Gospel Shrewdness: Why Churches in University Towns Are Highly Strategic

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just preached a gripping sermon on what he called “gospel shrewdness” from Luke 16:1-13.   I heard Dr. Mohler speak on this subject in the White House when I worked for the same some years back; his brief remarks then stuck with me.  I had not heard them developed in a full-blown sermon until last week.  Listen to this sermon–it is inspiring and fun.

Speaking of being shrewd in a distinctly Christian sense, I just saw this in the monthly update of City to City, the church planting network of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan:

University towns like Oxford, Cambridge or Palo Alto may not technically be classified as “global cities,” but it’s hard to deny their importance to global culture, shaping the nation’s next generation of thinkers, politicians, and thought leaders. College graduates flock to cities for jobs and become a large part of the center-city population. The questions heard on college campuses are often the same ones heard in places like London, New York, or Hong Kong.

This also makes universities excellent training ground for church planters and evangelists. C. S. Lewis spent most of his life in Oxford, became a Christian there as a result of a friendship with several Christian professors (including J.R.R. Tolkien), and many of his most brilliant insights were sharpened by his academic training.

During the week of February 6-10, the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU), an umbrella group of Christian ministries at Oxford which has existed for over 130 years, sponsored “This is Jesus,” an annual week-long outreach of talks and Q&A sessions on some of the biggest questions students have about Christianity. The speakers were Michael Cain, pastor of Emmanuel Church, Bristol, and Timothy Keller, who together with his wife Kathy and son Michael (currently a college pastor in New York) spent a full week meeting directly with students and wrestling with their questions.

I deeply appreciated these remarks.  It would be my own argument, based on my experience at an academically tough and very secular college, that there is a nearly desperate need for church planting and revitalization in university towns.  There is a terrific need in New England, for example; look, for example, at the colleges that belong to the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), the so-called “little Ivies.”  Many of these schools have no strong, gospel-preaching church nearby.  There are literally thousands of future cultural leaders on such campuses, and while various parachurch organizations courageously minister to them (see the excellent work of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, for example), there are few God-exalting congregations in such locales.

It will take a strong measure of what Mohler has called “gospel shrewdness” to reach such places.  These schools, like the Ivy League institutions and other leading educational outlets, are intense environments.  A strong culture of tolerance pervades many of them.  Academic credentials are highly valued; faculty are graduates of elite programs, and many students are from prestigious prep schools.  Like ministry to Oxford and Cambridge, these places call for wisdom and discernment.

The need of such schools, however, is remarkably simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ, preached, guarded and exalted in local congregations that care for God’s people and offer haven in a secular world.

Are our hearts not stirred within us as we read of the Kellers’ work in the UK?

Are enough young planters and future pastors thinking about their ministries with “gospel shrewdness?”