A voice in the wilderness broke the 400-year silence of God. It was the voice of John the Baptist.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”
At the sound of his proclamation, a new wind blew past the desert dunes.
Sinners rushed to repent.
Pharisees turned their heads and tore their robes indignantly.
Onlookers leaned in, listened closer, and asked among themselves:
“Could he really be the Messiah?”
Jesus from Nazareth.
But Messiah? No. Certainly not.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Not everyone was astonished by the miracles that he made. Did they miss any of the signs? Were they expecting someone else? Did Jesus fail to meet their expectations?
Jesus came at a time when the Jews were struggling for national liberation from Rome.
At that time, what remained of the mighty kingdom of Israel were only remnants of their glorious past. They had no land of their own and were governed by the pagans that they deeply abhorred. They only hear of Israel’s glorious past from their elders and the Scriptures—of David’s fame, of Solomon’s riches, and of Joshua’s epic war stories that made the enemies scurry in fear.
The great prophets of the old spoke of a coming King; someone from the line of David who will put an end to this tragedy. They said that he is God’s appointed King who will restore the kingdom, recover Israel’s fortunes, and rule the world with justice and righteousness.
He is their promised Messiah. The Christ. God’s appointed one. The coming King whose kingdom will never end.
Amid the frustrations and oppressions, the people patiently waited for a political savior. A rider on a white horse, shouting liberation and justice for the people of God. Someone who can trample the Roman Empire and restore their lost dignity as a people.
They look up to Heaven; alas, no sign of divine rescue. So the zealots went mobilizing. The people went plotting a revolt. The atmosphere was tense.
Until Jesus came, claiming himself to be the Messiah. Like a political campaigner, Jesus went throughout all towns, cities and villages, telling people about a theocratic Kingdom that was already at hand.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But Jesus was an antithetical character to the messiah of their collective imaginations. They were expecting a royal king, not a lowly carpenter’s son. They were awaiting a mighty ruler, not an itinerant teacher who talks about loving your neighbors as yourself.
They were expecting salvation through a savior who will destroy evil, overthrow Rome, and will establish his government with irresistible power. Jesus, on the contrary, established his Kingdom, not in Jerusalem, but in the hearts of his followers. His diplomatic offensive was love.
So when Jesus did not overthrow Rome nor established God’s Kingdom as they have imagined, they thought him to be a fraud.
More so, they crucified him.
Modern Christianity has placed too much emphasis on Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.
Well-meaning Christians and preachers teach that Jesus’ mission is to give us purpose, salvation, and a full life with God.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that what he came to do?
YES! He came to seek and to save the lost. He came as a ransom for our sins, and to redeem for himself a people.
Jesus came not just to save us from hell, but to liberate all of creation from the dominion of Satan. Jesus came not just to give us life to the full, but to also redeem the whole creation, destroy sin and evil, to restore the world to its original state, and to establish his eternal government on earth.
When we miss out on this truth, we become self-absorbed believers who feel entitled to receive blessings and favor. We turn Jesus into a functional savior who is always required to prove himself as the messiah that we received in our lives.
No wonder sometimes people doubt if Jesus was true. No wonder why people, just like the Jews, think of him as a fraud. No wonder why people still crucify Jesus in their hearts and minds whenever he seems to fail their expectations.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God so loved the world so he sent Jesus to be the Messiah.
He loved the world. This includes you, but this is not just about you. He loved the world, His entire creation, so Jesus came to save it. Jesus’ salvation isn’t just about our personal salvation. It’s also about societal transformation.
He is the promised Messiah as confirmed by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The hope that he promised is not just personal, but also social, spiritual, and yes, even political. He has established his Kingdom in the hearts of His followers, and a time is coming when he will establish His eternal Kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth. The governments of the world will rest upon His shoulders, and the kingdom of this world will become his Kingdom.
As Christians and disciple-makers, one of the things that excite us the most is the prospect of leading someone to Christ.
When a person shows interest in knowing Christ, we are willing to go the extra mile just to lead the person to Jesus. We overlook the cringey Facebook posts; we lovingly correct the occasional cursing; we patiently guide the person toward overcoming his or her struggles; and we are willing to repeat the same things over and over again.
But as soon as the person becomes a Christian, it seems like our “standards” begin to level up. All of a sudden, the person is expected to be mature and self-controlled in every aspect of his life and to be a good Christian at all times. The longer the person has been a Christian, the thinner our patience seems to run.
But each of us is still a work in progress.
The Bible describes us as “God’s workmanship”—a tool that’s being sharpened on God’s anvil; an unfinished painting on His canvas; a great novel that is still being written; a sweet melody to a yet unfinished song.
We are still rough around the edges. We are imperfect and flawed. From time to time, we still struggle with sin, give in to temptation, or revert to our old habits and behaviors.
But the good news is that we are being transformed by God, making us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is what the Bible calls “sanctification.” We are being perfected and pruned until we reach perfection.
Yes, God is not finished with us yet.
This truth also applies to the people we’re discipling. Just like us, they still struggle, fail, and give in to sin. When we forget the fact that God is not finished with them yet, we can resort to these negative responses:
We blame ourselves. We ask ourselves what we did wrong or where we fell short. We let our self-doubts and insecurities take over, resulting in bitterness, anger, or frustration.
We pass negative judgment. When the person that we’re discipling backslides or falls into sin, we tend to respond in anger, frustration, or disappointment. This results in the person feeling condemned, ashamed, or judged.
We give up on the person. We grow more and more weary of extending patience and understanding until we lose the desire to guide the person.
But discipleship isn’t a mission to fix people. It is an invitation from God to partner with Him as He does His transformative work in a person’s life.
All of us are mere recipients of grace. The grace that pardons our sins is the same grace that will remind us to love and guide the people that He entrusted to us.
Here are some truths that we must remember in order to help us disciple others with grace:
The person’s transformation doesn’t depend on how good we are at discipling. Sure, our efforts and faithfulness contribute a lot in helping others follow Jesus. But it is God alone who can transform a person’s heart.
This is what Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 3. According to him, all of us are mere servants who were assigned by God to plant or water the seed of faith in people’s hearts, but it is only God who makes the seed grow (1 Corinthians 3:5–7).
I pray that you will be released from the false burden of seeing immediate transformation in the people you disciple. It is God who works in them, in the same way that it is God who works in you and transforms you.
Frustrations arise when we measure people according to our own level of maturity or our own perspective. Thank God, He knows each of us completely and He deals with us uniquely as individuals. Psalm 139 describes how much God knows us; He knows even the intimate and untold details of our humanity.
Therefore, we can trust that as God does His work in the people we’re discipling, He is dealing with them in a way that will effectively lead them toward greater maturity or intimacy with Him.
All the efforts that you pour and invest in the life of the person you’re discipling will bear fruit. They are never in vain. In fact, God is more committed than we are in carrying out His purpose and design for each of us.
So, in light of these things, how can we disciple someone in a way that reflects God’s grace?
Since discipleship is a partnership with God, we must keep in step with Him. As you pray for the person you’re discipling, ask God to give you wisdom about the things that He is teaching and dealing with in that person’s heart.
As you gain understanding about the season that God has placed that person in, you will be able to disciple the person more effectively and even patiently.
Discipleship would have been easy if the people we’re discipling just did whatever we told them to, right? But that’s not discipleship. That’s manipulation and control. God doesn’t override people’s will, so neither should we.
Discipleship isn’t about making people conform to our standards and expectations. We disciple them to help them follow Jesus, not to behave as we expect them to behave. It’s about helping them to become more like Christ, not to become more like us.
Instead, we must make room for God to do His work. God is sovereign and in control. He uses even our mistakes and disobedience to accomplish His plans. In the end, we will see that God really makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Because we know that only God can transform a person, we rely on the Holy Spirit as we disciple people.
The best expression of our reliance on God is through prayer. Discipleship is a spiritual battle. When we pray, we are fighting against spiritual forces that desire to harm, mislead, deceive, or destroy people’s lives. Through prayer, we call upon the power of God to protect our friends and to save them from the enemy’s attacks.
When the person you’re discipling seems to have backslidden, don’t lose hope. Pray fervently for that person. Nobody is beyond the grace and the power of God.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in to disappointment and discouragement. As you entrust the person’s discipleship journey to God, you can focus on loving the person genuinely without pressure or expectation.
So, be a friend who loves at all times. Stick with the person and love the person just as Christ loves him or her.
Throughout my 21-year journey as a Christian, I have received so much grace from God. He never gives up and He never turns His back on me. When I’m tempted to give up on people or whenever I feel frustrated with their unwise decisions, I remember the mercy and grace that I myself have received countless times.
May our own experience with God’s grace inspire us to extend the same grace to the people we’re discipling.
This article is a companion article to another one that talks about submitting to authorities.
As Christians, how do we respond to oppression and injustice around us?
Recent issues and controversies about oppression and injustice in different parts of the world have triggered an outcry for justice globally. While most of the world is deeply divided on political and social matters, a growing number of people are expressing mistrust and discontent and are clamoring for social and political reforms.
Albeit we are citizens of the kingdom of God, Christians are still part of the social and political systems of the world. We are not exempt from the immense pressure to speak up and do something about perceived atrocities and tyrannies that pop up every so often.
Amid the mounting pressure to address oppression and injustice, how do we respond?
Yes, we know that God will ultimately end all evil in the world, but what can we do in the here and now to combat evil in society?
Here are several things that we can do in response to oppression and injustice:
Lamentation is a response to pain and grief. It is the outcry of a soul that has seen death, suffered loss, and experienced pain and injustice.
The Bible contains numerous lamentations of people toward God. In fact, an entire book was written to express deep lamentations about Israel’s depressing state.
To lament is to freely express one’s pain and emotions toward God. Instead of explaining away pain and suffering, lamentations allow the soul to release its grief onto the righteous Judge who sees and knows all things.
In the face of great injustice, lamenting is not just a means to make us feel good. It is a necessity for healing, a cry for revival, and a means to reach the bleeding world.
Lamentation is necessary for healing. The first step towards healing is to recognize the reality of our pain and suffering. Biblical lament recognizes the broken state of our society. It allows us to grieve about our bitter reality and to cry out to God for healing and redemption. It is a reminder that we live in a world where pain and suffering exist because of sin. It acknowledges that we are in a mess of our own making and we need God to redeem us.
Lamentation is a cry for revival. It is not just a passive, therapeutic act to help us deal with our emotions. It is a subversive protest against the status quo defined by evil, injustice, and oppression.
When Christians don’t lament the thousands of lives who are killed without mercy, it’s an acceptance of the status quo that makes us complicit in the culture of violence and death.
Yes, being still and praying in faith is always a great response to any situation. But there are times when the only appropriate response is to lament—to mourn, to cry, to appeal to God to arise from His throne and deliver His justice.
Lamentation is a means to point the world to God. Sometimes, what the world needs is not someone who will preach the word to them, but someone who will grieve with them, listen to them, and walk with them through the valley of the shadow death. The world needs people who will not always try to explain their pain away but will patiently empathize with them.
When we shut off people’s grief by simply spewing out Bible verses without first listening to them, we come across as tone-deaf and insensitive. But when we lament with them, we become agents of mercy and grace who lovingly point them to the source of all hope.
As we have previously discussed, Christians are actually allowed and even encouraged to speak up against evil, injustice, and oppression.
Murder, greed, immorality, and violence are not social or political issues; they are moral issues. And the cross of Christ should stir up from within us indignation against evil and compassion for the oppressed.
As renowned historian Dr. F. L. Foakes-Jackson said, “History shows that the thought of Christ on the cross has been more potent than anything else in arousing a compassion for suffering and indignation at injustice.”
When people in authority deviate from their God-ordained functions to uphold righteousness and justice, it is the duty of the Church and of Christians to voice out dissent in light of God’s truth.
The Church is God’s prophetic voice in this broken world. In the Bible, God used His prophets to confront erring leaders, to expose and pronounce judgment against sin, to call people to repentance, and to proclaim His will.
To be God’s prophetic voice is not just to expose evil in the social and political systems; it is to expose evil in the human heart and to lead people toward repentance and faith in Christ.
To be God’s prophetic voice in the world is to speak up for those who cannot speak, and to protect the rights of those who are poor, helpless, and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)
To be God’s prophetic voice is to comfort the afflicted, to edify the weak, to encourage the hopeless, and to preach the good news of God’s salvation.
To be God’s prophetic voice is to be the voice of Jesus that proclaims God’s kingdom in the here and now, and to preach about the hope of God’s coming kingdom where evil and suffering will ultimately end.
In 64 A.D., a huge fire engulfed and ravished the great city of Rome. Rumors spread that the emperor himself, Nero, was responsible for the fire. In order to divert public attention, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians and ordered their arrest.
Thousands of Christians were rounded up, killed, torn apart by wild beasts, and were even burned alive as human torches.
In this dark and horrifying backdrop, Paul wrote these words to Timothy:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1–4 (NIV)
Why should we pray even for evil leaders?
Prayer is activism. Don’t minimize prayer to “prayer lang.” When we pray, we recognize our limitations and powerlessness, and we call on the All-Powerful God to work on our behalf and to accomplish what we cannot.
And this faith is not without basis. All throughout the Bible and in human history, we can find stories of how fervent prayers resulted in miracles, revival, and salvation. Prayer activates God’s action and releases God’s power over our situation.
Inasmuch as speaking up on social media is important in demanding accountability and influencing policy-making, the real battle is won beyond our digital screen.
Being woke on social media doesn’t amount to much when our words are not backed up by concrete actions to help the oppressed. As they say, talk is cheap.
. . . you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it.
1 John 3:18 (CEV)
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and find ways to actually help the least in society, to empower the poor, and to combat ignorance and apathy.
There are countless social responsibility efforts being done by churches, civic groups, and individuals; take part in a cause that you believe in. Or better yet, initiate one with your friends.
James 1:27 (NIV) says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Jesus has shown us that the way to combat evil is to do good. Speaking up on social media isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of being socially responsible. Don’t just love with words. Prove your love with deeds.
How do we effectively change society? Through education? Through social and political reforms? Through revolution?
Time again, through the ebb and flow of history, we have seen how human civilizations have advanced greatly in terms of technology and education. History has seen the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. We have witnessed wars and revolutions. We have ousted leaders and elected new ones.
But none of these mechanisms have actually succeeded in creating lasting change and transformation in the world. If anything, it seems like we’ve only succeeded in making the world a darker place for the next generation.
If there’s one glaring lesson in the story of Noah and the Great Flood (Genesis 6), it is the fact that not even a global cataclysm can change the world. When Noah and his family repopulated the earth after the flood, sin abounded and repopulated the planet just as quickly as human beings did. Do you know why? Because sin resides in the hearts of people.
Oppression and injustice continue to exist because of our tendency as human beings to consider something else of greater importance than God. We make an idol out of fame, power, comfort, and pleasure, at the expense of the good of others. We have all taken part in injustice—when we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others just because it would be inconvenient for us otherwise; when we refuse to hear someone out for fear of displeasure from people we look to for affirmation; when we keep silent for fear of conflict; or when we contribute directly by responding with less than God’s love and grace.
More than changing political parties or systems, what really makes these things immoral are the people behind it—that includes all of us.
Sin lies at the heart of human beings. Sin is more than just an evil act committed against God; it is a potent force that compels us to rebel against God’s authority in our lives. Social injustice and political abuse are manifestations of sin in the hearts of people.
If we are to wage war against social injustice, let it be a war against sin and evil that destroy lives and corrupt our civil society.
While I definitely hope that we will grow wiser in choosing leaders to govern us, the bad news is that no human leader can ever be enough to weed out evil and corruption in our government systems.
Change in government and society can never be achieved by simply removing corrupt officials and replacing them with equally sinful ones.
We can try our best to legislate Christian behavior or to cut the supply of sin in the world, but we will only fail in the attempt unless we cut the demand for sin, which starts in the human heart. We need to be made aware how each of us has contributed to oppression and injustice through apathy, lack of integrity, and entitlement.
Ultimately, what we need is not a new system of government. What we need are not just new leaders—though we definitely need to elect good ones! The way to societal transformation is for the Holy Spirit to ultimately change people’s hearts. And each Christian has a role to play. We are called to lead people to Christ and allow them to experience the power of the gospel that brings salvation, repentance, and transformation to an individual so that, together with the body of Christ, we can propagate a different culture–the upside-down kingdom that Jesus Christ demonstrated through His life and ministry.
“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14
Dear Filipino Christians,
God is looking for people who will stand in the gap on behalf of our nation; people who will take on the challenge of rebuilding the broken walls.
This nation is our inheritance. The Philippines is waiting for the children of God to bring hope, healing, and wholeness. It’s time for us to have a unified front.
More than our Filipino citizenship, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our allegiance to any politician or ideology must not overtake our supreme allegiance to our King—Jesus Christ.
Let us not allow our political and ideological differences to divide us. Let us unite in prayer, cry out with one voice, and fight against our common enemy, the devil.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:10,11 (NIV)
When President Rodrigo Duterte announced the community quarantine on March 12, it was like a huge bomb was dropped on us.
I was in a coffee shop that night with my campus ministry team. When the lockdown became imminent, I’ll be very honest, I didn’t know what to do or how to approach the situation.
At the start of 2020, we had been gearing up for a major overhaul in our campus ministry. We were ready to recalibrate and reengineer our approaches, and we were prepared to go full throttle on the field. But COVID-19 stopped us dead in our tracks. We were ill-prepared for this scenario.
I lead a pioneering campus ministry in a provincial city, serving alongside two other campus missionaries. All we have is a start-up social media team composed of students. We’ve never done a single online service, and none of us were comfortable in front of the camera. I, for one, cringe at the thought of recording myself on camera or listening to my own voice.
So when the quarantine was announced, I literally exclaimed, “Now what?”
Just like that, all of our plans went down the drain. How do we do campus ministry without the campus?
Perhaps many of you, if not all, can relate. Whether you’re a full-time campus missionary or a dedicated disciple-maker who leads and disciples students, you have felt or you can at least understand the confusion and exasperation from this unexpected plot twist.
In the face of such bewilderment, we’re also faced with unwise options on how to respond to the challenge. When I examine my own tendencies, I can summarize them into three things:
Copying. Emulating other people’s best practices is definitely a good thing, but copying for the sake of convenience is called laziness. A leader’s job is to help navigate the confusion while taking care of the people he is called to serve. He must first look within his own sphere and check the condition of his flock . After this, he can look to others for guidance, examples, or recommendations.
Complacency. If we’re being honest, the most convenient thing to do is just wait it out until we’re allowed to go back to our “normal” lives. After all, we’re facing legitimate challenges. Some are daunting and others just seem insurmountable. We’re not allowed to go out, so what can we do, right? This defeatist mindset breeds complacency.
Comparison. While some leaders give in to complacency, others are tempted to compare themselves with others. Comparison always results in either frustration or pride—we can get prideful when we seem to be doing more than others, and we can get frustrated when it seems like our efforts can’t compare to what others are accomplishing. One might feel inadequate after having done everything to lead despite the challenges, yet seeing minimal results.
Comparison is driven by the need to perform and to prove oneself, and this mindset drags us down into the spiral of frustration. Frustration leads to discouragement, discouragement leads to burnout, and burnout results in complacency or apathy.
As I write this, we’re on Day 54 of the community quarantine. Many things have happened since the start of the quarantine. We’ve done our best to be agile and innovative. We’ve gone the extra mile and tried new things to reach the students, whatever it takes.
Yet despite our best efforts, we observe that fewer students are joining the weekly online gathering; many discipleship groups have started hibernating; many students have started to disengage; many of them are going through some serious emotional challenges at home—and we can’t seem to do anything about it.
The question I asked on Day 1 remains. “Now what?”
The thought that motivated me on the night of March 12 is the same thought that drives us to keep doing what we’re doing despite the challenges.
“I’ve seen how these students wrestle with depression, lust, and emotional trauma. I know the insecurities that haunt them and the struggles that enslave them. I’ve seen how they stumbled and got wounded, and I’ve watched them cry to the point of near-surrender. I’ve seen how they struggled in their walk even while being constantly surrounded by their friends and their church community. How much more difficult will it be for them, now that we’re apart from one another?”
I have to fight for them.
No, I can’t waste my time binge-watching at home or staying up late playing Mobile Legends. I can’t just accept defeat and leave them at the mercy of the devil who will try to destroy their lives and their future.
No, I can’t just let social media shape their perspective of the world. I have to do something so that they’ll constantly hear the word of God.
They belong to Jesus, and I will not leave them to be discipled by the internet. If I won’t disciple them, the world will disciple them—and I shall not allow that to happen.
I have been called by God to shepherd those He entrusted to me. They can just as easily listen to podcasts and other preachers online, but these well-meaning people have not been entrusted with the care of such precious souls—I have. God has entrusted them to me.
I won’t let their values and faith be molded by the social media influencers they follow. I must do what God expects me to do.
Because when God called me to lead others to Christ and journey with them in their spiritual walk, He called me to be where they are, and to do whatever is necessary to lead them to Jesus and empower them to fulfill their own calling.
Jesus died for each one of these students. They’ve been bought by the precious blood of Jesus; He bled for them; He endured pain for them; He was crucified for them. I won’t let that sacrifice go to waste!
Compassion, not Convenience
I will not settle for convenience, but I will let compassion ignite my passion to fight for the next generation no matter what it takes. I will see them just as Jesus saw the crowds—harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
Difficult times can potentially lead to “compassion fatigue,” where we get too weary to carry the burdens of the people around us. But in view of God’s mercy that we each have received, my prayer is that we will overflow with God’s mercy and love toward those around us—be it your classmates, friends, or the students you’re called to lead.
Calling over Complacency
I will fight for my calling and won’t allow complacency to rob me of the wonderful adventures with God that this season brings.
To my fellow campus missionaries, we’ve already gone so far in this journey. We’ve sacrificed a lot and have turned our backs on what the world can offer in terms of money and career—we were called for such a time as this! No virus will ever take that calling away from us. If nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ, then nothing can ever stop us from proclaiming this gospel to a world that direly needs it.
To the students who are reaching out to their fellow students—the same calling, power, and anointing have been placed upon you. You have a God-sized potential to make an impact in the lives of the people around you and even in the world. Don’t miss out on this wonderful calling. Preach the gospel in season and out of season. Don’t relent! We are not ashamed of the gospel that changed us and of the Savior who saved us.
You and I are spiritual front liners in this fight against COVID-19. While medical front liners lay down their lives for the sick, we lay down our lives for the spiritually broken. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
Christ’s Love, not Comparison or the Need to Perform
All in all, we will be driven not by a sense of duty nor by a need to prove ourselves. The only thing that will compel us to face the odds and lay down our lives is the one constant thing in the world: God’s love.
Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 (NLT)
Through us, God is making an appeal to the world: “Come back to Me!”
At the end of the day, our confidence lies not in ourselves, our abilities, or our hard work and sacrifice. Our confidence is anchored on the fact that God will accomplish His purpose in the world and in the students’ lives.
When our best doesn’t seem to be good enough, we can hold on to the fact that God’s power is enough, and He will bring into completion the good work He has started in our campus ministries, the lives of each of our students, and the world.
When the COVID-19 situation escalated, in an instant and almost without warning, the world—including campus ministry—changed. Classes were suspended and graduations postponed indefinitely. Youth services were cancelled. We had to ask ourselves, “How do we do campus ministry without the campus?”
What this crisis has taught us—and continues to teach us—is the reality that the digital world is a significant part of the campus and it has a corresponding weight on the lives of students. It’s where they engage with each other, where their minds are being shaped, where worldviews are propagated, and where habits and behaviors are being formed.
We need to engage the new form that the campus is taking and the new challenges that come with it. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to provide a comprehensive and foolproof answer as to how exactly we can do this. Things constantly evolve and, as we’ve seen, they can drastically change in the blink of an eye.
Amidst constant change, let’s go back to our strategy—the 4Es. We still Engage, Establish, Equip, and Empower. How we do it now may look different, but the principles remain the same. My hope and my humble desire is that the following insights based on these principles can help us take steps, however small, as navigate these uncharted waters together.
1. ENGAGE: Identify and Gather Your Flock
The internet is a vast and often cruel world. That’s why the first step you will need to take is identifying your flock. These are the students you are already discipling and those you are trying to reach. Just a gentle reminder: Don’t try to disciple the entire Facebook community.
Focus on the students who regularly attend small groups and youth services, who you’ve invited to hangouts and activities, and who you’ve been meeting one on one. Many of them may not be members of the church yet, but they’re curious. They’re open to learning more. They’re leaning in.
Once you’ve identified your flock, talk to them. Know which of your messages will be general Facebook posts for your entire Facebook following to read, and which ones will be addressed to specific people. Send personal messages. Reply to their posts.
You may want to provide a safe environment where they can experience healthy interaction and get godly impartation. You may create, for example, a private Facebook group where you and your student leaders can add their Victory group members, their friends, and their classmates. A private Facebook group will help you effectively reach the students, provide a safe environment for them, and easily disseminate contextualized content for them. This leads us to the next point.
2. ESTABLISH: Adapt to Digital Discipleship
We already admit that reaching students—or anybody for that matter—is simple, but never easy. Now imagine bringing discipleship to the digital world. Trying to wrap our brains around the idea of digital discipleship is difficult. How do we make disciples in a cold and seemingly detached online environment?
Here are some tips that can help you adapt:
Today, “community” is no longer just defined by space and proximity. In this digital world, “community” now refers to a group of people who share the same values, interests, passion, or advocacy. Online communities transcend racial and geographical boundaries.
The internet is a world on its own. The moment our students step out of the church building and log on to social media, they’re stepping into a parallel world with a lot of temptations and distractions. That is why we need to “plant a church” right in the middle of their online world and connect them to a life-giving community.
Imagine the private Facebook group as their online church community—that whenever they step into this group, it’s like stepping into a church building where they meet with their friends, get spiritual feeding, or use their gifts to serve God and others. It doesn’t replace the benefits of meeting face-to-face, but it’s a great measure to have during this time.
After identifying your flock and gathering them in an online church community, it will be much easier to identify their needs and to plan content that will address these needs.
This is just like planning and identifying topics for our Victory groups or youth services. You can:
Consistency and effective contextualization are the key to succeeding in this online endeavor. Your students may be getting input from all kinds of sources, but there’s nothing that replaces hearing from their pastors, campus missionaries, and small group leaders.
Another friendly reminder: As an online church community, we need to promote genuine relationship, interaction, and participation, instead of mere entertainment or media consumption for personal gain. Instead of just looking for content to fill the space, we must look for interaction with one another. If you aren’t able to produce your own content, then feel free to grab from the many things produced by others, including our own ENC channels, and share those in your context.
The digital revolution demands a paradigm shift in the way that we do church and discipleship.
Digital discipleship requires different dynamics in the way we disciple students. For instance, doing an actual Victory group is very different from the way we meet with our Victory groups through video call. While technology makes it much easier to contact students, it also presents a new set of challenges that we don’t experience during face-to-face communication.
Some things to consider:
Generally, we might want to consider keeping the “Word” portion shorter to make more time for interaction and prayer. If we will have a long teaching or preaching to study, consider letting them watch the material beforehand so your meeting is devoted to talking together.
Simply put, we need to think of new ways to effectively help the students follow Jesus, fish for people, and fellowship with other believers. We can’t be boxed by the way we do campus ministry on the physical campus. These changing times require agility, critical thinking, and sensitivity to God’s leading.
3. EQUIP: Use Technology for Learning
The internet has paved the way for distance learning and homeschooling. Because of the COVID-19 situation, many educational institutions have begun considering the idea of online education, which may actually revolutionize and redefine the future of campus ministry.
Having this in mind, we need to start exploring ways to equip our students to minister. This is why we’re launching these kinds of content now during this crisis, with a website soon to follow, so that you can be equipped with the resources you need to make disciples at this time. Feel free to grab and share these posts with your team. Invite them to discussions in your group chats. You can start compiling your resources and putting them in an online resource center so they can easily access discipleship tools and materials.
You can also explore how to train them in making disciples and establish them deeper in the faith by using online tools. Google Hangouts, Zoom, and StreamYard are some of the apps that I personally found useful.
Many students right now are open to learning more about God’s sovereignty, God and suffering, the role of Christians in today’s society, and much more. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak God’s truth into these topics.
4. EMPOWER: Expand Your Online Presence
Expanding your online presence is establishing the presence of Jesus’ church on social media and the internet. As social media teems with dark and negative content that pollutes the hearts and minds of people, we need to shine God’s light in the midst of this darkness and empower the students to be “Kingdom netizens” who will act as salt and light in cyberspace.
Our campus ministry’s public social media accounts—our Facebook page and Instagram and Twitter accounts—are a good place to start. Instead of just using these platforms to announce upcoming series or to post recap photos and videos of our ministry events, we can utilize them to engage students and connect them to the church.
How do we do that?
As much as we’re passionate about discipling them in terms of their lifestyle and behavior at home, in school, or with their friends, it’s high time that we also disciple them in terms of their social media behavior.
What memes do they share? Which kind of posts do they react to? What messages and content do they post? What pages do they follow, which influencers do they subscribe to, and what content do they consume?
Empower the students to have a missional mindset and challenge them to represent Jesus in their social media accounts.
Make them see the potential of using their online channels to preach the gospel, spread God’s Word, and introduce Jesus to their friends and social media followers. Encourage them to be creative in ministering to their friends via social media, such as doing ONE 2 ONE online, sending voice-recorded prayers to their friends, sharing words of encouragement in their chat groups, or simply posting content that will encourage the people that follow them online.
Encourage students to create content that promotes Kingdom values and Kingdom advancement. Identify and empower songwriters, digital artists, graphic designers, video content creators, filmmakers, and other creators among your community. Empower them to create their own channels or provide an avenue where they contribute their talents and skills to advance God’s Kingdom online.
This crisis has forced us to reimagine campus ministry, recalibrate our tools, and reignite the call to reach the students no matter how times may have changed. This is a time to innovate, to be creative, and to forcefully advance the Kingdom in uncharted territories. We don’t know how long this situation will last, although we hope and pray that a more normal pace of life will soon resume. But even when that comes, it will be a new normal, with newly-developed abilities.
But in any situation, let us remain committed to the call and bring the gospel of Jesus where the students are—whether in the campus or online. The call remains the same: Change the Campus. Change the World. Honor God. Make Disciples.