urbana reflecting intervarsity, part II

My amazing and out-of-the-blue opportunity to view THE Urbana conference this week has provided a really solid window into the InterVarsity campus ministry world. (To clarify, LOTS of non-InterVarsity college ministries and other Christians attend Urbana, and I would highly recommend it. But it is indeed organized by InterVarsity every three years, and they do so in a way that’s very consistent with their identity and emphases.)

Yesterday, I posted three ways Urbana reflects its parent organization; today, three more. My hope is for all of us to get to know all of us better. If you could use a primer or a brush-up on the InterVarsity world, read on!

inductive Bible study

InterVarsity calls their specific style of inductive Bible study “manuscript studies.” This format is very widely used within IV’s small group settings nationwide, to the point that it’s known as one of the “classics” among college ministry methods – up there with Four Spiritual Laws and the Navigators’ “Wheel” illustration. From what I can gather, it really just involves treating selected texts of Scripture as manuscripts – with an emphasis on inductively learning from the texts themselves, without bringing in too much preconceived “baggage.” (Their use of the Book of Mark for these studies is especially traditional in the IV world.)

Urbana’s schedule is chock-full of manuscript study; in this case, the mornings were used to work progressively through the first four chapters of John. Students practiced manuscript studies for an hour-and-a-half first thing each morning, then the speaker in the main morning session picked up the exposition where the morning’s manuscript study had left off.

a different sort of Big Show

Another way Urbana seems to somewhat reflect InterVarsity’s work on the ground is through a pretty “unshowy” large group gathering experience. Neither the worship nor the speaking feels especially “popular” but instead seems to aim for different ends – including a large emphasis on multiculturalism, as I shared yesterday. From what I’ve seen, I think this methodology extends to many “on the ground” IV college ministries.

I don’t really know how to describe this without sounding like I’m either bashing InterVarsity or bashing those ministries that do aim to build large-group experiences in a different way. I certainly don’t consider either sort of methodology bash-worthy in the least! They’re just different, with different purposes behind them. Perhaps it suffices to point out that the large gatherings of Urbana feel very different from what next week’s Passion gatherings (if they resemble years past).

Again, I’m a fan of both.

an international allegiance

Finally, an aspect of InterVarsity that comes out bigtime here at Urbana is its connection to the larger Christian world. InterVarsity USA and Inter-Varsity Canada are members of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, “a community of national student movements who are committed to being partners in global student witness.” In other words, IV is a happy member of a network of worldwide college ministries. And it’s clear InterVarsity celebrates this fact – most explicitly through the fact that many of the main stage speakers aren’t North American.

While local InterVarsity campus ministries might not hype the IFES connection on a weekly basis, it certainly seems to be an important part of understanding IV. Clearly, the missions focus of Urbana further points to InterVarsity’s desire to be involved in the nations – both in witness and in works, but also beginning with a deep respect for the glories of the Christian communities that already exist in those many places.

for more!

www.urbana09.org (Urbana 2009 main site)
www.intervarsity.org (InterVarsity USA)
www.ivcf.ca (InterVarsity Canada)
www.ifesworld.org (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students)

Written from Motel 6 by Lambert-St. Louis International Airport


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  1. Dave

    I have never read your blog before and to be completely honest, may never again. I have been to a couple Urbana’s and knew some people who attended this one. I was snooping around to see what the response was.

    As someone who was very involved in InterVarsity during his college years, I appreciate your last two posts very much and your perception as an “outsider”. I feel you were very fair. Its easy to bash an experience that either a) is not how you would run it, or b) not what you are used to. Yet, you portrayed IV as healthy piece to the puzzle of college ministries that are attempting to make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality on Earth.

    Keep up the great work.

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