Musings of a London Student Worker: Initial Reflections of a New Student Worker
September 2017 saw my wife and I move to the ‘big smoke’ to start a new role with Inspire London, building a student ministry from scratch in a central London context. Up to then my student ministry experience had been limited - for six years I have worked for Christians in Sport and for some of that time had the opportunity to work with students but from a distance. Now we are responsible, day to day, for the running of a church-based student ministry with very much a ‘learn on the job’ feel! Nine months in and approaching the end of our first year gives me an opportunity to share my initial reflections and lessons learnt over that time. Here are four.
1. The freedom of the unknown
To say there was apprehension was an understatement. What if no students come? What if the students that do come see there aren’t any other students and leave? What if the students who come don’t enjoy what we do and leave! So many questions, so many doubts, so many worries led to one wonderful outcome: It drove me to trust God. I found this to be wonderfully liberating. I give my all, I seek God’s wisdom and appropriate human wisdom, I do what I believe is right, and I get on my knees and pray that God will do His work. His way is best, regardless of what I think is best.
2. Student ministry is a fight
So as we started out, as we looked to trust God, as we looked to make contact with and serve local University Christian Unions, I still remember the advice from a more experienced student worker: every life is precious, therefore fight for every one. Not fight other churches to take students who are already established there, but fight for every student who has moved to London to start university to stand for Christ. Fight for every student who has been brought up to go along to church with their parents but is not sure whether they will continue now at university, that they may be plugged in and get to church regularly. Fight for every student who arrives loving Jesus, that they may be supported and served to grow in their love of Him and become ever increasingly like Him. Fight for every student who has a fragile faith and the challenges and temptations that university brings could shatter that young faith, that they may be invested in to see the goodness of Jesus and what it looks like to stand tall for him amidst the temptations that life will throw at them. Every life is precious, therefore fight for every one. And rejoice when they are part of a gospel believing, gospel teaching church, whether that be yours or another.
3. Every student is different
There can be a temptation to think ‘I’ve been there, I’ve been a student, I’ve been a Christian student, therefore I know what it’s like, I know what they’re going through, I know what they need.’ However I continue to learn that every student is different. They are different to me when I was a student. And university life is different to when I was at university! Every university is different, every student’s experience of university is different, therefore what I needed isn’t necessarily what they need. Just because my course in my first year wasn’t very demanding, doesn’t mean that their course in their first year won’t be. Just because I was able to make student group most weeks doesn’t mean that they will be able to. Just because I had the blessing of loving Christian parents who helped me see the importance of getting along to and being a part of a church doesn’t mean that they necessarily have.
And even when I had begun to grasp that not every student is like me. Then I realised that not every student is like every other student - students are different from each other. Some students need a bit more of a strong nudge to help them see the error of their ways. For others a strong nudge can be destructive and they need an arm round the shoulder and encouragement. Some may need the encouragement to use their time well at university, to join other clubs or societies; others may need help to say no to joining every club or society, to protect their time and look after themselves. Every student is different and it is only as you spend time with them and get to know them do you realise this more and more and so realise the importance of treating them as individuals.
4. It takes time
As we rapidly approach the end of our first year of student ministry there are so many lessons that have been learnt along the way. It takes time! Not simply that it takes a long time, that ministry is a long game; but also student ministry takes up your time. We have grown to learn the importance of making the most of every opportunity to spend time with students. Don’t underestimate the significance of time spent with students. Take the opportunity to meet up with students individually, getting to know them, looking at the Bible together with them, praying with them, and take the opportunity to spend time with them as a group. I will never forget convincing two students to stay after the service for our student group, mainly through the temptation of homemade pulled pork burgers - food always works! And there they were, two hours after the student group had finished, other students had left, food had been cleared away, the kitchen cleaned, talking away about student life, university challenges, and Jesus!
Student ministry is a challenge. I was apprehensive at first and I have found it takes time and energy. But student ministry is also a privilege. Not only is it a privilege to invest in students at a formative time in their lives where we pray they will be shaped for a lifetime. But also it is a privilege to see God at work in my inexperience, in my fears and apprehension, in my 121 conversations and prayers, establishing and growing the students he has given me to work with.