By Fred Koenig
A group of 70 people coming together for worship on a Wednesday night is doing pretty well for any church. But when that group of 70 is made up entirely of the group that is noticeably absent from worship in almost every other church, it’s pretty incredible. But the 70 18 – 24 year olds who are listening, learning, and praying on Wednesday night in Cape Girardeau aren’t in a church, they are on campus, in a room of the student center.
The group is lead by Jeffrey Waters, who is on staff at La Croix UMC. He came to the Southeast Missouri State University campus to lead Ignite in January 2013. “It was in a good place when I got here,” Waters said.
Ignite had been developed by Brett Cheek, the current teaching and family pastor at La Croix. Water’s said there was no need for any major course correction, but he has remained focused on strengthening the emphasis on discipleship for student leaders.
“We’ve developed small groups with the intent of facilitating change and growth,” Waters said. “We also have a missional mindset, based around growing in faith.” About 20 students make up the leadership team. They have large roles, as small group leaders and worship leaders. They arrive at least an hour early to each weekly worship gathering, to participate in a prayer service that precedes worship.
“We see leadership as an opportunity to grow,” Waters said. “We also invest more in the lives of our leaders than someone who just shows up for worship, by doing things like leadership retreats and training.” During the summer, a couple of small groups continue, and the ministry tries to have a large meeting once a month.
A lot of college students from the Ignite Ministry serve in different capacities at La Croix. Waters said the church has received a return on investment from Ignite that it didn’t anticipate.
“There are several fulltime staff members at La Croix who came to the church through Ignite,” Waters said.
Earlier this year, Ignite had a sermon-series on “Cow-Tipping,” in which they addressed sacred cows, or taboos, that aren’t usually spoken about in church. One night the topic was sex. They started off by breaking up into groups of two, with a trusted person but not a partner, to talk about issues related to sex. There was a lot of time for silent prayer and reflection.
“We’re trying to wage war against the predominant culture, and you can expect it will automatically trigger a lot of push back,” Waters said. “We need to quiet the voice of culture, human nature and history and pray for courage and strength.”
He told the story from the Bible of Jesus pardoning the adulteress, and then went on to talk about online pornography addiction, citing statistics about the millions of people who have pornography addiction. One number was that 90 percent of boys have been exposed to online pornography by age 11.
He also discussed promiscuity, and “hooking up,”
or casual sexual encounters. “People are trying to get the pleasure out of a relationship without having to actually deal with relationship stuff,” he said. He encouraged those present to not let what they have done in the past effect how they behave in the present or future.
“Your past does not define you,” Waters said. “The son of the living God, hanging on a cross, who is saying that you’re worth it, that defines you.”
He quoted Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
“The God of the universe wants freedom for your life,” he said. “It’s all about love, not about rules or laws.”
In addition to the weekly gatherings at the student center, they have “Supper Stories” at the Ignite house on Sunday evenings, and have a meal with it.
Katherine Miller, an art student from St. Louis who will graduate in December, said Ignite has made a huge difference in her college experience. A friend invited her the first week she was on campus.
“Ignite is one of the best communities I have ever been involved in,” she said. “I have good friends in Ignite, and there is zero percent chance I would have been friends with them without this. We have nothing in common but Jesus.” Miller has also been active at La Croix UMC, attending worship there, as do nearly all of the core leadership team of Ignite.