It’s the end of a busy term for 9:38. We’ve held four conferences for students by the sea, by the hills, by the canals and by the tube – or, in Exeter, Manchester, Birmingham and London. It’s been an educational process. I’ve discovered that the 9:38 banners can make good conversation starters on the train (in their bags, they look – for the optimistic – like giant musical instruments). I’ve learnt that few 9:38 conferences can be complete without some chorizo and beans at lunch (but the pulled pork at Holy Trinity Platt was also very tasty). More seriously, it’s been both humbling and encouraging to see a whole variety of people give up their Saturdays to think through – or to help others think through – whether full-time gospel ministry is for them.
Not everyone comes to a 9:38 conference certain that full-time gospel ministry is for them. Some have never thought about it before. Nor do many leave having been fully persuaded that it is for them. We don’t expect that. Rather, we hope and pray that people come – at whatever stage they are in the thought process – and we can help them move forward. We do this in partnership with their local churches. We’re delighted that a number of churches have sent both their students and their student workers to the conferences this term. Not only does the whole conference benefit from their participation, but it also means the student workers can follow up with their students later on.
If you’ve never been to a student conference, then here’s a synopsis of what happens. There are three main talks, supplemented by seminars and/or a Q&A with the speakers. Each conference has speakers from local churches and so the talks are all different, though covering similar material. We look at the ministry of every Christian (which is, in brief, to partner with their local church to proclaim the gospel in word and deed in whatever situation they are in). That’s the first talk. In the second talk, we look at the particular ministry of those set aside for full-time gospel ministry (to be freed from the need to make a living so they can devote that time to teaching the gospel). After lunch, the Q&A and/or seminars take a closer look at life in full-time gospel ministry. The third talk might look at the decision-making process (although sometimes that comes earlier in the day). But mainly it addresses the difference all this will make tomorrow. Because, as Jonty Allcock reminded us, if it doesn’t make a difference tomorrow, then it won’t make a difference five years down the line.
The “way” in which he calls us to walk is to do with how we live – that we live all our lives as worship to him – rather than the exact detail of our jobs and relationships.
One of the highlights has been the teaching on guidance. I think my generation of Christians (I’m 21 again, don’t you know!) can really struggle with making decisions. We read verses such as Jeremiah 6:16 – “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” – and we think the “way” is God’s map for our lives. A particular plan for us to follow, with details of whom we should (or should not) marry, where we should live, what job we should do and so on. And only when we follow this plan will we “find rest for our souls”. So we desperately try to figure out how to read this mysterious map. But… as we were reminded at the conferences, God doesn’t have a map like this. The “way” in which he calls us to walk is to do with how we live – that we live all our lives as worship to him – rather than the exact detail of our jobs and relationships. It’s not that these things aren’t important. Far from it. But they mustn’t be our top priority. They won’t satisfy us, or give us rest. Only God can do that. The challenge is this: whether you pursue full-time gospel ministry or not, Jesus must be your first priority. Everything else follows, and then it falls into place.