Where do you start when something is so good, you’re stuck for words?
Talking about IFES can sometimes feel like that. It’s global. It’s national. It’s local. It’s “evangelicalism’s most strategic global network – no other organization has such reach” (Doug Birdsall, former Chair of the Lausanne Movement). With student groups active on the campuses of over 180 countries and territories around the world, that’s no exaggeration. But where do you start? How can you give substance to the local, national, and global?
In this Conexión blog, we’re showcasing three books published this year which may help you. There’s a Bible-study devotional, an historical and theological consideration of student ministry, and a spiritual and practical guide to organizational governance. The content is varied, yet all three give vivid testimony to God’s work through IFES. They will help you articulate your knowledge and understanding of IFES ministry. But there’s more: they will also enrich your mind and soul.
THE UNFINISHED STORY
Are you looking for a devotional that goes beyond a pious ‘thought for the day’ and engages you more deeply with Scripture? Would you like accessible Bible study that is applied to and illustrated by student ministry? The Unfinished Story: Thirty Days in Luke and Acts by Dr David J ‘Monty’ Montgomery won’t disappoint.
It is ‘the unfinished story’ at various levels. Firstly, Monty offers commentary on selected passages in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (fifteen chapters/days on each), recognizing that the story of Luke is continued in Acts – but not finished there. For, secondly, we are invited to see that Jesus’ work continues in and through us, highlighted by prayers based on each passage and questions for reflection. And, thirdly, the commentary is permeated with ‘student stories’ that celebrate 75 years of IFES – an unfinished ministry that continues to grow.
As a former minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and current IFES Regional Secretary for Europe, Monty has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. But the content is not focused on him. There is, in fact, something distinctively IFES about his book: it is collaborative and global. Whilst the main commentary on Luke and Acts is authored by Monty, the student stories and daily prayers come from others around the IFES family. It feels particularly appropriate that Jamil, IFES Regional Secretary for Middle East and North Africa, should write the prayer for Day 20: Mission & Martyrdom.
Overall, the book accomplishes a fine balance between biblical commentary and personal devotion, important principles and inspiring stories, bite-sized chunks of Bible text and deeper orientation on biblical context and wider themes. Each day concludes with An Evening Psalm that ties in with the day’s topic, emphasizing the coherence of the whole of Scripture. In fact, the depth and modelling of Scripture engagement throughout is another way in which the book embodies IFES values.
If you’re hungry for practical engagement with Scripture, you should also check out a small booklet of eight Bible studies entitled Exploring the Word and the World. The resource, also published this year, was a collaborative work across three IFES teams: Scripture Engagement, Engaging the University, and the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. It’s free and available here.
Monty’s book will be an effective way to introduce people to the work of IFES. It’s a devotional; you don’t need to be interested in IFES or student ministry to want to read it. But by the end, it will be hard not to want to know more! As Walter Kim, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, recommends, “insiders and strangers alike will be blessed”.
Finally, Monty shares with us one more reason why it’s an unfinished story: “If people find it helpful, it is a format I would like to replicate with other sections of Scripture”. So, if you read it and like it, make sure you let him know.
THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL STUDENTS
Do you think of yourself as a priest? How seriously do you take the priesthood of all believers? That’s the doctrine that because all believers in Christ share in his priestly status, there is no special class of people who mediate the knowledge, presence, and forgiveness of Christ to others; all believers are called to this role and have the authority to read, interpret, and apply the teachings of Scripture.
Dr Timothée Joset, in his book The Priesthood of All Students: Historical, Theological and Missiological Foundations of a Global University Ministry, shows how this theological conviction has undergirded and inspired IFES ministry throughout its existence – and is the best way to understand its mandate today.
For many years, IFES used the slogan “students reaching students” and anyone who has been part of an IFES group will know that one distinctive of IFES ministry is student-led initiative. Indeed, this was Timothée’s student experience as part of GBEU Switzerland, SMD Germany and IVCF Canada. He notes, “it was risky then, as it is today, to “let” students read the Bible amongst themselves without a pastor telling them what to believe”.
Timothée’s interest in the nature and ethos of IFES ministry grew and eventually blossomed into a PhD in Theology from the University of Durham, UK. By researching archival records and firsthand accounts, he conducted a comprehensive analysis of IFES history, theology, and missiology, leading to his proposed theological framework for student ministry. The book presents his research and conclusions, with much that will be of interest to those inside and outside IFES:
- The opening historical-theological survey of IFES (1947-2000) describes the motivation and energy out of which IFES grew, as well as some of the difficult debates from which IFES was birthed and recognises wider historical trends that shaped IFES along the way.
- Chapter 10 unpacks what the practical functioning of student-led ministry has looked like over the years – elements familiar to many of us: witness, prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship – whilst also acknowledging the complexity of the role of staff workers.
- Chapter 11 examines the role and importance of the doctrinal basis.
- The second half of the book tackles issues around the relationship of IFES to the Church and mission. Timothée argues that parachurch organisations like IFES are not only vital for the church to fulfil its calling to be “pilgrims and priests in the world”, but are even a prophetic reminder of that call.
In the final section, the overarching framework of priesthood is further unpacked. Here, Timothée stresses the priestly role of students in relation to the academic world and university context – a particular passion of his as Coordinator of IFES Engaging the University ministry. He writes: “Christians can mediate God to the university by bringing a Christian perspective to the whole academic enterprise, as well as mediating back some of the universities’ concerns to the Church and, in prayer, to God.”
For anyone serious about understanding why we do what we do in IFES, this book is enlightening – a compelling theological rationale for student ministry. As such, it’s a valuable addition to a small collection of books that illuminate the IFES story: Shining Like Stars (Lindsay Brown), The Day of His Power (Pete Lowman), C Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University (Don MacLeod), Campus Lights (Luke Cawley), Mission Ventured (Vivienne Stacey) and Students of the Word (John Stott).
GOOD AND FAITHFUL
Whilst Good and Faithful: Growing in the Art of Governance is the most targeted of the three books (subtitle: “reflective devotionals for board members”), you’d be mistaken to assume it’s only of interest or benefit to those serving on boards. It exudes a positive, biblical vision of stewardship that can inform and inspire us all.
Mirek Pieszka, who compiled and edited this collection of eighty-four devotions, notes its wider appeal: “it will be interesting and challenging for anyone interested in developing good governance”. Indeed, the words “good and faithful” are taken from Jesus’ famous parable on stewardship (Matthew 25) – so if God has given you responsibility for managing a ministry or team of any kind, this book has insights and encouragement to offer.
Topics are grouped into twelve themes that bear this out: whilst some are specific to boards and IFES ministry, like Caring for your General Secretary, most have general relevance, including Becoming a Faithful Steward, Serving the Master, and Nurturing Unity and Relationships. Each short chapter blends three core ingredients: Scripture and biblical perspectives on governance, experience and advice from governance trainers, and personal application (with two questions for reflection).
Mirek, who has been running the IFES Governance Development program for over 10 years, elaborates on this unique approach: “There is no shortage of books written about good governance, even Christian governance. But what about the spiritual care of the followers of Jesus Christ entrusted with the governance responsibility? What about the soul of the board member? I know of no books that approach governance from a reflective, devotional perspective, that minister to the spiritual growth of the board member while also providing practical application.”
There is certainly no shortage of practical advice, sourced from around the world. The devotions feature 35 different authors from across the eleven global regions of IFES, from Poland to Panama, Kyrgyzstan to Kenya. They are trainers who have worked with Mirek to equip and support boards of IFES national movements – practitioners who have gleaned insights from a variety of cultures, church traditions, and political systems.
Over the last 75 years, as the number of new IFES movements has rapidly increased, so too the need for organizational structures that sustain fruitful ministry. Indeed, the IFES National Movement Survey conducted last year revealed that 85% of respondents identified good governance as a foundational ingredient for Thriving into the Future.
This book will therefore be deeply strategic for national movements. One board member in the Cayman Islands described it as “heaven sent”, whilst another in Cameroon said it was “simply awesome”. Lindsay Brown, former IFES General Secretary, recommends that board members should consider reading and studying the book together.
Whether read alone or with a governance group, the book is certainly “a treasure chest full of critical concepts to pray and ponder” (David Acierno, Ean Consulting). It is an asset for the board of any Christian charity or church. Like Monty’s The Unfinished Story, Mirek’s compendium offers readers, in the first instance, spiritual nourishment and practical guidance – it is a bonus that they will be introduced to the work and values of IFES along the way.
SOMEWHERE TO START
So, when it comes to talking about the good of IFES, where do we start?
In addition to our own experiences, these three books offer helpful insights because they both embody IFES values and show the substance of its local, national, and global work. We find a careful and enlightening examination of Scripture, inspiring stories of courageous and intelligent witness, a theologically rigorous engagement with academia, and practical skills coupled with spiritual care.
All the detail in these books may not be immediately relevant to your situation, but the approach and content will inspire you: here are compelling stories to tell, here is a theological vision to grasp, here is practical wisdom to share.
So, read them and be stirred again by the part IFES is playing in God’s redemptive plan. Reflect and pray; feed your mind and soul. Find more words to express your enthusiasm for this strategic global network.
The Unfinished Story: Thirty Days in Luke and Acts by David J Montgomery is available from Muddy Pearl in English, French, and Spanish.
The Priesthood of All Students: Historical, Theological and Missiological Foundations of a Global University Ministry by Timothée Joset is available from Langham Publishing in English, French, and Spanish. Langham offers free worldwide shipping and the book is also available as an e-book.
Good and Faithful: Growing in the Art of Governance, Reflective Devotionals for Board Members by Mirek Pieszka is available through IFES. It is FREE to all IFES national boards (postage cost will be charged based on number of copies and shipping destination).