Campuses around the world are filled with students who need to hear about Jesus. CMS Australia Federal Secretary Peter Rodgers reflects on CMS’s commitment to student ministry and its global significance.
‘Has CMS graduated from student ministry?’
This was the question asked by Paul and Sandra, CMS student workers in France, in the last student ministry edition of Checkpoint (Winter, 2011).
At that time, we had reason for concern. Over the previous decade, there had been a 50% decline in the number of student workers serving with CMS and by 2011, we had just 21. Paul and Sandra passionately called on student workers in Australia to go on mission and for CMS to redouble its efforts.
And redouble our efforts we did. CMS strongly believes that student ministry provides an unparalleled opportunity for two main purposes: evangelism and leadership development.
An Opportunity not to be Missed
Just think of the numbers of university students around the world! Millions of students sitting in lecture theatres across different disciplines and faculties, eagerly learning new things. Then, that cohort of students changes each year, as graduates enter the workforce and a new generation of young minds enters these same rooms with that same eagerness to start the cycle again. The sheer number of people who can be reached through student ministry is enormous! And yet tragically, there are comparatively few workers reaching out to them, meaning that millions graduate every year having never heard of Jesus. It is easy to see the need and despair.
The Japanese are perhaps the largest gospel-poor people group in the world. There are, on average, less than three Christian students per university! As in most countries, these years of study are the only time the Japanese have the opportunity and freedom to consider Christ: it is a golden opportunity. Currently, we have six student workers serving with KGK in Japan, but there are many universities where there is no Christian witness at all.
Equipping Graduates for Christ
Given this great need, you may be surprised that leading people to Christ is not our primary goal in student ministry. Libby Leach, another CMS student worker in France, reflects “We have contact with students for a few years, but they will spend most of their lives out of our sight. We want them to be equipped to live the rest of their lives for Christ.”
This is our primary goal. Student ministry is not just about evangelism and teaching the Bible, but equipping and training Christian students in ministry through hands-on active evangelism, discipling and leadership. We praise God that around the world many Christian students graduate with a deep biblical knowledge and godly heart, but also well-practised ministry skills that they take into their workplaces and local churches. They are the future of the church and God’s mission in the world.
After 24 years of student work, Paul and Sandra are as committed as ever to their work. Along with other CMS workers, their long-term ministry has done much to transform the Christian university movement in France (GBU). Over 50 French people have been trained through Relay, the GBU apprenticeship program, and the GBU staff team has doubled in the last five years. Under God’s hand, the French Church is growing and the GBU plays a pivotal role in equipping and training students to be the new and next generation of leaders.
New Opportunities to Equip Graduates
Our passion to grow godly graduates has led us to forge new connections for student ministry in the Pacific and in Africa. In the Pacific, churches are larger and many students will consider themselves Christians, but very few of them know the Bible or have seen any models of Christian ministry. While in Africa, the church has grown rapidly, but is vulnerable to false teaching and ungodliness.
The future of Christianity in these regions will depend on the type of leaders who emerge. Christian ministry on campus is a strategic training ground for these future leaders, however these movements are often small and fragile. Student workers from Australia can play a significant role in working alongside our brothers and sisters to help build stronger local Christian university movements in Africa and the Pacific. Tony and Susie Wright are serving in Fiji with the University of the South Pacific to equip and mentor Christian leaders and soon we plan to place a second family on the campus of the same university in Vanuatu. Arthur and Tamie Davis have just joined the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students to meet a similar need in Africa.
More Workers are Needed
Of course, we need more student workers on Australian campuses. But the comparatively large number of student workers in Australia is unheard of in other parts of the world. This came home powerfully to me upon hearing that there is only one full-time student worker in Papua New Guinea. We are delighted that Keith and Marion Birchley, who served with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) for over twenty years, responded to that need and have now relocated in Port Moresby. We need more like them.
Our close relationship with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students partner movements around the world means that CMS is uniquely placed to send and support gifted student workers from Australia to wherever the need is greatest. Our goal is to see strong locally-led student movements committed to evangelism and leadership development.
So, how does student ministry look for CMS in 2015? God has answered Paul and Sandra's prayers and ours. Today, CMS has 44 student workers serving on university campuses in 14 countries. CMS has not graduated from student ministry and it is our prayer that this vital work will continue for the generations of students and Christian leaders to come.
Pray: Praise God for the impact of student ministry around the world! Please pray that God will continue to raise up more student workers to go to campuses around the world. May students continue to hear the gospel and be saved.