The past week was a huge encouragement as well as being too hectic – the buzz of a start of the new IBI term. Lots of new faces as well as returning students – all embarking on something sacred, personally challenging, and designed to be about spiritually transformative learning in community.
So, this in honour of IBI students:
1. The passion and enthusiasm of students:
Committed Christians studying theology and the Bible are, in my experience, overwhelmingly very hard working, keen to learn and are open to integrate that learning into life and ministry. That journey can be tough and unsettling as well as rewarding – no (?) other subject goes as deep personally and spiritually, as well as being an academic challenge. One of the most encouraging things for me over the last 10 years has been (by and large) the absence of cynicism and jadedness and the presence of a sincere desire to know and serve God.
God knows, Ireland could desperately do with some Good News.
2. The sacrifices many make:
I’ve been involved in many interviews over the last while as well hearing many stories from students of what it has taken for them to get to (and stay in) college. In the brutally bad Irish economic context – with its ever rising unemployment, disappearance of part-time jobs, zero state grants to students of private colleges, churches struggling with budgets, and uncertain future of the entire Eurozone – I’ve been humbled again and again by the determination and thirst of students to study and learn and by faith being put into practice, often at real personal and financial cost.
Paul’s statement may have a had a bit of baggage behind it (the Corinthians’ self-regard) but it goes to the heart of the identity of the church as a community of ordinary people who are there by grace alone. At IBI we have made a sustained effort to reflect that diversity. Students (and staff) have struggles, sins, failures, burdens, fears and worries (just as much as any other group of Christians in any local church do). It is in that reality, honesty and reflective self-awareness that (I think) God does transforming work through his Spirit. Our focus is on learning – which includes academic biblical and theological learning of course, but that needs to be combined with growth in humble self-knowledge, Christ-likeness and loving God and others in actual day to day practice if it is to be authentically Christian.
Lots more could be said about what the particular challenges of theological training but that’s for another day. In the meantime, do pray for those starting (and re-starting) at IBI – they need it!
Comments, as ever, welcome.