Four reasons we're into church-based student mission

Student Weekend Away 2015

This is one of a series of 3 blogs explaining our approach to student ministry. We've talked about being part of a movement, how that connects with Fusion, and in this last blog I want to explain more about our values of 'church-based student mission'.

Our convictions, actually, are not really about just student mission, but mission and ministry in general. We believe that mission and ministry is supposed to be part of the task of the local church, where community, mission, discipleship and worship can be integrated, holistic and sustainable.

Terry Virgo puts this very well: “The local church should be a strategic centre for the advance of Christ’s kingdom on earth. The early apostles set out on their task of world evangelisation by planting vigorous local churches. Church planting was strategy number one”.

Our friends in Fusion sum this up like this: "We believe the local church is the hope of the student world [they've borrowed that phrase from author Bill Hybels] and are working with over 1500 churches across Europe to be part of a net that captures students. Students who have realised life with Jesus is a better life and that their lives are caught up in a faith adventure. Students who will carry the love and fire of God into every sphere of society."

Why do we choose to work through the local church, rather than pour our energies into other organisations? Four good reasons are:

  1. Maturity: There is a maturity in the local church, representing at it does a breadth of age, life experience, gifting and ministry focus. That breadth brings a maturity of perspective, which is vital for supporting leaders (including student leaders) to build sustainable, fruitful and effective ministry and mission.
  2. Longevity: This is really an extension of what we just said, but the local church is here to stay. It outlives the fads, fashions and emphases of the current season. If we are to change a nation and build a student movement, we need long-term thinking - and in the student context that requires student leaders to connect meaningfully with local church leaders for wisdom, perspective and equipping. Effective change management takes months/years, not days/weeks, and we need that longevity of change in student ministry.
  3. Conviction: Our theological convictions and reading of the New Testament lead us to endorse a local-church-centric ecclesiology, and see that any specialist ministries should relate well to local church.
  4. Calling: As a church we have limited resources, financial, time and leadership bandwidth. We are called to be a church that invests beyond itself, but need to prioritise those resources into partnerships and friendships where we can see long-term, mature and biblically-guided investment.

Together, these lead us to see that any ministry (including student ministry) needs to be well-connected to local church leadership, for health, effectiveness and long-term building.

We have seen this principle as we have established many new ministries in church life - for example work with the marginalised and homeless, a church plant in Blackbird Leys or work overseas with unreached people groups. In each case, there were arguments made for a new separate ministry to be established, but by working through the local church, often in partnership with others, we believe we have established healthier, stronger and longer-lasting ministries.

We would love to see that kind of working and partnership in place in student ministry in Oxford, as it is in other UK cities. We would love to see change in the Oxford CUs, for them to become more open to meaningful partnership with a broader range of local churches, to benefit from the maturity and longevity that such a partnership would bring. But despite best efforts over many years, that remains a significant challenge, for reasons of history and organisational culture. So while we wait, we must pursue God's calling for OCC, and the convictions he has given us, trusting that his call on us will be consistent with his greater plans for the city, its students and all of his churches.

We believe that, together with others, we can serve "the common good" of the city, seeing people flourish and work in harmony. We are committed to working together for the "peace and prosperity of the city to which I have placed you". As we go into a new term, let's pray that God gives us wisdom, grace and faith as we seek to work out our calling to students. Will you join us in praying and working to that end?

[Since this blog was posted, fresh discussions have started with UCCF in Oxford. We look forward to a renewed relationship and stronger sense of partnership.]

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Andy O'Connell