I love praying for missionaries directly involved in creative and reflective evangelism. Not only do I get the joy of partnering with them in their work… but I get to learn from them and steal all their ideas that they share in the prayer newsletters!
These little notes were sent out by Paddy at the end of last year. Bear in mind they are very much sketches of ideas sent out to prayer supporters, not fully-formed articles and arguments, so read them with that in mind. They are reprinted here with permission.
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The end of this year brings me to ten years of serving the students of the SUEU at Sydney Uni campus. I thought it would be a great time to write to you — my supporters — with some reflections on the last ten years, and also to say thank you for your support over this time. My plan is to send out three updates with each one covering a particular aspect of campus ministry and the changes and challenges of the last ten years. One of the key reasons why I was appointed to the role st Sydney Uni was not to be the evangelist but rather to affect the culture of evangelism within the SUEU. Ten years on is not a bad timeframe within which to consider how the culture has changed.
The Culture of the Campus
How has the campus changed in the last 10 years? Here are a number of my personal observations (some of which are true across other uni ministries, or even in local churches).
- Students live out their individualism more obviously. Students have always been individualistic – but now we see this being lived out with less concern for others. You see it in the little things – more people wearing headphones and on their phones as they walk around. We’ve stopped leafletting because people refuse to take them (10 years ago 7/10 would take one, nowadays it is less than 1/10).
- Students package uni around what they want to do. It is not uncommon for students to cram a ‘fulltime’ degree into three days on campus. Many of them are also working a couple of days per week (a national study indicated that the hours worked by uni students was on average 16hrs/wk). This means they have less disposable hours while they are on campus for spending time with friends (Christian or nonChristian), less time to participate in SUEU activities, and I suspect are more tired across the week, which affects their academic studies as well as their church participation.
- The campus is much more ethnically diverse. When I arrived the campus was roughly 55% Caucasian, but now this is down to about 25%. There are still broadly the same percentage of international students but we now see that the campus is much more reflective of Sydney’s ethnic mix.
- There is a much stronger ‘progressive’ element on campus. The socialist collective has always been on campus. There have always been people advocating for ‘gay rights’. However in recent years there has been a more heightened, and continual presence of a progressive, seemingly tolerant and inclusive agenda. However the words tolerance and inclusivism seem to be understood differently! You might have seen the viral video of a group of protestors arguing with some at the Catholic Society stall (some of whom had ‘No’ campaign banners).
While these things together may seem more difficult for the gospel, we have not actually seen this being the case in the last ten years. Yes, there have been some challenges (such as when the Student Union sought to refuse our constitution around faith-based membership), but generally the SUEU is free to run all the activities it wants to. As I mentioned last week we are still seeing people becoming followers of Jesus, when our EU Street teams go out to undertake cold contact evangelism sometimes it takes longer to get into a conversation with someone – but once started there seems to be a deeper longing to know about what Christians believe and why.
Friends, the current age is a great one in which to be taking the gospel to people. Sure, there are challenges – like how to persuade students to spend more time on campus and less time in their part time employment for the sake of gospel opportunities, or like encouraging students to be bold about sharing Jesus with their friends, especially when it feels hard and confronting.
But then is this not what uni is for – to train people for life? And the theological formation and personal disciplines we are seeking to instil in our Christian students will help them not just now but also for the rest of their life as they seek to navigate how to balance work, family life and church. Thank you for your support that enables me to be serving on the campus, and training students in this discrete phase of life, and for much of their life that is to come as they serve Jesus through their local church and in their lives.
Please thank God for the ministry of the SUEU, for the freedoms that it has, and for the many wonderful opportunities that we have as we meet with students, read the Bible with them and hep them to follow Jesus. Your support enables me to do this.
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