Maintaining the Faith of the Gospel – Part I

In the first of two articles, Andrew Reid (General Secretary of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students) looks at student work in Australia. Where have we come from? What’s going on? Where are we going?

Evangelicals have always seen the importance of ministry amongst students. Over the last century or more, the history of student ministry has exercised a strong influence on the history of Evangelicalism. When student ministry has been strong, Evangelicalism has followed. Where student work has lost its way, Evangelicalism has not been far behind.

Two pillars under gird Evangelical student ministry. One is an aim-evangelism. The other is an understanding of faith grounded in biblical truth-a ‘Doctrinal Basis’. To raise one pillar over another is to topple effective student ministry. The ability of Evangelical student ministry to hold these two together has paralleled its ability to remain effective in ministry.

Inter Varsity Fellowship was formed when its preceding organization (the Student Christian Movement) stressed the right aim but forgot its basis. SCM’s primary concern was the evangelisation of the world and this concern was the criteria by which you belonged to that movement. The founders of IVF realised that mere concern for the gospel and its proclamation was not enough-it had to be linked with a commitment to the content of the gospel which was proclaimed. They combined the two pillars together in one overall statement of their goals: “To stimulate personal faith and tofurther evangelistic work amongst students by upholding the fundamental truths of Christianity…”


The SCM/IVF split highlights the first mistake we can make as Evangelicals: to believe in evangelism as a priority but forget that the gospel we preach has got to be right in its content.

The second mistake is to accept all who hold our doctrinal position but don’t have evangelism as a priority. The danger in our generation is that we stress ‘the faith of the gospel’ but forget our aim of evangelism.

The IVF (now called the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students) made another mistake that has always been common to Christians: it placed a tradition (or methodology) above the Scriptural aims and basis. For good historical and theological reasons the AFES was set up with an idea of ‘student responsibility for ministry’ sewn into the way it functioned. Unfortunately, when some of the reasons disappeared, the tradition did not, with the result that in the long term, the aims of the Fellowship were not being met because of our allegiance to our tradition and structures.

These three dangers confront all Evangelical ministries. In the day-to-day grind it’s to neglect the biblical basis of the gospel you preach, and to enshrine traditional ways of doing things as sacrosanct.


So what do you do? How do you get back on track? How do you stay on track? The last five years with the AFES have taught me a few things about regaining and maintaining the cutting edge in an Evangelical ministry.

  1. We Evangelicals Are Purists.

We believe that the Bible is God’s word written, the only infallible authority in all of life. We are committed to submitting all that we believe and do to the constant reformation of Scripture. At the rock face of Christian ministry, to be Evangelicals is to let time-honoured methods and traditional ways of doing things come under threat. It is to be willing to discard them if they come up wanting. This is living on the cutting edge of Christian ministry.

In AFES, we examined the structures and methods we had traditionally used to minister amongst our students and found that they no longer enabled us to fulfil our aims. As much as they were part of our ethos and make-up, they had to go for the sake of effective gospel ministry.

  1. We Evangelicals Are Servants of God’s Purpose in Bringing People to Know Christ.

Our purpose is openly and unashamedly evangelistic. But saying this and sticking to it is not easy. Everyone always wants to have a say in what you are doing. With AFES, as with all Evangelical ministries, there will always be those who think there are better things to do and other goals we should be pursuing. Being Evangelical means sticking to evangelism as our task.

  1. The Gospel is God’s Power to Salvation.

The gospel will always do what God has promised it will do-convert the unconverted and build them up. Saying that and believing it are two different things, especially in an age where many Evangelicals have replaced their confidence in the gospel with a confidence in methods, structures, miracles and the like. But as we have taken God at his word and practised it on a campus and national level, God has done what he promises to do through the gospel.

  1. Models For Personal Ministry

Most of us go through training looking to the charismatic leader as our role model. My own experience of ministry, and that of AFES staff, has taught me that this is not the only option. In fact, often this option is less than best. In our recent history, a return to effective, evangelical ministry has not come from the charismatic leader who draws everyone in their train (like Howard Guiness in the 1930s), but from the faithful worker who gradually convinces, acts as a mentor and trainer, and who persuades people of the truth. This second option is slower, but just as Christian, and often just as effective.

And what of the results? Well, in one way we have not seen anything spectacular or immediate. But in another, things have been spectacular, as God has done his work. There are more students involved, they are more adequately trained in evangelism, and they have confidence in God and his words spoken in the gospel.

But more of this in the next article, when I’ll look at some concrete examples of what God is doing on our Australian campuses.

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