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.
Sorry I’ve been quiet so long, for a while I’ve had excuses for not writing a post but recently it’s just a lack of concentration and determination to sit down and do it, but here goes.
I’m a Christian and this year I started university. All year I’ve been discovering that doing this isn’t as straightforward as just turning up and going with the flow. So I am humbly going to put some pointers and hints down for all of you who are in the position I was a year ago. Don’t take everything I say to the letter, it’s based on my experience and obviously different universities will also have slightly different circumstances. If you’re not in the UK you may find this useful but just be aware that I am and things may work differently where you are. Oh and please ask me questions!
So I’m splitting this into a few posts and the first couple are about before you even get to uni, what to think about and what to do.
Right, so you’ve just finished your A-Level exams and you’re starting to enjoy your summer, pretending you’re not just waiting for your results. Now I know that you may be panicking about your results and I’m not going to tell you that you’ve done fine because honestly, I don’t know! But I will say that there’s no point letting them overshadow your summer and preparing for university. Although if you’ve handed in your BTEC coursework or you’re just finishing up your year out or… [insert activity here] then I guess you’re not worrying which is lovely for you!
There’s something you need to think about and consider before we go any further. And it’s actually pretty crucial.
Are you serious about living your life for Jesus?
You won’t have the safety net of your parents, your familiar church family, your youth group and your youth pastor/minister any more. I’m not saying these people will be deserting you or leaving you on your own but you won’t see them on a daily/weekly basis and it’s extremely easy to not keep in touch. I sincerely hope all of you reading this can say “yes” to that question above but you need to take the time to know that is your answer. Because when you get to university you need to be firm and sure of who you are and how you’re going to live. I don’t mean you need to have every detail sorted out but you need to know that you’re not going to live as the world does. We are called to be in the world, but not of it. We are to be salt and light that points to Christ. And it takes effort. And to put in effort you need to have motivation. And if motivation for living out your faith has come from people around until now you need to be ready for when they’re not any more.
If this applies to you, I’m not saying this to break you down but actually to build you up. When your relationship with God depends on Him rather than other people it is so much richer and frankly, amazing, than when you’re just being carried along. So please, take a look at you walk with God and see where it’s at right now. Make the conscious decision to follow Him regardless who else is in your life.
But hey, I’m not saying you’ve got to do this with no “ground support” at all, just the people providing it will change completely. In my next post I’ll tell you about who these people will be and how to start linking up with them now.
Feel the need to write a blog post about this in the light of Bristol CU’s (alleged) decision to ban women from speaking in their meetings, weekends or events. (HuffPost story here.) Last week I wrote about unity in the Church and how CUs were an amazing example to churches working across the denominational divide. Maybe after this you wouldn’t agree. But take a look and you’ll see I actually used the women teaching example to show how well it works. The CU at my university doesn’t have a ban per se (to my knowledge) but we haven’t had a woman come to speak to us at our meetings. The reason for this is that some Christians believe that males and females have different roles in the church. Before being specific anyone should be able to understand that this isn’t a ridiculous claim. Men and women are clearly different physiologically and are naturally better at certain things. Although I don’t agree, there is grounding from the Bible (namely Paul letters, in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12), that would say that these differences extend to leadership and preaching.
I believe that Christians who take this view have considered it carefully and have reached that decision with integrity. It certainly isn’t a view that is sexist and misogynistic. It is simply a belief that certain roles are suited to men and other to women. Women’s contribution is equally as valuable and important, simply different. EDIT: Although there certainly exists a minority who hold similar views but for sexist reasons. These people I am not defending and will not defend in the future.
So when you’ve got a large group of people from different denominations who believe different things on these issues that you want to keep united, this decision makes sense. Preventing women from preaching out of respect for those have taken that view, is a difficult yet courageous decision to make. Lets be clear, this isn’t the CU taking the view that women aren’t allowed to preach on principle, simply that it is the best way for the CU to run practically, respecting the views of all. The CU doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take a view on these types of “secondary” issue. Many CUs do allow women to preach. Perhaps a ban is too strong and simply a convention would be more appropriate but this is detail in comparison to the actual issue here.
I hope this clarifies and explains some things. UCCF is the body that many CUs are affiliated with and get support from. Their policy has no restrictions on preachers based on sex – the only requirement is agreement with the Doctrinal Basis, which is a relatively broad set of beliefs based around the basic fundamental beliefs of Christianity.
All views are my own, I don’t claim to speak on behalf of any of the people or groups involved, I simply want to try to explain why this situation is why it is. All comments welcome.
So about a week ago, for the first time since freshers’ week I agreed to go out. Our flat had won a competition on Facebook by getting the most “likes” on our guestlist and we would get £250 VIP package at a particular club’s student night. Most people were going so I felt it was the time to make an appearance to show I’m interested in socialising with my flatmates. I also knew people would be getting pretty drunk (the package involved free vodka and other discounted drinks) and I thought I could do my best to keep an eye on people so that they get back in one piece.
I got reminded about what clubbing seems to be about. Lots of people in a relatively small space with incredibly loud music with the alcohol flowing. Then the girls are wearing very little and the guys aren’t complaining. I saw one couple whose mouths were stuck together for at least 40 minutes and let’s just say the guy wasn’t keeping his hands to himself. I’m avoiding making assumptions on how well they knew each other but it was just one example of what I could see all around; people going too far just because its acceptable (and to some degree expected) in that setting and the fact they were drunk to varying degrees prevented them from thinking through the consequences.
I realise that’s not what everyone is there for. I mean, I wasn’t and I full well know other Christians go out clubbing with their friends. And of course many non-Christians just want to have a fun night out. Contrary to many (generally older) Christians belief I don’t think the setting is incompatible with having clean fun without alcohol and sexual undertones. Altogether I enjoyed myself for about 10/15 minutes during my three hours at the club, but I think if I hadn’t dedicated myself to regularly checking on the people who were a little worse for wear I may have a little more. On the other hand it’s not really my scene so who knows? But I can certainly understand why it can be enjoyed, and cleanly.
I find it sad that so many people pin their hopes of finding intimacy (and unfortunately, romance) on a situation where most people will do things they wouldn’t usually do and go further than they maybe would sober. I realise that’s exactly what certain people are looking but that’s a different issue. Still I’m not saying it’s a place you can’t find romance. But wouldn’t it work so much better if it was somewhere to meet someone, get chatting, exchange numbers, dance a bit and meet again, minus the alcohol? And perhaps plus full clothing? Thereby building a normal relationship without rushing it before it’s even started. But now I’m getting into relationships and that wasn’t really the idea.
Oh and after getting back to my flat, my flatmate and myself ordered in pizza at 2:30 in the morning, I mean, why not? Now that part was fun!
So clubbing could be great way to socialise with people, if only it was a little less… alcohol fuelled and sexualised? Well it’s definitely possible to go without submitting to that and maybe if more people did we could make an impact. It’s very normal for Christians (me included) to avoid going out because we don’t want to be around what happens. But if we are confident we can stick to our beliefs and principles (and limits), I think it we need to be there. To show our friends there’s another way to enjoy ourselves; and if there’s enough of us doing it, perhaps shift the standard? It’s a high target but just saying there’s no chance isn’t going to get us anywhere.
What do you think? If you’re a Christian do you go out with your non-Christian friends? Do you feel the atmosphere pressures you into acting in a certain way? Do you enjoy it because/in spite of it? If you don’t are you worried of being led astray? Or just not your cup of tea?
You’re a Christian and you’re in a new place, whether that be because you moved because of work, you’ve started university or simply moved far enough across town its impractical to go to your old church. How do you decide where to go?
Okay so when I say those others don’t matter, I don’t mean you need to go to the first church that loves Jesus and stay there without taking any personal preference into account, especially if the specific doctrine is important to you. But what I mean is all those questions really are just personal preference and I think it’s really easy to get caught up in it. You can so easily slip into thinking how a church isn’t like your old church in this way or the other. And of course if this is doctrinal or a serious style clash then it probably isn’t the church for you. What I ask is; please don’t go around trying to find a copy of your old church just because it’s safe, and then go on to complain (however silently or inwardly) about how it isn’t quite there.
Long before I arrived in my university city I decided I needed to find church that I could serve God in. After my experience at Soul Survivor (details second half of this post), I also decided that if I could find a church that was dedicated to reaching out to the community it would be a lot easier for me to serve God in the way he had called me to. I had made no decisions about the style or denomination of church. I come from a Baptist church back home but have never considered myself a Baptist; only a Christian and, if pressed, one with mainly Baptist leanings in terms of doctrine. I made no decisions about the size or the amount of students.
I’ll be honest that when I got here and had to make decisions about where to try I took a couple of those decisions simply to cut the options a little. I realised a church with an especially large student presence with a lot of specific provision for them would probably lead to little to no opportunity to get involved in the church itself or mission so they got “crossed off”.
Just to add in a note here from hindsight: sorry about all the numbers from here on in but it’s the easiest way to identify different churches without telling you their names.
The CU at my university (and many others) do a “Church Search” for the first four weeks of term where student reps from each church talk about their church and then freshers follow who they want. I decided that after those four weeks I wanted to have finished trying out churches so that’s… four churches right? Well, yes, any sane person would just do four, but I was especially keen to try out lots of different churches so I did three out of four evenings too so have visited seven different churches in this fine city. They ranged from those of a congregation of less than 100 to over 300, traditional and conservative to contemporary, artsy and charismatic, a large student presence to a small one. After two weeks I had visited three and felt that even though one did suit me well it wasn’t the place for me. I thought I was being too picky and just not being happy with any of them because I was being awkward. I prayed and considered and visited two more the following sunday #4 and #5. #4 was a lovely little Baptist church in the centre of the city that reminded me of my home church in terms of style and direction. I liked it and was top so far.
But #5 changed everything. #5 is a New Wine C of E church on the other side of the city, where there are no current students. I was invited by email via Fusion (www.fusion.org.uk), inviting me to a steak dinner and evening service. Throwing a few emails back and forth it sounded like a church I could really get involved in and they are really short of sound technicians (the best way I can serve in the church after 4/5 years experience at my home church), so I went along. The steak dinner was extremely tasty and the people I met were lovely. At the service there was a 7 piece youth band who really won my over with a great rendition of Rend Collective’s You are my vision and a couple of other Soul Survivor favourites which actually sounded right! (The recreation of a festival-style worship song is usually very difficult in a normal church.) And during the service I just felt the people were there to encounter God and He was who their hearts were seeking. It struck me as a place where faith grows and is nurtured.
I went back home not sure what to think. This church is on the other side of the city and has no students; really God? Is it where you want me to be?
I had plans for the following week (now last week) as I had connections with someone at a church in Bath so felt I had to visit it; it also had a large student presence so I felt it was worth a look (#6). I also had an idea for the evening service; a student church plant of another New Wine church (#7). #6 was too traditional and not lively enough for me. I think that sentence is pretty hypocritical of me but actually I didn’t feel like it was where I was meant to be and maybe I just put it down to the “preferences” mentioned. #7 was brilliant, extremely contemporary and quite charismatic. It reminded me very much of Soul Survivor, which generally is a good thing; however I feel like for that to be a weekly occurrence it would be too overwhelming for me. Again perhaps it was a “this isn’t where I want you” nudge which I gave reason to. I spoke to one of the CU leaders who was already at #7 as he arranged a ride for me. I told him I really liked #5 and he agreed it was a great church and it’s a pity there aren’t any students there. He had a friend who is actually doing an internship at #5 and would happen to be at #7 that night. After the service I was introduced to this guy and we talked for 10/15 minutes about #5 and why I liked it, asked him some questions and only got more and more sure that it was where I was meant to be.
Over this week I’ve prayed and thought it through and decided that it where I want to go. I’m going back this morning to be sure that the service I went to wasn’t a weird fluke that never happens usually and if it still feels right it’s probably where I’ll stick.
I really want to emphasise that decision came about from praying and listening to where God wanted me. I made excuses for not wanting to be at other churches but they were just excuses to cover God telling me it wasn’t where I was meant to be.
I’m sorry about how long this post has become but I really hope it will help you if you’re looking for a new church in a new place.
I guess it can all be summed up in: focus on where God wants you to be, not on where you feel most comfortable. If that’s the first church you see then great, but don’t be phased if it isn’t.
Anyone else gone through this? Any thoughts, comments, questions or disagreements?
So I’ve been here just over a day and I’m already running very low on sleep so I’ll try to be short.
All 25 people who are living in my corridor have now arrived and I’d say they’re generally not a bad bunch, I’ve been doing my best to get to know people, everyone collects in one of our two big kitchens regularly throughout the day and in the evenings. I’m with them when I can be but as the night draws near it seems inevitable that the drinks and drinking games come out and I have to take a step back. I watch from the side or retreat to my room because I don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of being the one who isn’t drinking. Then there was the bright idea to join another floor tonight, about 30 people were squashed into a kitchen close to all with drinks in hand with random calls for people to down the drinks, no one actually looking like they were all that happy (even those who had had quite a lot already). Once someone starting going round to find people who were drinkless to thrust drinks at them, I decided it was time make my exit and returned to my room.
In the name of being sociable both last night and tonight I went out to the uni’s club and had decided that there I would have a drink or two but not before. This seems to work quite well so I’m going to use it throughout this week as I think I should be expected to be dragged out every night. If you’ve read earlier posts you’ll know clubbing isn’t really my scene but the last couple of nights, especially tonight I did actually get what was fun about it and did, in fact, enjoy myself. The main issue has been, however, that the club gets full to overflowing while the night is still young leaving you very little room to dance and making it so easy to get separated from your group if they go somewhere. Clubbing isn’t as fun when it’s only 3 half-hearted clubbers I’ve found, so we came back to the flat, feeling very old and just went back to our rooms and instead of catching up on my missed sleep I thought I’d catch up missed tv instead and write this!
If you’re a Christian and are or were at university, how have you or did you deal with other people drinking so much, especially in freshers week?
Did you join in events you weren’t really interested in to be sociable?
It can be unfortunate that it is imperative to tell people your course as I am the only computer scientist in the flat I have become the go-to guy for computer problems. This doesn’t actually bother me, I help out everyone the best I can and enjoy it; it’s also an easy way to be liked by the people you’re living with! Unluckily there are campus-wide problems with our internet and without giving too many technical details both the wired and wireless connections have issues which I am powerless to solve completely and can only do with a bit of luck (mine worked within half an hour). I promised lots of people last night that I would help them today but it occurred to me before I went to bed (already very late!) that I would be getting breakfast and then doing CU church search in the morning. This is where representatives from different churches advertise their church and then you can follow who you want. Many churches also offer a free lunch of some description or at least discussion for students after the service, so I realised even if everyone else gets up a lot later than I do, I won’t be around to give them a hand for a while. Determined to help these new friends out I looked up the instructions for connecting and wrote them out (I don’t have my own printer!) twice, one for each kitchen and put a note on my door to tell them where to find it. I said on the instructions where I was; which I feel in many ways was a cop out but it was an easy way to make clear that I am a Christian to everyone. When I got back the instructions had worked for some people but not others, as I expected, but everyone was grateful I had taken the time to write it out for them. This is a way I’m showing love to the people around me and I’ve let them know I’m a Christian at the same time, something I’m pretty happy with. Also not being shaken from my principles over drinking while still showing I can have fun is a bonus. I find it hard to make sure I talk to the people that often get left out which is something I’m trying to work on.
For anyone else in a similar position to me, how have you gone about letting people know you’re a Christian? Have you at all?
If you’ve been through it in the past how did you do it?
And for both sets of people how have you found/did you find a way to show love to your flatmates?
Any answers or other comments please do comment!
Thanks for reading and I’ll back to you later in the week with how freshers is going! 🙂
So on Saturday I’m leaving my hometown where I’ve lived all my life to go and live somewhere that I’ve visited only once, and even then only the university campus, for the next four years. This really dawned on me on Sunday evening after being at my last service at the church I’ve grown up in and realising I won’t see it again until Christmas. All the “goodbye”s and “good luck”s from many people I don’t even know have felt surreal but I have accepted that I’m leaving.
But don’t get too worried, I am extremely excited and can’t wait to get stuck into university life and enjoy it. I also, possibly ashamedly, can’t wait to leave home and my parents, due to some issues that they have mainly with each than with me, but details on that are for another post. I’m looking forward, not to reinventing myself, because I’m not changing who I am, but reestablishing myself, making clearer who I am and what I live for to people who have no knowledge of my past.
The feeling that I will be soon having to live independently, sharing a kitchen with ten other people, with four bathrooms between us, none of whom I’ve ever met is also quite a scary prospect. Lots of things my friends going elsewhere have been saying are: What if I don’t get on with the people I have to live with? What if their attitude to life is really different? What if they’re really messy and leave stuff all over the kitchen? What if they don’t clean up after themselves in the bathroom? I’ve got to live with these ten people for the next year (or 9 months anyway) and I reckon it’ll be okay, and if the testimony of the majority of students I’ve talked to is to be believed; there’s nothing to worry about. And I’m ready just to jump in and try it despite all the possible problems. Freshers week in many ways has me scared though, as it seems the centre of it is getting drunk, which isn’t what I do, and clubbing, which isn’t my scene; I just kinda find it boring. I have a friend from my church who is a couple years ahead at the same uni who has already been through it all and she has reassured me it’s okay especially when you stick by what you say you will or won’t do. It’s really cool having someone around I know who looks at things the same way as me. It’s even better that her boyfriend is basically my best mate from church who regularly comes over for visits!
Also my Christian faith and belief in God is probably the most important thing for me and it’s probably quite likely that none of the people that I’ll be living with are religious, let alone Christian, and it’s also quite possible there’ll be someone who will be staunchly atheist, looking to attack faith. Just to be clear, this doesn’t worry me because I think anyone will shake my faith, I have no doubts about what I believe. What I am worried about is how I behave and how I project the image of a Christian to these people. Because actually I’m not going to university just to study and get a degree (I hope!) but it’s a mission field. It’s where God has sent me to spread his incredible word. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be preaching to anyone (in fact that’s extremely unlikely) but the first step is to show a real representation of Jesus Christ in my life. Hopefully if that is successful I will have opportunities to tell others why I act differently. Meanwhile the first thing I want to make sure I do is get involved with the CU at the university and find ways that it does outreach in the university and get stuck in! As well as that I want to find a church that does mission in the city and serve the people of it. I feel God has given me a real calling to serve those who feel unloved and marginalised, and for a short time I wasn’t sure university was actually the place he wanted me to go but I then understood that’s where he wanted me to carry this out – more on how that came about in the next post. This leaves me excited for how God will use me during my university life and I honestly can’t wait for it.
I reckon that’s good place to end this post, in the next day or two I’ll post about my adventures over the summer. Please comment and share if you liked it!