Four Changes in Four Years

by Richard Wong

It’s a surreal experience coming back as a Howie to the Sydney University campus after 4 years away. I’ve observed some subtle changes to the university landscape that have prompted me to ask some questions about how we approach ministry.

1. The campus is more diverse

Over 20% of the 54,000 students come from overseas. There are greater numbers of local students with non-European ethnic heritage (ACES, comprising mainly of Asian-Australian local students, is currently the largest faculty in the EU). Politically the campus is more progressive. Support for the LGBTIQ movement is strong. Engagement with Muslim students is growing.

2. Students spend less time on campus

Whether it’s the post-GFC job market or the desire for students to fly overseas and enjoy smashed avocado, it appears more students are working while studying, or volunteering their time elsewhere. This makes it tougher to run and invite students to on-campus events, and it’s harder to ask students to commit to leadership in the EU. No doubt this problem continues upon entering the workforce or caring full time for your family, and is something already prevalent in many churches.

3. We have a greater awareness of mental illness

Depression, anxiety, burnout – as a society there is a growing awareness of what mental illness is and how to care for it. What was previously misunderstood or considered taboo is now something that our society is slowly coming to grips with. I’ve come across more students struggling with mental illness in 6 months as a Howie than in 5 years as a student.

4. Students don’t use email anymore.

And yes – we have already lost the art of the phone call. Students are more inclined to communicate via social media or instant messenger than to write emails or pick up the phone. While the commercial workplace is shifting from email to instant messenger, students seem to have done away with it altogether, only using it for job applications or sending something official.

Changes at university tend to pre-empt shifts in the wider society. What implications are there for our churches and ministries going forward? Please pray that as the EU staff and students continue to serve on campus together, that we would be thoughtful in considering these changes and continue to truthfully and faithfully proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

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