88 years of life and student ministry
An interview with the late Michael Green
6 February 2020 was the first anniversary of the death of British pastor, evangelist and theologian Michael Green. A huge part of Michael’s life and ministry was spent telling students about Jesus. He spoke at countless mission weeks in Great Britain and across Europe, leading many to faith and inspiring students of IFES movements to live and speak for Jesus unreservedly. Two months before he went home to Glory, Michael shared his reflections on the changes, challenges and future of student ministry in the region.
What changes have you seen in student ministry over the years?
The biggest thing I’ve noticed is growth. We’re well aware of what a secularised world we’re living in these days. But we often don’t realise that the Christian church has actually never grown as fast as it has in our generation. The growth, particularly from Islam, is massive in south-east Asia, and we’re seeing this in a number of countries in Europe as well. Underneath the somewhat tired, old oak trees of Catholicism and Orthodoxy we’ve now got the green grass growing up: new movements of young men and women committed to Christ.
What are the main challenges to evangelism in the university in Europe today?
Most countries in Europe have come out of a communist situation, and so there’s still a lot of communist ideology and burnt-in atheism. But there’s also the influence of consumerism and materialism which make people very hedonistic and self-serving. These things affect the spiritual climate and make the atmosphere forbidding.
Add to that the fact that evangelical work almost anywhere in Europe is regarded as a sect. So Christians tend to keep their heads down, and generally there isn’t the confident boldness that I would like to see. People don’t expect God to do great things; they don’t expect conversions when you have meetings. And then of course they’re all covered with confusion when they see ten people coming to Christ! But it happens often enough. I love it!
But these are very difficult days. There is no doubt that the Christian gospel is facing challenges that it’s never faced before. Issues like trans-genderism were almost unknown in days gone by, but now are major. And today’s Christian young men and women have got to get so rooted in the gospel that they are able to handle challenges of this sort. So when they come upon these new, contentious issues, they don’t just give an opinion, but answer from a rooted, biblical worldview.
What encourages you as you look at the work of IFES national movements in Europe?
I’m encouraged to see a greater innovation and creativity in evangelism. In the old days it would have been straight proclamation. I believe in proclamation, but I believe in using the creative arts as well: music and drama and dance and mime and so on. We’re beginning to see more of that in Europe. Of course, the gospel is the same, but the wrappings need to be different according to the culture.
National movements are also paying more attention to apologetics training, and I wish I’d focused more on that when I was young. I now realise that apologetics never saved anybody, but it is a very valuable tool for moving the rubbish out of the road that leads to Christ. It needs to be the hand-maid of evangelism, not some sort of metaphysical discussion that never brings anybody to conclusion.
What advice would you give to this generation of Christian students?
Firstly, I would urge all Christian students to join a Bible-based organisation that is passionately evangelistic in outreach and coherent in fellowship, and the classic example is the IFES worldwide. Christian students need to be with other students who are committed believers from a different denomination, from a different nation, from a different culture. Together they need to be God’s counter-culture on campus, committed to God’s work in the university.
The future lies with people who’ve got the guts to stand up and be counted. Students must have one foot in the culture and one foot in the Scriptures. And they must have a heart blazing with passion to pass on this gospel that has made new people of them. Unless there is a new life and a new lifestyle in us, nobody’s going to listen. But if there is, and if we’re determined to reach the lost, nothing will be able to stand against us. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not be able to stand against the proclamation by His kingdom. And He’s never been proved wrong yet.
What’s kept you going for so long?
I think there are two things: one is my devotional life. I have kept a devotional life going every day right the way through my life. In other words, I’ve kept in touch with the source of light and life, and that is absolutely critical. The other thing is that when I find I’m not doing anything for the Lord, my spiritual temperature goes down. But once something new is thrown to me, I say to myself, ‘Hey look, I can’t do this – but the Lord can. I’ve got to rely on Him.’ And so: a mixture of keeping my devotional life going and taking opportunities for service which will cast me back to draw afresh on the resources of the Lord. Those two things have kept me fresh.
What’s your prayer for Europe’s students in the coming years?
I pray that in the next ten years there’ll be a renewed confidence in the power of the gospel, a new courage to be bold in testimony, in drama, in music, in dance, and in inventing other ways of bringing the gospel home to friends. And that confidence of course comes from going back to the cross again and again, and realising what the Lord has done for us. And if He’s done it for us, He’s done it for others. So woe to us if we don’t proclaim the gospel.
We give thanks to God for the faithful service of this remarkable man to the university world. His co-worker and friend Michael Ots, reflected:
It was an incredible joy and privilege to partner with Michael in student evangelism around Europe over the last ten years of his life. He was not only an incredible evangelist and an inspiring mentor but he also became a close friend. His many decades of involvement in evangelism around the world gave him a unique position from which to assess the strategic and valuable ministry of IFES of which he was a great supporter.
Buy a copy of the recently published authorised biography Michael Green: By His Friends. It includes reflections from Lindsay Brown (former IFES General Secretary), Richard Cunningham (UCCF Great Britain General Secretary) and Michael Ots, among others. Also available at tenofthose.com.