Monday, 10 March 2008

the nature of student mission and its slogans

In spring summer 2007 I briefly engaged this nucu evang sec Luke in conversation over thoughts and ideas for the next mission week. Struck particularly by cambridge Nic's thoughts on community as evangelism yesterday and the ciccu/fusion conversation that went on all weekend, I thought I'd post this email:

( - details on the context for references in this email)

"Luke, good to see you earlier. I've had a minute to pen some thoughts. I hope this email is a not-entirely-directionless train of thought, brainstorming mission and some ideas for mission week themes. bear with me. Let me know if anything resonates.

I have wondered if it is productive to try to distill the gospel down to a catchphrase or sound bite. I have wondered whether hoodies are biblical. Whether a week of mission produces fruit that lasts, and to what extent it acts as a helpful focus for CU activity. I've been challenged to consider what at the heart of it all are we trying to communicate - an academic truth, a religious system, a relational way of life, a radical, counter-cultural self-less community derived from experience of truth, a god that goes beyond human understanding, an infinite love, an absurd grace.

I struggled with the 'reality' theme for its coming across as judgemental and from finding many people simply didn't understand the graphic or the theme. 'Who?' was better but didn't offer any personal challenge to those not already curious about the abstract/historical jesus. I'm not sure who mission week targets - hardline athiests, lapsed christians who just got to uni, foreign students, muslims.. If the mission weeks are targeting the non-christian friends that I have, the themes pass them by and the branding usually offends them for the wrong reason.
One poster that particularly struck me was the "Jesus Christ hated religion. Who is Jesus?" - why the change of tense?

Honesty, transparency, radical, counter-cultural, generous, joy, life in its fullness, unselfish and without pretension - can we communicate these in our graphic language?

I'm not actually in a fusion cell, I did go to the Fusion weekend last year and I was drawn to the passion for spirit-lead evangelism, the engagement with social issues and the explicit rooting in local churches. There's a really brief talk by rich wilson, looking at loving your uni, Fusion's tag line and general vision, but it's relevant to all christian students, he talks on how they are looking to effect this going into 2008 -
I don't know if UCCF is involved in hope08 - - but the idea of a year of concerted christian evangelism and outreach, in a particularly united way. This has been on my heart for some time. When we had the student prayer room at 145 in february I was keen that it should involve students from Nottingham uni and trent, from the CUs and fusion and from all the churches. I think we managed that, although I don't know where this is going right now...

I've been working on a graphic "God Loves Nottingham". I've been putting it off until this summer really, but I'd love get a graphic for a simple t-shirt with that message. It is the sort of message I'd love to run a (CU) mission week with, although I was hoping that the 'god loves nottingham' would be a broader thing and not owned by one CU for one week in one place.
So mission week themes. 'hope' 'life' 'truth' 'reality' are all catchy names that have been done. Does their being short and snappy suggest a foregone conclusion or that we somehow have all the answers, that it is all sorted? Are they helpful or unhelpful summaries of the christian message? Does 'life' etc communicate an aggressive message to the post-modern student? Need it be? Is it a liberal theology to talk more in terms of a journey of faith, a discussion like alpha or are we simply pandering to the postmoderns? Would we be better asking a question, 'is there more to life than this?' 'here is my truth tell me yours...'

If we start talking in terms of questions and of the experience of a life of faith, do we need to change the format? Can we separate the theme and the format? Is the format of an evangelistic speaker and apologetics lunch bar still as effective as it was in a student scene ten years ago? Is there scope for something more like alpha, or (st marys marylebone's) life course with a more interactive presentation?

'joy week 2007'
i pictured this with really joyful graphics. mission week hoodies have tended to lack the visual joy that i think christians should have. something that brings delight, something that breaks from the banal hoodies that everyone is wearing, that brightens the world, in and of themselves, but also that stand out, as christians should, for having something joyful. like old school black gospel music.. :-)

'life is good.'
'you are beautiful'
'know what love is.' - these are perhaps gospel-lite, don't address sin etc, I'd love to know if there are misiological studies on this, what students in our generation are looking for, what their concept of god is and whether it is more important that they know they are loved?

'love, actually' - done at oxford in 05, and possibly dated now

'vital signs'
'life. no gimmicks'
'something real'

'come and see'
- its so funny that through out the bible the writers aren't so bothered about proving that god exists. reading all the people who go out from a meeting with jesus, woman at the well etc, and are saying, "come and see" what are non-christians coming to see happen at a mission week.

'study more, earn more, live more?'
'you're born and you live and you die and'
'were we meant to live for so much more?'
rather like 'reality' i'm not sure how to communicate the more to life thing, alpha does it well with the man on the mountain posters

'he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose'
'do you believe in evil?'

'not a religion'
'religious people start wars and kill people'
'jesus christ hates religion'

'jesus came to change all this'
rather like the i'm with stupid t-shirt design, with arrows..

'jesus christ changed my life'
i'd love to print blank hoodies, with just 'nucu (dates)' on the bottom of the back, and then get a thick marker pen and let people write a message that they own on the back, in bold, 'ask Phil about jesus' 'jesus christ healed Phil' etc.

'jesus christ will change your life'

'why are you afraid to ask why?'
'what questions are you afraid to ask?'
'answering ultimate questions.'
'i don't have all the answers but i've got some brilliant questions'
'is there another way?'
'is there a third way?'

I am a fan of proclamation evangelism done well. I am sure my theology has liberal failings, I'm drawn to the vineyard/fusion/emergent/htb/marshill approaches. Re-reading my suggestions above they are mostly feel-good, 'you are beautiful' sort of messages which probably reflects the less-than-challenging teaching i've been immersing myself recently. I'm longing to see a fresh move of God, I'm longing to see the gospel meet people where they are at, and to offer the answer of Jesus to questions that many people aren't even asking. I'll have a bit more of a think on how to present the gospel honestly in its challenge, relevently and urgently in its language, and unjudgementally in its tone.

I do think the issue of graphics is important. The message is most important, infinitely more so than style, but too often in the christian community the notion that the visual is a message in itself is ignored. being uncreative in the way we present fails to communicate the creative god we have and the creative beings he delights in us being, just as failing to be sacrificial in our evangelism falls short of an understanding of the original sacrifice we are celebrating. Furthermore, it is hardly beyond our means - within our talent base, or someone in our church here or home churchs someone must have the ability to do this.. ? or any of the threadless t-shirts, I love them

I'm competent to put together graphic things for print but I had more in mind an artist or creative with a bolder visual imagination and more experience in this. i'm just throwing ideas out there.

I'd love to know if there are people writing on contemporary student mission, its theology, history and future, if you know anything good..
Let me know if you want to meet up, I'm here until the may 26th, i'm away sun/mon/tues next week.

In Christ,

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