University, and particularly Freshers’ Week, is like travelling at high speed while staying in one place. Whether you’ve taken time out to see the world, to work, to train in a new skill or to volunteer somewhere, the meeting, greeting and colliding that you experience with new people, of different cultures and personalities, is stretching, invigorating, and (hopefully) enriching. The same can be said of uni.
Meeting hundreds of people from all over, starting conversations and sharing life stories, all happens in intense pockets of time as you travel around your halls, the corridors and the clubs, in search of people you connect with. Somewhere in this mix of conversation starters, we want our faith to spill out – naturally, powerfully and authentically – as we seek to display Jesus at the centre of what we say and how we’re known
When I think about sharing faith with people who might never have been introduced to Jesus, I realise that scripture doesn’t give us top tips for having “intentional evangelistic conversations”. It seems the presence of God, active in the person of Jesus and amongst his followers, was so distinct and tangible that the first Christians weren’t awkwardly crowbarring their faith into everyday conversations. The kingdom of God just could not help but come spilling out and people simply had to ask about it as the followers of Jesus announced “peace… the kingdom of God is really near to you”.
For their school friends, home friends and family contexts, so radical was the disciples’ change in career, financial status and day to day activity that questions about who this Jesus was were inevitable. His impact had seemingly completely wrecked their mate’s life and now they never see him without a crowd gathered around…
Do we live lives that confuse, intrigue and demand an explanation from those we grew up with, and those who grew us up? If we take hold of our faith for ourselves at uni, will that make the people we grew up with ask questions about Jesus because they can see his impact?
For the new friends the disciples met on the road, a little like the craziness of so many introductions during Freshers’ Week, the conversation starters were much more about finding people who wouldn’t mind sharing their food with them and a place to crash. As stories and food were laid out and passed around the kitchen table, I guess prayer was a natural way to offer something of Jesus to the followers’ new friends who, like all of us, had needs and pain and places where only a touch from God could make the difference. From everything the disciples were coming to understand of the person and presence of Jesus, and from what they expected to follow them around – signs, wonders, persecution, lots of muttering teachers of the law, outcasts, the diseased, the dead… – I guess there was nothing else for it but to tell the truth, offer to pray and join in with the coming kingdom of God.
How might we meet new people, share food, listen honestly, and pray for the kingdom of God to come? Do our lives change the conversation because of how we carry the presence of Jesus, even with the new people that we’ve only just met?
When it comes to the authorities and rulers of the day, I’m not sure how many conversation starters were necessary here either. There seemed to be a steady flow of traffic of leaders with strong opinions, wanting to see for themselves what was happening with Jesus and his followers. As we know, lots of questions were put to Jesus in the gospel accounts, but he asked twice as many in return, and he only gave three direct responses out of the whole lot! Jesus challenged any authority that wasn’t God’s, and often had prophetic insight around what those leaders were really thinking, even as he listened to their questions.
Can our lives provoke and get the attention of our university and city authorities? What would it look like to cause conversations on campus about the kingdom because of what’s happening amongst us?
Jesus chose to confuse the crowd with parables, provoking them into wrestling with more questions rather than being satisfied with answers, while privately explaining the secrets of the kingdom to his few closer followers. Jesus was a master at prompting conversations about God, but he appeared to feel no pressure to finish them. So often, we feel nervous about sharing our faith with people in case they ask us something we don’t know how to answer, or don’t understand. But again, we can take courage from the example of Jesus, who didn’t give answers, who’s life caused people to ask better questions, and who actually allowed people the opportunity to wrestle and chew through who God is for themselves, rather than give neat answers that are paper thin, leaving no room for mystery, depth or curiosity.
We can take courage from the example of Jesus, who didn’t give answers, who’s life caused people to ask better questions, and who actually allowed people the opportunity to wrestle and chew through who God is for themselves.
Have we become too simplistic with our presentation of the gospel that we leave no room for conversation? Are we so afraid of questions, doubts, confusion and wrestling that we don’t allow ourselves to go there?
From what I’m learning in the gospel accounts of Jesus, his tribe of student followers (disciples), and the stir they caused just by showing up, I am relieved to discover that we don’t need to have a handful of clever God-conversation starters up our sleeves. As you arrive onto campus, meet hundreds of new people and begin to explore what your life could be about outside of your upbringing and home comfort zone, the invitation of God is to live a life that causes conversations about His kingdom.
Catch the world’s attention through your costly kindness, your crazy generosity, your radical sense of joy (without the aid of artificial highs), and your willingness to pray in all circumstances, even if that’s a brand new idea for the person in front of you. See what happens when you listen more than you speak, when you ask better questions and feel no pressure to have all the right answers.
Let the Holy Spirit, fully welcomed into your life, be the conversation starter, and then step into every opportunity as if you were adding salt to a dish to bring out the rich flavours of life; as if you were speaking the very words of God.
Miriam is the Global Student Mission leader for Fusion. She lives in Middlesborough and has recently been ordained as a deacon in the Church of England.