Welcome to my series about starting uni as a Christian, if you haven’t already, check out part one where we establish whether we actually want to do this living-for-Jesus-thing.
At the end of the last post I possibly left you feeling like you were going to be on your own at uni (apart from God) which certainly isn’t true (and although God is enough, ground support is a real help). The two main sets of people will be a Christian student group and a church. And there is a way to start linking up with both of these before you get to university!
First, go to www.uccf.org.uk/starting-uni/link-up and link up with the Christian Union (CU) at your uni. I love my CU, it’s where I’ve met the people I would now call my best friends, where I can find support from my fellow Christian students, especially those older ones that been there and done it (and are still going through it). It’s also a great way to be actively spreading the Gospel at uni through evangelistic events and support with your personal evangelism. You’ll get an email from someone at the CU telling you what they do, specifically what’s happening in freshers’ week. UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, they support and encourage CUs throughout the country) will also send you a “Starting Uni” version of their great little Uncover gospels. This version is new this year so I don’t know exactly what’s in it but Uncover is an attractive Luke’s Gospel that we use to explore Jesus’ story with other students, so it’s worth seeing it, getting to know Luke a little better and taking advantage of whatever has been added to it for this edition.
Second go to www.fusion.uk.com/connect-with-fusion/student-linkup and sign up with Fusion Student Linkup. This will give your contact details to all the churches in your uni city (that have signed up with them). They will contact you telling you about themselves and what they do for students (note they will come sporadically over summer and into freshers’ week-time). Please don’t make a decision on which church you’re going to be at based on this information but use it to get a feel of where to try (I tried an apparently record-breaking seven churches and I nowhere near got to see all of them in town, so this should help narrow them down before you start).
You may think that you only need to be a part of CU at university and don’t need a church or if you don’t think it now, you may do when you get there. I would say don’t fall into this trap. CU can be brilliant, support your student life well and be a great platform for you to be a part of spreading the Gospel at uni. But it’s not a church.
Mike Reeves, the (soon to be ex-) Head of Theology at UCCF wrote about the CU and church and why they’re not the same but CUs still have an important place. Here are his points about why CU is not a church:
“First: a CU cannot function as a church in the manner in which Paul and the apostles wanted churches to function because it does not have an appointed ministry of word, sacrament and discipline, and must not pretend to.
Secondly: a CU cannot function as a church because, for all the warmth and closeness of fellowship that can be experienced within a CU, it does not have the communal characteristics of a family that the Bible assumes.
Thirdly: a CU cannot function as a church is because it is a specialised ministry that is seeking to target only one mission field. It has a clearly limited missionary objective: students. In no sense does it have the ambition to function as the heterogeneous body that Paul describes in Ephesians 2.”
Essentially a CU doesn’t appoint its leaders based on their ability to teach, unlike a church; there isn’t the same community and family aspect like a church has; and a CU has a very specific mission, whereas a church is to minister to all. You can read the full document here. There is a lot of useful theological, biblical and historical research in there but for those not familiar with examining theology it may be a bit heavy. These points are on page 10/11.
Unfortunately I have heard some not so great stories about some CUs. One common claim is they are very insular and members spend their time with each other and not non-Christians. If you feel the CU is encouraging this, it is a problem and maybe a point that should be raised with the leadership. Whether or not it’s condoned, make sure you spend time with your coursemates/hall-mates and go against the trend. What the CU does by the way of evangelistic events are for you to bring your friends to – why would they care if you’ve spent no time with them?
Some universities will have multiple Christian student groups. And while I’m sure UCCF would love me to say the CU is always the way to go, it may not be. See what they’re each up to and what truths they hold. What’s important is that they affirm the Gospel and that Jesus Christ is central to what the CU does, and they are active in evangelising. UCCF’s doctrinal basis is a good guide to what a Christian group should be professing.
This discussion could go on but I feel I’ll be making more and more insignificant points so just comment or email if you want to know any more about the nitty-gritty of student groups and CUs.