For one day all the region’s InterVarsity chapters congregate for intense worship, inspiring messages, and empowering workshops. It is a day of being filled, of realigning our hearts and receiving exhortation, of being equipped as a community of believers to further the kingdom on our campuses.
The conference is also a center of conversation. From friendly banter to fiery sermons, workshop discussions to whispered confidences, there is an ongoing exchange of ideas. But the most distinct sounds are the voices of students talking about breakthrough. This year was no exception.
Start Something New, the theme for Ignite 2013, began a conversation involving questions such as, “What is the state of InterVarsity’s Southern California region?” and “Where does work need to be done?” As we analyzed student characteristics (e.g., by race), we discovered areas where we may need to increase our efforts, reconsider our strategies, or start something new to reach unengaged student populations. We were also reminded of a few qualities we’ll need to be effective.
Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Unless God moves on our campuses, we move without progress. Breakthrough comes not by sheer force but by sure faith.
I attended the alumni luncheon for the first time at Ignite 2013. It was a blessing to hear from those who have endured in faith through their 20s, 30s, and beyond. We discussed how the morning message on being sent, which was contextualized for a college audience, related to us graduates. The reality is that sharing our faith at work can be twice as difficult as sharing our faith on campus. Concerns arise such as:
What if telling others about Jesus hinders our career development?
How do we navigate professional boundaries?
Is God really working in our coworkers who for decades have seemed completely uninterested in—and perhaps even hostile to—Christianity?
We may think that God is inactive, but we are the sign that he is reaching out to others. Whether on campus or in the workplace, we must be active as ambassadors of Christ. Faith opens our eyes to see people not as they are but as God intends them to be—and to see our role in his work to bring that change.
One student at the conference, perhaps dissatisfied with the postmodern tameness of our outreaches, believes that we unduly strain to make people feel comfortable before we tell them about Jesus. In many instances I agree. For example, often our outreaches involve promises of free food and social events.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but we ought not to sugarcoat our purpose with accessory benefits. Nor should our invitations be watered down for fear of rejection. People can enjoy free food and social events elsewhere. We must offer them that which other campus organizations do not: the good news of Jesus Christ. The student said she would rather give this invitation: “Who here feels empty? We are InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and we want to fill people up.” Her faith erupts with boldness!
In the afternoon we met as individual chapters. My group (InterVarsity South San Diego) brainstormed about the unreached student segments of our schools: athletes, Blacks, Filipinos, transfer students, staff and faculty. What was exciting was that, as we named different groups, the passions of individual students at the conference emerged. One has a heart for international students; another cares about the LGBT community.
Before the conference, their passions were unspoken and unknown by the rest of the chapter. But in gathering together as a group, individuals felt free to express their desire for change. When we voice the passions the Lord has placed on our hearts, we often find partners with the same God-given vision.
I was challenged and blessed by Ignite 2013. And I fully believe that when we convene like the early church in Acts, “with one accord” (1:14) and “united in heart and mind” (4:32), the Lord “[will add] to [our] number daily those who [are] being saved” (2:47). That’s what hundreds of us in Southern California are praying for, working for, and expecting.