Developing Missional Christians
The Anglican theologian Martin Thornton, writing in the early 20th century, developed a theory of church leadership that he called “a theology of the remnant.”
He believed that every church was composed of three tiers of people, the smallest of which was the remnant – a group of spiritually mature, missionally minded individuals who took seriously the call to serve the church through evangelism and discipleship. In Thornton’s view, one of the most important tasks of the pastor is to pray for, identify, and develop these leaders so that they can in turn strengthen the church.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry organization I work for, has an analogous model for campus ministry. Our “remnant” on campus are missional Christians among students and faculty, which IV defines as those who are “motivated by their relationship with Jesus to advance the gospel on their campus,” and are “willing to devote time and resources and to take risks for Jesus’ sake” (see here for more on IV’s focus on missional students).
One of the chief duties of the campus staffworker is to “recognize and awaken” these missional Christians. These students and faculty can be entrusted with responsibility and leadership in mission and evangelism on campus. By empowering and commissioning missional Christians, our efforts can have a multiplicative effect on campus as students and faculty witness to people in their networks, who in turn witness to others, and so on.
Servants of the Servants of God
InterVarsity is promoting a new tool to help campus staff recognize and awaken missional leaders on campus. It’s a guidebook called Start Something New, which is designed to help staff workers train missional students and faculty to develop and conduct their own ministry initiatives on campus.
In my short time on UT’s campus, I’ve come to think of myself as a servant of the servants of God on campus, helping students and faculty to discern where the Spirit is working on campus and where they might be called to expend their energies on behalf of the advance of the kingdom. Rather than getting students and faculty on board with my vision of what they should be doing, I hope to get on board with the vision that the Spirit is birthing in them.
Start Something New has been seminal in helping me start to see myself this way. Beginning with a series of open-ended questions (what do you feel like is missing in your experience on campus? What are you passionate about? etc.), I have been aided by this guidebook to help students and faculty to discern and clarify the people and places they are called to reach with the gospel, craft a vision for the initiative, gather people around the vision, and carry out the vision.
The process is birthed and sustained by immersion in scripture and in prayer.
Imagining the Kingdom at UT
Frederick Gill wrote of the early Methodists that “their main singularity was that they were out of tune with contemporary cynicism and indifference.” If we long as campus ministers to generate a luminescent culture of life on campus that offers a witness of hope in Christ against the cynicism and despairing apathy of our day, recognizing and discipling missional Christians is our best means to do this.
As you disciple the next generation of student and faculty leaders involved in your ministries, consider using Start Something New as one of your tools. Let me know if you find it as helpful and effective as I have!
Jonathan Warren ministers to graduate students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship along with his wife Tish. He is finishing his Ph.D. in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University, and he and Tish are ordained Deacons in the Anglican Church in North America. Jonathan and Tish have two daughters and attend church at Christ Church Anglican.