How to Start or Revive a Postgraduate Group
Remi Tobler, VBG Switzerland
How do you actually go about starting or reviving a Christian postgraduate group?
Here are some basic points I found helpful when starting/reviving postgraduate groups – feel free to use what is helpful and ignore what is not.
1. It is very important to start or revive your group by seeking God’s heart and by praying. Find a few other people to pray with. These can be undergraduates, other postgraduates or professors. You can also talk to members of your church and contact the local IFES group to identify people in your university. Pray for your campus, pray for God to show you His plans and purpose for you in your campus. On the one hand, look for people to pray with who are faithful and passionate about who they are in Christ and about what Christ will do when they surrender to Him. On the other hand, people will be faithful if there is something to be faithful to. Our universities need God’s healing and by our submission and willingness, God can use us to transform our universities and our disciplines in which we can bring His light. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we are reminded that if we pray, God will hear our prayer and heal our land.
2. As God reveals His heart to you and shows you what to do, ask your prayer buddies who would like to build a ministry team for your university with you. If you are reviving a group, it is very important to figure out at this point why the previous group struggled and figure out what you need to do differently. This evaluation will rejuvenize the team, repair or avoid what has gone wrong and help you to move forward in a positive and encouraging manner.
3. Next, you and your team want to ask God for His vision for you and for your group. What does the group want to achieve? It is extremely important to have a vision for longevity of the group, as a continued point of orientation and source of excitement. Is your vision purely evangelistic (targeting non-Christian postgraduates), is it reaching inward (for you as a group to grow in your faith and integrate it with your discipline) or is it both? Rather than choosing between the two, having a vision statement that includes both elements can give you the space to develop in the future (even if at present your primary emphasis is on one of the two) so that your group can serve both non-Christians and Christians.
When coming up with the vision, it is worth remembering that you do not need to reinvent the wheel, and checking that your vision is in line with IFES Europe and the IFES Association for self-led Christian postgraduate groups. For example, the latter states:
Jesus Christ is good news for the university: both for its scholars and for their research.
Three foundations for partnership within an evangelical paradigm:
Common mission: we want to help one another pursue both how the gospel shapes our research and how our research helps us point to the gospel. We do this because we love the gospel – and as part of IFES we are excited to partner together on that base and we do it because we love our research – and we want to do it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others.
Common beliefs: UCCF/IFES doctrinal statement
Common ethos: Scripture as ‘true truth’ for faculties
[For more information about these three foundations, see here]
4. As you receive God’s vision in confidence, grow with passion, excitement and conviction for the vision. Passionately share the vision with potential members of the group. Personally speaking, I found meeting one-to-one to share the vision particularly effective but sharing the vision in a large group meeting can also be effective, particularly if the Lord has already placed the vision on their hearts.
5. Make the vision concrete by formulating a mission statement and by setting goals and priorities according to the vision. Focus on the steps needed to accomplish them. Having a mission statement and goals gives something for the incoming people to work with for when you graduate and move on. It is important to have them for the longevity of the group.
6. Implement your goals. This provides focus and consistency. If your vision is to reach both inward and outward, you may want to rotate the types of activities you provide (e.g., on a weekly or monthly basis) to accommodate both of these goals. Meeting regularly is particularly important because we are creatures of habit and if you do not provide something for people to be habitual about, others will provide it for them – choose what works and stick with it (and consider providing food). This also makes you more accessible for new people.
Equally important: do not bite off more than you can chew. Be realistic about the capacities and the resources that you have. Do not try to do too many things at once but be consistent with what you do. Know what is important according to the vision and mission statement and focus on it.
7. It is helpful for your group to connect and stay connected to your local church. Find ways and opportunities to partner with them. They can provide ongoing support and a network that enables you to provide longevity for your group. Moreover, they can represent a people praying for you and your ministry on campus.
8. For your group to thrive and flourish, revisit and evaluate how it is doing. Ask yourself: Have you accomplished the goals you set out to accomplish. Periodically ask yourself these basic questions:
What did we do right?
What did not go well?
How can we change things for the better?
People have different capabilities and abilities. Are we making the best of the gifts of the team members? Keep in mind that you can outsource tasks (publicity, Youtube, etc.).
When I leave the team, have I mentored and equipped somebody to take over?
And finally: Always remember that it is Jesus Christ you are serving. Do not judge each other, do not accuse but ask: How do we honour God in what you do?
Remi Tobler is a psychologist and educator by training, who works for the international student and academic section of VBG, the branch of IFES in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Before, she has worked with postgraduates and faculty through IFES in Canada and the United Kingdom.