Let’s get into the mindset of an 18-year-old arriving at university. You’ve packed your bags, got your fancy dress outfits and arrived in a new city. And literally no one knows your name. What now?
Freedom? Reinvention? Panic? For some young people this is an opportunity to thrive and experience the best three years of their lives. Others are just trying to make it through each day. There will be teenagers who feel like they have lost their social status and identity, and some who have just followed the system, taken the inevitable next step in education and have no idea what to expect.
When I headed off to university I was caught up with first impressions: what I was going to wear on moving day, what my new crockery looked like, whether my new tea towels matched my utensils. I had photos of all my besties from home ready to stick on the wall and I knew exactly what I wanted people to think when they met me. In all the busyness of shopping, packing and goodbyes, I didn’t once stop to think about who I was as a follower of Jesus and how God could use me at university.
Great adventures require great preparation. This will most likely be the biggest transition of a school leaver’s life, and it’s a huge investment of time and money. So it makes sense to fully prepare.
Buzzfeed is full of top tips for starting university, with advice such as “resist the urge to carry a traffic cone home after a night out”, “don’t go crazy when it comes to communal milk” and “be prepared for competition over the most consecutive all-nighters”. While these are interesting top tips for most freshers, how do we prepare our young people to rock up at university knowing who they are as followers of Jesus? How can we help them get stuck into a local church, ready to live a life of mission?
Under your wing
You can’t start preparing for university too early. Go on the whole journey with your young people, from open days and personal statements through to results day and moving. Show them the Fusion Student Linkup app. I downloaded this before I left for university. After a week of more nights out than I had been on in my life, Sunday rolled around. The app had connected me with churches in my city and lots of student workers had been in touch inviting me to church, lunch and coffee. I went to the first church that got in touch with me (possibly not the best system, but it worked out well!).
I walked into church and found something constant and familiar, but also something life-changing. I went to church partly because I knew everyone at home would panic if I didn’t and partly because that’s what I had always done on a Sunday. I left church that day having experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and, for the first time, grasped who Jesus was and what it meant to know him. It suddenly clicked that this was something I wanted to share with my friends.
Encourage your young people to think about which churches they would like to try and to have a plan for their first Sunday. Churches need students as much as students need churches. Send your young people to university inspired, ready to serve and commit to a new home. Church is a platform for mission and the perfect place for navigating an unfamiliar environment.
Create a space for your young people to think about who they are as followers of Jesus. University is a great time to think about faith and identity. No one at university has known them growing up and their fellow students aren’t aware of the primary school nicknames they couldn’t shake off. Who does Jesus say they are?
Christian students have the opportunity to leave a kingdom legacy at university that will benefit and bless others
I arrived at university with a token knowledge of Sunday school and the odd youth group experience from the small village I grew up in. The first year of university was a blur of fancy dress parties and complicated political and sociological theory. By the time Christmas came round I was homesick.
On a whim I turned up at a tiny Methodist church on the high street. I was welcomed like a celebrity by the elderly congregation. One particular member welcomed me to her house every week for the rest of my degree. Over a Cornish pasty, some tinned fruit and a cup of tea we would chat about our week. She never really spoke about Jesus, but his joy emanated from her very core. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but slowly I began to regularly attend church, pray and read the Bible for myself.
In my final year I gave up drinking to change my attitude to partying and became an informal street pastor to my mates. Most nights I was volunteering with the youth work in the area and was on every rota at church, from tea and coffee to preaching.
You rock up to freshers’ fair and, before you know it, you’ve signed up to at least five new sports teams, a couple of random societies and agreed to help with RAG week. How on earth do you decide what you want to do, where to commit and how to spend your time?
Some of these opportunities will be testing battlegrounds for students, but also the perfect place for fun, friendship and a place to share faith in the most natural way. Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15 is: “not that you take them out of the world but protect them from the evil one”. God desires a generation of students who live in the pressure areas of student culture; Christians who don’t apologise or hide their faith but build deep friendships with their fellow students.
I’d been playing rugby for a year and a half with the university team and found God opening many doors for conversations with the guys, but I desperately wanted to go beyond just having good conversations about life and faith. I was encouraged by a friend of mine who worked for Christians in Sport to put a dinner on, have a few drinks, then open up a story about Jesus and see how it speaks to life today.
I was terrified of inviting the guys as I feared rejection. We gathered as a small group of around three or four, but as the weeks continued we gained more and more momentum, and by the end of the year we regularly had around 20 or more coming. I’d print off a story about Jesus from one of the Gospels and we’d have a very simple format of three questions: who are the characters in the story? What are they teaching us? Why has this been included in the Gospel account?
I’d do my best to limit the studies to no more than 30 minutes, but we could spend hours discussing Jesus over a pint. I couldn’t quite believe this was happening…it can only be explained by God!
University is full of opportunities. Encourage young people to be expectant and open to everything God has for them. Spend time getting creative, and dream with God. What does it look like to live life to the full? Get a ‘preparation for university’ session in the diary and use a resource like the Fusion Linkup box, which covers everything from pot noodles and pre-drinks to finding a church and what it looks like to leave a legacy in your university city.
Create a space for your young people to think about who they are as followers of Jesus
Joining the flock
We can all leave legacies that impact the world we live in for better or worse. Christian students have the opportunity to leave a kingdom legacy at university that will benefit and bless others. The vision is to see a generation of Christian students live with purpose, conviction and compassion in order that thousands more students would encounter and respond to the love of God. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Sending students to university with a vision is key. University is the mission field and there is a ripe harvest. Commission them for a life of mission. It’s not a trip or an organised event, it’s something to live out.
Within my first week at Bournemouth University I had a class with Ruby. I picked up that she might be interested in helping out with homeless people. She had never really experienced Church and wasn’t really interested in that side of things, but I invited her to help out with my new church’s addiction recovery programme. It wasn’t starting for another term, so I asked if she would like to help out with the meals for the Alpha course. Within four months of helping out and being involved in the course she was baptised!
I think I have one surviving mug from the crockery set I spent ages carefully picking out and I definitely don’t have any of my old tea towels. I don’t have a clue what I wore on my first day of university. What I do have is a church that loves me, feels like home and is family. I had three incredible years of university where I discovered what it meant to be loved and created by God. Three years of adventure and mission, where I saw friends commit their lives to Jesus, prayed with others and had wonderful and challenging conversations about who Jesus is with friends who don’t yet know him. I learnt on the job.
Send your young people to university knowing they carry the power of the Holy Spirit and that they are there because Jesus wants them there. Spend time with them before they go, encouraging them to think beyond first impressions.
Young people haven’t always been fully prepared for the transition between school and university. Let’s be the change! Get your young people linked up with local churches and take time to stand with them as they make their home among the UK’s largest unreached people group.