We’ve all emerged from the cocoon of lockdown, not as butterflies but as mosquitos: somewhat diminished, slightly more irritated, a little less tolerant, and grumbly around the edges. Waiters have found restaurant customers more snippy. Doctors have found patients more impatient. Graduates who have had two years without exam pressures have found working life too demanding. Church members who have compared their church and pastor to other online offerings have returned on Sundays finding them both lacking.
Covid hasn’t been good for us.
God, in his goodness, made us relational: made to relate to him of course, but that’s not all. Even Adam, who began with an unspoiled relationship with his loving God, was alone. And that wasn’t good. So God puts the lonely in families—nuclear, extended or church—and people into tribes and cities and communities. True humanity, made in the image of God and shaped by the gospel, is always relational.
And that’s partly why we form CUs. CUI is not just about sending individual student “missionaries” onto every campus. Instead, we form missional communities—which we call Christian Unions—because there’s something about community that embodies the gospel. Without that community, the gospel is somehow thinner; less attractive. And less visible.
So the heart of the gospel will always be Christ crucified. But the fruit of the gospel always overspills. Love for God always flows out in love for my neighbour. And not just my Christian neighbour. As Jesus said, others will see that we belong to him if we love each other as we’ve been loved (John 13:34–35). And so churches and CU missional communities should be places where the gospel is made palpable.
Which isn’t to say it’s easy. We’re emerging from the pandemic like the Israelites from Egypt: discontented with our situation, our leaders and one another. And quick to grumble. But God knows community is still good for us. It exposes our sinful hearts and knocks the awkward edges off our personalities. It is through others that I experience something of the grace of God, both challenging and comforting me. And it is that grace I need to sometimes forgive others and be forgiven, but mostly need to simply bear with people who are different than me! (Col 3:13) Which is why Christian community – churches or CUs – are uniquely able to embody rich unity in diversity and welcome outsiders; the opposite of a social media–driven world where unity is achieved by following people like me.
As a new academic year begins, we know students crave real community. But also that they’re scared of it.
So please pray that by God’s grace, CUs will be communities that make the gospel of Jesus Christ beautiful because they make it tangible. Pray for courage for CU leaders rebuilding CU. And pray they would always be outward facing. Because a CU that is turned inside–out, that is welcoming, and that seeks the welfare of others on campus, will make the aroma of Christ irresistibly attractive.
––Mark Ellis, CUI Director