Last week was the FOCUS/SMBC mission week. A team of students from the Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC) spent the week with us in outreach and fellowship. It was a really good week although challenging on a number of levels.
The first challenge involved the timing of the mission. Last week was the final week of the Uni term at the University of Canberra. Students were busy with assignments and exams and a number of our student leaders were really feeling pressure to knuckle down to study. This meant that we were in constant danger of making mission into something that people came to resent.
This is a real danger in student ministry (probably all ministry) – mission can be difficult at the best of times (I think that weak theology can be held responsible for this) – when other stresses are laid on top, mission becomes a resented, unnatural thing, done out of duty rather than love.
In spite of the business and stress the UC students were cheerful and worked hard to promote the gospel around the campus. And that’s where the second challenge arises. What happens when nobody seems interested?
I heard someone say, and I identified with the feeling, that mission weeks can be their least favourite times in ministry. We work harder than ever and see so little fruit. At the worst we find that our own faith is challenged because God seems absent and uncaring. Again, weak theology is to blame. We have too little reflection on the sovereignty of God and the helpless condition of humanity. It takes acts of divine creative power – resurrection power – to bring dead rebels into living submission to the Son of God. No human programme can achieve this. It is not easy work, it is not simply a case of lining up the dominos, in terms of attractive advertising, good speakers, friendly welcomers, etc, and then watching the lost sheep come strolling home. We should never expect mission to be easy or for crowds to be saved. That flies in the face of Jesus teaching about the Kingdom. We should pray for multitudes to be saved, we should prepare for it, but we must respect God’s sovereignty in election.
If you get the sense that I’m preaching, then you should know that I am preaching to myself, because i need to keep reminding myself of these things, otherwise I lose my passion and fall into Jonah-style resentment.
The mission events kicked off on Tuesday morning with a BBQ breakfast for UC Residential students. We didn’t get any turn out from Ressies students, on reflection, we started too early in the morning, on a day when people would be hurrying to class rather than hanging around for breakfast. We had a good time with the Bible college students, and the Christian students who came to serve demonstrated again that the Spirit of Christ is abroad and at work, even when we are looking for him in all the wrong places.
Wednesday we had our regular FOCUS events – a market day stall, public lecture, prayer time. Everything went well, although we were down on numbers from previous weeks, which was disappointing for a mission week. But again, under the power of the Spirit, people were talking to people around the campus about the hope we have in Jesus. Christians were visible, loving, and shown to be living in a Christ centred community. Dan Connor (SMBC Student) spoke in the main meeting really well – the gospel was proclaimed – in the middle of the secular institutions of the world.
On Wednesday evening FOCUS hosted an Open Forum. The format was a short gospel presentation followed by free discussion and Q&A by a panel of Christians. The panel were two students and a lecturer from SMBC. They had never done anything like an Open Forum before and were very nervous. I think you need to imagine yourself in the position of being exposed in front of a group of people who can ask you any question without notice about a subject you care deeply about but know you can probably never fathom completely. They did a great job. In Open Fora the most enduring impressions will be made, not by great answers to questions, but by loving responses. The panel all answered with great respect and love and brought honor to God through their manner. There were a number of non-Christian students who came to the evening, including one who had a large number of questions written down in advance. He was very angry at Christianity and described himself as an atheist – pray that God would have mercy and show himself to this bloke.
Thursday we had a Blokes’ Brekky in the morning, and a Girl’s evening of extravagance. Both events went well.
By the end of the week Emma and I had 6 nights out in a row on our timetable. We were both exhausted so we took Friday night off and spent some time together.
The conclusion:
God was good to us and his will cannot be resisted. The gospel was proclaimed throughout the campus. But as Christians we need to think through deeply and seriously the theology that underlies mission – it is a calling of the people of God that cannot be satisfied by a week or two of heightened evangelistic activity. But likewise, we cannot allow the proclamation of the kingdom to be a thing of duty rather than love. I wonder if our community of God’s church has forgotten its eschatology – the future hope that shapes our present living. I need to think this through and would appreciate your thoughts.
love, dan

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