Living in the centre of (Olde) York for the last three years I’ve become intimately acquainted with pigeons.
They like to nest in the passageway to my house. They like to pepper my terrace with little gifts of aromatic whitewash. My housemate loves them, but even she couldn’t tell you which ones come back, the regulars or the newbies. They’re not that special, they all look the same.
So often this can become our attitude towards students in our churches. They all look the same, they come and go, some of us like them and feed them, some of us think they smell and would rather they went and nested elsewhere.
But what is unavoidable (in terms of students!) is that these guys are at a turning point in their faith – for many freshers its fight or flight, and I’ll tell you what can make the difference – in Jesus’ words – ‘Fear not...you are of more value than many sparrows’.
'Fear not, you are valued' – that’s what can give them the confidence to stand in the face of pressure that comes their way. This phrase comes, in Matthew 10, in a chunk where Jesus gets pretty serious and hardcore. Wrapped by verses full of tension where Jesus talks about persecution, pressure and the cost of living for everything you believe in, comes this ray of light. This is his encouragement amidst the fray – you are of more value than many sparrows. You, you are valuable, and I will stand with you.
It is this which needs to characterise our attitudes to students in our churches.
When they arrive at university, these young people have an opportunity to take on the challenging lifestyle Jesus is preparing his guys for in these verses. They are walking into a new culture, a new lifestyle, a new independence. Those guys who all look the same are arriving very much as individuals and, so often, they are tested by their new individual realities. They are being faced with the challenges of Matthew 10, are they being met with the encouragement of it? Jesus demonstrates that when someone is amidst pressure concerning just how far they’re willing to stand up for their faith, they need to hear ‘you are valued’. This is not the end of the road for you. It’s a lie that you no longer belong. You are precious. You are more precious than many microphones. You are more precious than many emails. You are more precious than many notices. These things are important, and they are noticed when they are missing. How much more are you noticed. Every hair on your head is counted, we see you, we know you and we value you.
Fusion’s Studentlinkup.org is all about making every one count. Finding every fresher a home. Making sure every one knows that they are valued and that the support is there for them when they arrive. If you know any young people who are heading off to university this year get them to studentlinkup.org and get them linked up. If you are a church and you want to stand with students as they go or as they arrive, please consider becoming a connection church.
In the end, a pigeon or two disappearing from my terrace is no big deal. A young person or two disappearing from faith because they’ve not found the community who will be there to stand with them is a whole other ball game. Let’s make this message loud and clear. You are valued. You are precious. You are worth more than many many sparrows, and we're here to stand with you.