Justin Thacker

Messy College


The thing I love about messy church is not so much the glue and paint and ridiculous action songs, but the symbolism it provides as to what church is meant to be like: messy.

Messy (adj)
1. (of a situation) confused and difficult to deal with.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as we once again welcome a new group of students to Cliff College. It’s always a joy to get to know these enthusiastic young people embarking on a 3 year journey towards their undergraduate theology degree.

What made this year particularly interesting were the personal stories of all those starting. Perhaps more than most years, this time we had students who had planned to do something else but over the summer had felt a specific call from God to study at Cliff.

As is the norm for us, not all the students had the most straightforward paths in life prior to joining. But the reason for writing this blog is one particular student who stood out for me. This student had applied to some other Bible Colleges but one of them had turned him / her down because of a past history of mental health issues. They didn’t feel the individual was emotionally and mentally right for their College.

I’m not remotely critiquing their decision for each institution needs to set its own entry criteria but what struck me about their decision was the issues it raised about the barriers we set for entry to Bible colleges.

One of the things that make me most proud of Cliff College is our long tradition of inclusiveness in this regard. Methodism, of course, is known for its ‘4 Alls’: All need to be saved, all may be saved, all may know themselves to be saved and all can be saved to the uttermost. As we apply these truths to admission at Cliff College it means that irrespective of past history, Cliff will be a place that welcomes all. This does not mean that there are no academic barriers to entry. Of course, there must be, as we are training people for undergraduate degrees. But what it does mean is that previous behaviour, illness or personal and family histories are not reasons for rejecting students. Cliff is a place for those who need another chance to rebuild their lives.

Does that sometimes create challenges for us as a College? Of course it does. Our students are not always perfect on arrival! Yet at the same time, God also blesses us each year with some who are mature in their faith and walk with God, who act as role models for others and who together with us, the staff team, encourage all of us in a closer walk with Christ.

And isn’t this what the church is meant to be like. I can vividly recall, when I was at Bible College, seeing a staff member publically berate a somewhat wayward student. That student now has a thriving ministry that would be the envy of many. And isn’t that the journey of faith and maturity that all of us are on.

And when I look at how Jesus picked his closest followers, he didn’t go for the finished article. Matthew was actually sat at his tax-collectors booth when called; they argued over who was the greatest and Nathaniel hardly leapt at the opportunity to follow. Jesus chose a bunch of misfits, but somehow over 3 years, transformed them into those who would change the world.

I’m not saying that we do the same at Cliff, though we try our best. But I am saying that we’re in the business of giving people a 2nd (and even 3rd, 4th etc) chance in life. It’s part of our Methodist heritage, it’s what we believe God calls us to, it’s following Christ’s example and it’s what makes us a messy College. And of that I’m proud.


29/09/2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment

  1. It’s a shame that despite a students academic capabilities their background and past had such a bearing on being accepted into a college. For my own part my belief in Jesus Christ does not come from any superior knowledge but from the problems in my past and the realisation that sometimes only God can help. I’m sure at that time God wasn’t interested in my past but welcomed me despite my flaws.
    It’s great news that this student is able to study with you and what is so reassuring is that only God knows an individual’s potential.

    Comment by Kevin Tomlin | 29/09/2014

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