Within the next few weeks 150,000 young people will arrive in Manchester to study. (Manchester has the largest student population in Europe.) They will come from all over the UK and from all across the world. Some are returning from their summer break having already spent a year or more here. Others will arrive as “freshers”. For many it will be their first experience of living away from home and family.
In past years we have been grateful for the students whom God has brought to us. We will never be known as a popular student church – we are too far from the main campuses for that. Nor indeed would we want to be. The glory of the local church is that it draws in people of every sort: folk from every age-group, every social class, folk with degrees and folk who will never learn to read or write. We want to reach out to the homeless or to the bored teenagers in the park just as much as we do to students.
And yet, God has brought students to us. Some were already believers when they came to us. They traveled the miles to Stockport because they wanted the sort of church we aim to be: a church where there is clear Bible teaching and God-centered worship. Others had never heard the gospel. They came because a friend invited them – out of politeness or curiosity. The Lord opened their heart – and their indifference turned to awe and joy as they encountered the living God and found eternal life in him.
Some of our students moved on when they had finished their studies – today they are useful members of other churches around the country. We’re glad so many of them stay in touch with us. Others stayed on and have become pillars of this congregation. We’re grateful for them all.
What is our responsibility to students who come to us?
What can they expect from us as a church?
First, it is our responsibility to make sure that they hear true preaching. Week by week they should hear the Bible explained in plain, clear English. They should hear preaching which leads them to a growing sense of the majesty and glory of God. They should hear gospel preaching – preaching which exposes human sin and helplessness; points to Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and calls them to repentance and faith. They should hear systematic preaching which explores the whole Bible, unfolds all of its teachings, and applies it to the whole of life. They should hear preaching which leads them first to salvation, then into a life of holiness and usefulness. Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season. Correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).
Second, it is our responsibility to give them a warm welcome. Some will be students from overseas, missing their families and suffering from culture shock. Some will be from godly homes and will be shocked and disorientated by the noise, the drunkenness, the immorality of student halls of residence. They must know that among us they will find sincere friendship, open homes, hospitality, practical help when needed, sound advice in whatever problems they meet. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).
Third, it is our responsibility to pray for them. The student world is a place of huge temptations. Their minds will be assaulted by godless, secular propaganda. Fellow-students – even some who call themselves Christians – will try to draw them into a whirl of pleasure-seeking activities. Many young people who came up to university intending to live for God have finished up wrecked spiritually, morally and emotionally. Students are vulnerable. We cannot go with them into every lecture-room or JCR. But we can pray for them. Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail.
And what is the responsibility of students who come to us?
What can we expect from them?
We expect from them just the same things as we expect from anyone else – no more and no less. If they are not yet believers, we expect them to listen seriously to the message and to consider its truth. Now the Bereans were of more noble character… they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).
And if they are believers, and if this is the church they plan to attend, then we expect them to give themselves wholeheartedly to the life of the church. We expect them to keep the Lord’s Day special and to attend both Sunday services. We expect them to be at the midweek meeting so that they grow in knowledge alongside other believers in the church. We expect them to make their talents available for the benefit of the church. We expect them to get to know all the other folk in the church – the young, the old, the children – and to pray for them. We expect them in due time to apply for membership of the church (or if they are already members elsewhere, associate membership) and then to begin to eat and drink with us at the Lord’s Supper – the family meal. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). We do not think of students as a special class, separate from other believers, exempt from the normal responsibilities and privileges of church life. We simply think of them as people, with the same needs and duties as anyone else.
If you’re reading this as a student, newly arrived in Manchester, we are so glad to welcome you. We pray that these next three or four years will be a time in which you come to know God and his Word as never before.