One of the key influences on a student coming to faith in Jesus today is the impact of the authenticity and integrity of Christians.*
One of my absolute favourites… integrity!! I was so proud of Jesus’ people when I heard story after story of students living it not just saying it. In fact the most impactful things about Christians that the students I interviewed mentioned, was their kindness, openness to discussion and the way they lived out their beliefs. No clever answers, no smart ways of telling stories, just honesty and integrity. Love it.
People really do notice the difference when someone is following the way of Jesus, not the popular culture around them. At university because you are living in much closer proximity 24-7, the opportunities for students to see each other's lives and learn from one another is heightened. When the Holy Spirit is your housemate, this has quite the effect!
Here are some of the ways students described the Christians they met:
“Reliable, accountable, trust-worthy people.”
“This girl at uni… wouldn’t sleep with her boyfriend… I thought ‘you’re different!’”
“I wanted to know why he wasn’t drinking.”
“It was really wholesome, the community praying for one another and caring about each other’s needs.”
“Church friends felt solid.”
“I found home and respect in the local church.”
The truth is, talk is often cheap with so many platforms available for anyone to broadcast themselves and their opinions. Saying that Jesus is real, the way, the truth, and the life, may sound good and powerful, but unless we are living like we believe those statements, then what does it really matter?
It was the students who actually didn't get drunk but were secure enough to explain why, and not judge those who did, who got specific mentions in student's stories of coming to faith. It was the girl who didn't sleep with her boyfriend that made one student realise this God thing might actually be real because why else would you live like that?
It was the patient Christian who listened to the hundredth question about life without judging, disregarding or eye-rolling, who let that student know they could always ask more. It was the kindness and respect Christians gave to every person, regardless of background or context, that impacted students exploring faith. It's one thing to preach love your neighbour, it's another thing to then invite them round for dinner.
The important thing to remember here if you're already starting to judge yourself as being inadequate at representing Jesus in your day to day, is that the key is honesty, not perfection. The point for many students was that the Christians had the integrity to share about their struggles, doubts, values and decisions.
You don't have to be Jesus, but being real about your life in pursuit of becoming more like him, in all the struggle and learning that brings, speaks volumes to those around you in how they may decide to follow after Jesus too.
*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!