Student Ministry in the Last Days

10 Principles from the Book of Acts

We are in the last days. You don’t need to scramble around for signs to prove it. Don’t listen to a wacky podcast to tell you. 

According to the apostle Peter (and the prophet Joel), we’re in the last days. And we’ve been there for a while – ever since God poured out the Holy Spirit after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven (Acts 2:17). 

These are the last days: when “all flesh” has opportunity to “call on the name of the Lord and be saved” (Acts 2:21) – the Lord who is Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-36), the Saviour to whom we bear witness until he returns (Acts 1:11).  

So, if the book of Acts describes how the church ministered in those last days, what can we learn from it now? 

Here are 10 observations that serve as principles for student ministry in “the last days”– in the age of the Spirit outpoured, in the time between Pentecost and Christ’s return. 

1. Witnessing to Jesus

In Jesus’ parting words to the apostles, he says “you will be my witnesses” (1:8). A witness has seen something happen; he or she can testify from experience that it is true.  

person giving testimony student ministry

The apostles saw Jesus live (2:22), die (2:23), and rise to life (2:32). Before ascending to heaven, he made sure that the disciples were convinced he was alive (1:3). They were witnesses. Even the apostle Paul, who didn’t get to meet Jesus in his earthly body, had a personal encounter with the risen Christ (9:1-9). 

You too will not have seen Jesus in the flesh, and you may not have had a Paul-like “Damascus road conversion”. But if you’ve turned to God in Jesus, then you will have a story to tell – of how you encountered his forgiveness, mercy, and love. 

We believe that abundant life is found through personally knowing Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  

The experiences of students like Sophia and Shiuli (pictured) testify to that. Not all of us who follow Jesus become gifted evangelists, but we do all have a personal story to tell.   

So, what’s your story? Be a witness: look for an opportunity to share it with someone today.  

2. Ministering in the power of the Spirit

Before the disciples are sent as witnesses, they must be empowered by the Holy Spirit (1:4-5, 8). When the Spirit is poured out, we can see why:  

person praying student ministry

In their witness, the disciples can now cross language barriers (2:5-13), speak with boldness (2:14; 4:13, 31), face persecution and death with grace (7:54-60), and heal body (3:1-10) and spirit (5:16). It is not a one-off experience but an ongoing filling (2:4; 4:8, 31; 13:9) – an empowering that enables witness. 

As a fellowship of inter-denominational movements, our church backgrounds mean that we may have quite different ideas and experiences of how the Holy Spirit empowers us today. But such differences shouldn’t hold us back from seeking that enabling.  

It was those who were closest to Jesus that needed to be strengthened and equipped in their witness! We all need it – and are united in our affirmation of “the indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit in the believer”. 

Have a discussion with your small group: What has been your experience of God’s empowering and enabling? Where do you feel a need for it? Pray together for the Spirit to equip you. 

3. Proclaiming a clear gospel message

In Acts we get to “overhear” the good news of Jesus being preached in various places to all kinds of people. To suit the situation or a certain audience, the content is modified, but the gospel message remains consistently clear:  

We hear the apostles tailor their words to Jews (2:14-36), God-fearing non-Jews (10:34-43), and pagans (14:8-18), to a furious religious council (4:5-12), sceptical Greek philosophers (17:22-34), and a self-important king (25:23—26:32). Yet from Peter’s start in chapter 2 to Paul’s finish in chapter 26, the message is unchanged: Jesus – the Christ (God’s appointed saviour-king) – suffered, died, and rose to life so that all who repent can find forgiveness of sins. 

In our outreach, we may be in danger of two extremes: a formulaic repetition of the good news that takes no notice of situation or audience; or a message that’s so concerned with the situation or audience that the good news fails to be clearly presented. 

telling a story with sand

What new ways can you or your campus group use to relevantly proclaim the good news? Be inspired by movements that are chatting over herbal tea, running an escape room, using manga, and drawing in the sand  

4. Engaging with the culture

One way the apostles shaped their telling of the good news was by thoughtfully engaging with the surrounding culture. They were able to find common ground, make connections, and point to Christ. 

university lecture students student ministry

In a Jewish context, that meant engaging with Hebrew Scriptures (Peter in 2:25-35) and Israel’s history (Stephen in 7:1-53). And it was Paul’s practice to reason from the scriptures in the synagogues (17:2-3).  

Among the Gentiles, we see Paul engaging with other worldviews – appealing to the crowd in Lystra to consider their good experience of a Creator God (14:15-17) or helping the Athenians see that their altars and poets point to an unknown God who is in fact knowable (17:22-31). 

How well do you understand the culture and worldview that prevails in your context? Have you considered which IFES Engaging the University resources might help you grow in relating the Word to your World?  

5. Bringing gospel impact

Christ’s Spirit-filled witnesses, who clearly and engagingly proclaimed the gospel, also showed good news through their actions. The progress of the gospel has a social impact. 

planting trees student ministry social action

The first community of Christians formed an equitable “society” as they generously supported one another (2:45-46; 4:33-35). Social barriers came tumbling down as Peter entered a Gentile’s house (10:1—11:18). The dark, oppressive spiritual climate in Ephesus was lifted as those afflicted were set free (19:11-20). A boatload of prisoners and crew in life-threatening danger are kept safe (27:13-44). 

In IFES, we’re committed to seeing the gospel impact all of life – in the here and now. Students can be catalysts for change: standing against discrimination, caring for creation, and improving mental health. The Logos and Cosmos Initiative is all about encouraging faith-driven projects that tackle challenges in local and national contexts. 

What good news impact is your group or movement having on campus or in society? What practical challenges can you address with the faith, hope, and love that flow from the gospel? 

6. Unceasing in prayer

Acts is, unsurprisingly, full of acts: conversions, healings, jailbreaks, debates, and mission trips. Was there time or need for prayer? Absolutely. 

Before the powerful preaching on the Day of Pentecost, they were “all together in one place” (2:1), where they were “constantly in prayer” (1:14). After Peter and John courageously preached to the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), they returned to the believers and prayed (4:23-31).  It was during personal prayer that Peter received a ministry-changing vision (10:9) and during corporate prayer that Barnabus and Paul were called to another mission (12:25—13:3). Even in the final healing of the book, prayer is highlighted (28:8).  

This portrait of prayer reminds us that we should never be so busy serving Christ in the Spirit’s power that we forget to talk it all through with the Father. Prayer should be a natural priority, but it is often sidelined. Perhaps that’s why so many of the New Testament letters specifically urge us to pray (e.g. Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). 

people praying student ministry

Take a prayer audit: consider how you’re praying for student ministry – personally, in your small group, in your national movement, and in your IFES region. Do you need to mobilise more prayer?  

Pray regularly for your sisters and brothers engaged in student ministry around the world with Prayerline or the Daily Prayer Guide – and don’t miss IFES World Student Day! 

7. Discerning God’s guidance

One vital aspect of prayer and ministry is listening to God, being attentive to the Holy Spirit’s lead. The progress of the gospel has a heavenly director! 

celebrating 75th birthday

Philip was nudged to approach the Ethiopian chariot and share the good news (8:29). Peter, discerning that God spoke to him in his lunchtime prayers, was willing to break the rules and enter a Gentile home to share the gospel (10:27-29).  

During worship and fasting, the Antioch church received the Spirit’s guidance for mission (13:2) – as did Paul through a dream (16:9-10) and other ways (16:6-7 – perhaps simply circumstances?).  

As the apostles consider what Gentile inclusion should look like, through debate and reflection on Scripture (15:1-21), they recognise the Holy Spirit’s guidance (15:28). 

Does it surprise you that we’re not told the apostles were actively seeking God’s direction on the action that followed? For example, in Acts 16, Paul isn’t hanging around in one region until he hears from God where to go next; he’s going wherever he could, whilst being open to the steering of the Spirit. 

The story of IFES over the last 75 years is marked by that pragmatic attentiveness to God’s lead. 

Prayerfully reflect on how God has steered you. Give thanks and ask for a growing discernment – whether through Scripture, dreams, circumstances, or conversations. 

8. Reaching new places

The whole thrust of ministry in Acts is about the gospel going “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). The “last days” invitation of salvation was for everyone (2:17-21), so everyone needed to hear it. 

So, we see Jesus’ command (1:8) fulfilled as his witnesses take the good news from Jerusalem (chapters 1-7) to Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-12), to the ends of the earth (chapters 13-28). Whether due to the scattering of persecution (8:1-3), the strategic approach of missions (13:2-3), or the fortuitous grasping of opportunity (25:10-12), the Holy Spirit directs an outward movement. 

Along the way, lives are touched and changed. Simon the Samarian sorcerer finds the source of true power (8:9-25). Cornelius the God-fearing Caesarean comes to know the God he feared (10:44-48). Lydia the Thyatiran businesswoman experiences new riches in Christ (16:15). Damaris the Athenian philosopher discovers Jesus as the meaning of life (17:34).  

student ministry group in a new city

Do you share Paul’s godly ambition for taking the good news to places not yet reached (Romans 15:20)? Read some examples of what that looks like in student ministry. Find out more about Breaking New Ground. Sometimes the “new place” is right on your campus! 

How will you participate in the outward movement of the Spirit?   

9. Building sustainable ministry

Although the outward movement of the gospel was the central concern, that didn’t mean the apostles were unconcerned about structures and practices that would sustain ministry. Being in the last days was no excuse for shoddy administration or sloppy pastoral care.  

book about organisational governance

When the church’s rapid growth led to logistical issues, the twelve apostles delegated responsibilities to ensure fair treatment of all (6:1-7). When confusion and misunderstanding about Gentiles in the church threatened to derail the advance of the gospel, the apostles and elders sent out a letter to clarify the situation (15:22-31). 

The apostles revisited churches they’d planted and appointed leaders (14:21-23; 18:23). In places such as Corinth and Ephesus, Paul stayed a considerable time (18:18; 19:10) and departed with clear instructions to the elders (20:13-28). 

A concern for structures and practices that facilitate sustainable ministry should never be viewed as “unspiritual”; administration can be as spirit-filled as prayer and preaching (6:3-4). 

Are there any practical or pastoral areas in your student group or movement that would benefit from healthier structures or “best practice”? How are you empowering new leaders? Are you aware of the governance support available for IFES movements? 

10. Persevering through persecution and setbacks

In the points above, we can see how exciting the apostles’ ministry was in the last days. But it was hard.  

From the first day, the apostles faced ridicule (2:13). And opposition to their message (4:18) was soon followed by persecution, including imprisonment (5:18; 8:3), physical punishment (5:40), and death (7:57-58). Yet God gives strength to persevere (e.g., 7:55).  

Today, in many parts of the world, followers of Christ face the same threats and abuse. Give thanks for student witness in these contexts and pray for the students and staff there – and for those who oppose them. 

destruction in ukraine

The apostles also faced other setbacks. Paul had a sharp disagreement with his mission partner about a “staff worker” (15:36-41), experienced a storm and shipwreck (27:13-44), and saw only “some” respond to his engaging talk in Athens (17:34). Surely such events could have been disheartening. Outright persecution for the sake of the gospel was understandable and bearable (5:41). But hardships to do with relationships, weather, and ministry impact were more difficult to explain. Nevertheless, Paul persevered, viewing his hardships as an opportunity for God’s grace to shine (2 Corinthians 4). 

Give thanks that despite the darkness of war, the disruption of a pandemic, and the shock of premises burning down, God has enabled IFES students and movements to persevere in ministry. Ask him to give you the grace you need to face the hardships in your context. 

These 10 principles from Acts present a rich picture of faithful and fruitful ministry in the first years of the last days. We see that individuals and societies were changed as Jesus’ Spirit-filled, prayerful, persevering witnesses took his good news into all the world – engaging with culture while planting and nurturing new groups of believers – until his return. 

So, what has God put on your heart today? Which of the 10 principles would you like to develop in your group or movement? How will you do that?  

As we live and minister in the age between the outpouring of the Spirit and the return of Christ, let’s follow the early church’s example so that we too may be faithful and fruitful in our years of the last days. 

student ministry outreach
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