The “Fresher’s Fair” is offered by every British university as part of a new academic year. Recruitment displays and tables filled the room—a large meeting hall—as new students were being recruited. If, for instance, an arriving freshman is interested in joining the university crew he would be drawn to the proper spot by a pair of crossed oars. The Thespians had their place, as did the Islamists, the New Atheists, a Glider Club, and more. There were a host of other clubs and societies.
The range of Christian options offered this year was unusual. The standard Christian Union stall could be found, of course, but this year a group of local churches were present in an effort to recruit students, each to their local setting. They were welcome as long as the booth representatives were university students.
Thomas, a fresher, moved through the crowded room, a bit nervous but curious. Just a month earlier he’d met Jesus through a Discover Christianity course. His question now was whether, as a student, he would move ahead with his newfound faith. He needed some help.
“You must come to our church!”
Thomas, pinched between a pair of earnest students, was looking at the iPad video of a worship service on a loop mode. Images of enthusiasm pulsated on the screen. A special feature was the worship team with a drummer drawing special notice—his skill was obvious as he pressed the pace of a popular chorus. “Our worship is an absolute highlight!” The video continued into close-ups of lively, young, attractive participants—arms raised, eyes closed, moving and singing—who were obviously experiencing something close to total bliss.
Thomas asked the students what their church offered and one answered.
“We’ve got the best music in the city,” he was assured, “so our ministry draws students who love worship. If you believe in worship, this is the place for you.”
He nodded, picked up an informational flyer, thanked them and moved on.
Next he came to a table stacked with copies of a pair of books and a small sign, “Free! Take one!” Some blown-up photos showed a young preacher spotlighted on a stage with a casual look—casual but stylish—and a Bible in his hand. Around him were circular tables filled with people along with some interspersed sofas and soft chairs. Everyone had their eyes riveted on the preacher whose teaching apparently had them enthralled.
“He’s great,” said the booth host. “He offers cutting edge truth and his first two books have been translated in four languages.” It was clear that this was a church for people who meant to have an impact. “We have small group studies that give the kind of training you’ll need while you’re in the Uni. If you’d like to sign up with one that meets in your residence hall, here’s the form!”
Thomas considered their emphasis: “So your church mainly features strong teaching?”
“Yes!” the host enthused, “Our pastor, Stephen, is brilliant! And the training program here is the best. Ever since Stephen planted our church four years ago we’ve doubled our numbers each year.”
The next booth was more subdued yet a bit shocking. Here there was a table covered with photo-mosaics of children from a non-mainstream ethnicity. Their drawn faces, imploring looks, and their rough settings were explained by a label: “Our mission to the helpless!” One of the two students told Thomas about it.
“Our church is completely missional—if anyone is willing to work, our leaders put them to work. These pictures are from our Spring break last year when a group of us worked with the poorest of the poor in a nutritional supplement program. We have huge opportunities to help the poor during our Spring mission.”
“What about the rest of the time? During the academic term?” Thomas asked.
“Oh, there’s so much to do. Our church motto captures it: ‘Offering the Gospel by the way we live!’ Every Sunday, for instance, we have a soup kitchen we open just after our morning service and by now we have over thirty of the down-and-out locals coming each week. There are huge needs and we try to meet them. But we’re really short-handed. Are you interested in helping?”
Thomas smiled, “Let me pray about it.” He took yet another leaflet and moved on.
Once outside the meeting hall he sat on a bench and considered his options, thumbing through his flyers.
Ever since he met Jesus Thomas was delighted with worship, but he didn’t see it as an end in itself. David, the man who first introduced him to Jesus in the Discover Christianity course, alerted him on that score: “Pursue a person, not an experience.”
He thought about the charismatic pastor, Stephen. He meant to feed the mind but Thomas, though hungry to learn, was hesitant. His spiritual mentor David had coached him to ask about the focus of a church: “Pursue a person, not just knowledge.” What seemed to be missing at that booth was a focus on Christ. Stephen was much more the feature figure.
The missional church was certainly attractive but David’s advice once again came to mind. He talked about how the poor will always be among us—and we must care for them with Christ’s compassion—but, David warned, “Be sure to pursue the person and not just good works no matter how noble they might be.”
Somewhere, Thomas thought, there must be a church that delighted in Jesus and made him their ultimate focus—so that worship, learning, and ministry would be birthed out of his love. But for now Thomas knew he needed to keep looking.