Steve and Kara Shank have worked with students at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton for more than 10 years—a school known for producing Grammy® award winning musicians. Jazz music is the preferred musical style on campus and the contrasting melodies, improvisation, and individual expression reflect the character of the student body.
Despite that independent, freewheeling spirit, the campus is fertile ground for the Gospel. “I’ve grown to love this environment as a great place to see the Gospel advance,” says Steve, “even if it comes with certain challenges.”
One manifestation of the high value students place on individual expression is that there is not a single ministry on this campus of 37,000 students that regularly attracts more than 100 students. And when Steve and some colleagues surveyed students about their level of spiritual interest, it became obvious that students were far more interested in the jazz-like qualities of individual expression and improvisation than they were in pursuing a relationship with God.
“On the surface,” Steve explained, “the majority of the students just aren’t that interested in God.” So why does he see this as a great place to see the Gospel advance?
“I believe the words that Solomon wrote (in Ecclesiastes 3:11): ‘He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end’,” Steve says. “Plus, when students like this take a clear look at the person of Jesus, it’s pretty compelling.”
Even the slow pace of the Gospel’s advance (when students don’t automatically embrace it) has its benefits. “That lends itself to an effective transition into discipleship—learning to walk with Jesus for a lifetime,” Steve says.
Stacey* is a prime example of that. “Even though she identified herself as a non-believer’,” says Steve, “she asked if she could join one of our Bible reading groups. Later she asked to join us at a fall retreat (where she asked skeptical questions).” Stacey eventually came to faith in Christ. So what does her growth as a disciple look like?
“Honestly,” says Steve, “it looks a lot like it has for the past year: we spend a lot of time with her (including attending her concerts), we read the Bible together, we pray together, and take her to church with us.” Then he added, “And we pray like crazy for her!”
UNT is a great environment for the Gospel, for learning how to live as a disciple of Jesus, and—oh, yeah—all that jazz!
*Not her real name