Wednesday night I had the most incredible time with a bunch of our students out at the campus of UNC where I was invited to be the speaker for a very unusual event they were putting on. (No… I wasn’t talking about immigration or throwing rocks at anybody… ) For a week or so, they had some “kvetching” boards set up around campus that said, “What’s wrong with Christianity?” These boards filled up with dozens upon dozens of comments… and I was invited to come in an address all of them. The questions ranged from “How do I know there is a God?” to “Why are Christians sure they are right?” to “Jesus is cool, but Paul’s a jerk”… I told them I felt somewhat like a mosquito in a nudist colony… (so much to cover, where to begin?)… The students then invited their friends and people who had filled out stuff on the board to come. The attendance, for this kind of event, was huge. Looked like a solid 250 or 300 packed into this room.
Here’s what I was struck by:
The students’ leadership: this was entirely student run. When I get invited to a student run event, 80% of the time it is a total disaster. But 20% of the time it is something that goes so good it is ridiculous, far beyond something “adults” could have pulled off. It has the feeling of a groundswell. That’s what this thing was. The Spirit of God was absolutely ALL OVER IT. (What I have found- that most people don’t realize – is that my “effectiveness” at speaking often as little to do with my own preparation and abilities as much as it does the faith, enthusiasm and prayerfulness of those planning the event!) These student leaders are the real deal. Props to Ashley Peterson, Rory, Ryan and the others who led it. That reminds me of what I consider to be one the core principles of real, New Testament ministry: real miracles happen through the hands of regular Christians in the community, not through the hands of the ‘professional’ Christians in the church. 39 of the 40 miracles in Acts happened in the community, not in the church. God doesn’t want you to come watch me do miracles, He wants you go out and experience Him in the place that you live. Your initiative is all He is waiting on to do His greatest work.
The students’ audacity: This was a big, audacious leap of faith. What was especially cool was Ashley, who seems to have been the instigator, told me that she remembered how I had preached on the audacity of faith earlier last year and challenged them to “go out and try something stupid for Jesus.” This, she said, was her stupid dream…her friends hearing the Gospel. Wow. I hope she never forgets what God does when you take a chance on Him for His purposes.
The students’ humility: These guys humbled themselves before their fellow students, and allowed their friends to criticize them publicly. They then apologized where they were wrong, and then had a chance to explain the beauty of who Jesus was. They just love their friends and would do anything to reach them for Christ. They gave me some of the feedback from the night… people who said this cleared up a lot and that this encouraged them to keep seeking.
I also give “best statement I’ve heard this year by a college student award” to Ashley Peterson. Ashley lived in the Ukraine for a while with her parents who were missionaries. I asked her if she spoke Russian, and she said… “Well, Russian, German and French.” Her English was pretty good too. I told her that I just finished, last week, reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers’ Karamazov, so I now considered myself an expert on Russia, so if she had any questions about Russia I’d be happy to answer them. She politely laughed, like people do to me a lot in church. She then mentioned how good Brothers was, and I demurred a little… it is a classic, I understand, and there are some staggeringly brilliant passages, but I really struggled through parts of it. It’s 980 pages of teeny tiny writing and sentences with like 1000 words in them. And the Russian people have weird patterns of thought… She promptly replied, with only a slightly catty tone, “Well… it’s a lot better when you read it in Russian.” Game-set-match. She gets the award for “best all around put your pastor in his place” award.
I LOVE having a church in the backyard of the greatest students in the world. Through these guys (and all of you, Southeastern students) we really can change the world! Let them be an example to us of audacity and belief!