Admittedly, it’s not my most inspiring of blog titles but I did indeed visit the green and pleasant pastures of The Quinta Conference Centre last week for the annual UCCF student leaders gathering, Forum. This wasn’t a first for me, it was my 9th such journey this time to team teach in two ‘Theology of Social Justice’ workshops. So what impressions grabbed me by the throat as I mused in the company of over 800 students?
Firstly, the combination of serious discipleship peppered with great fun and ridiculous humour. I can’t think of a better way of making an important point about the challenge of following Jesus than encouraging the audience to laugh at themselves and then delivering the inspiration of how it could be different. Graham Daniels told the story of former QPR footballer who earlier in his career as a 17 year old had spoken up at a club Christmas dinner to say something of the significance of celebrating Jesus. But the words just wouldn’t come. So he offered a song instead ‘Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord for loving me’. He made it through all three verses as sniggering colleagues tried to hold it together. As you can imagine, training was a nightmare for a while ‘Come on Dennis, sing us a song!’ But it left an indelible impression on at least one, for later he became a Christian. This account made us all laugh precisely because we can all remember occasions when we felt entirely inadequate in attempting to explain our decision to become a disciple. And it inspired and encouraged us because, despite our faltering words, God chooses to use such weak and trembling vessels.
Secondly, there was such an intentional thread of an all-compassing biblical worldview. This has been such an encouraging development in the conference ethos. Whether it be approach to academic study, involvement in Uni sports teams or influence in the Student Union they are all places where being a Christ-follower should be encouraged, supported and resourced. These are not places where Christians carry out occasional forays to prove their evangelistic bravery but rather places where the Spirit of God is at work enabling the incarnational presence of His people to live and love. Becky Pippert’s challenge to us all was to ‘practise the presence of Christ’- in other words to sense His Lordship in the midst of the struggles of everyday living. By being there and showing the wonders of grace we can point the not-yet-followers to another way.
By modelling and teaching in this way, Forum will deliver a great legacy to the wider church. We will all benefit through being joined by thousands of younger Christians inspired to live differently and equipped to apply Jesus’ message to the every aspect of life.