ‘student grabbing’, desperate for as many students as possible to be involved in our church to help with our various ministries. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But please do proactively seek to send your students to the campus to be a part of the united witness with the rest of the Christian Union gossiping the gospel together. It won’t always be an easy fit, there will be a tension. Yet the opportunities that a student could be involved with as part of a Christian Union are unrivalled, standing them in good stead for future life in the church!
I hope these suggestions are a helpful start or reminder and give you some add-ons to what I’m certain you already do well. If you need more ideas or resources or if you have any questions, queries or concerns feel free to get in touch with me (OJBrown@UCCF.org.uk).