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5 ways to ensure you flourish as a Christian Student in Dublin

1 September 2014

Dublin is home to around 75 000 students and is a great place to study. Do read my earlier post for why Dublin is a great place to go to university. In this post I want to look at how someone who calls themselves a Christian can flourish whilst a student in Dublin.


sink-or-swimAs someone who has worked with christian students for over 10 years in a variety of universities in the UK and Ireland, university is usually a place where Christians either sink or swim. Let me explain what I mean. Sometimes a young Christian who has been very active in their local church back home and calls themselves a Christian comes to university and either because of the new choices available to them, the desire to fit in or the intellectual landscape they encounter, they end up giving up on the faith of their youth. On the other hand, others who were maybe nominal Christians growing up and were never very active in nor convinced about their faith, suddenly discover that in Christ both their intellectual questions and the desires of their heart are fully satisfied. For the former, university becomes the time when they fall away from faith. For the latter, university becomes a time when Jesus shapes and dictates the rest of their life. Now of course not everyone will fit into those two categories; but broadly speaking university is a time when Christian students either sink or swim.

So how can you ensure that if you are coming to Dublin (or any city for that matter) as a student this September (whether for your first year or a subsequent year) that you flourish? Here are my 5 top tips:

(1) Find a good local church.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I would always encourage students to join a local christian group on campus. I think these are great for finding like-minded Christians in the same stage of life as you and together you can become a community that demonstrates your faith in Christ to others on campus. When I was a university student, I was actively involved in leadership in the CU and I currently help out and speak at a number of CUs that are facilitated and resourced by IFESIreland as well as the Agape Student Life Group. However, the Christian Union or Agape is not the primary place for belonging or discipleship; that is the role of the local church. That was Jesus’ model. The CU should see themselves as a missionary army on campus, sent to spread the love and peace of Christ to their peers. In the local church you will find people who are older, wiser and more experienced than you and this will provide stability and a refuge for you during your time at university. Additionally, ensure you find a church that teaches the bible clearly and well as this is the primary means by which God grows his saints. It is not about being impressed by the latest ideas; it is about being built up with the Word of God (see 2 Timothy 4:2-5 for more on this distinction). If you’re interested in what we do check out or get in contact.

(2) Find genuine and deep friendship

friendshipEither with some christian friends on campus or in your church, it is important that you to find 2-3 friends who you will get to know well and who will know you well. In our church we talk about 4 C’s – people you can cry with, celebrate with, confess your sins to and chill with (cheesy I know!). The bible says that our main problem in life is that we like to justify ourselves and prove ourselves by our academic performance or the way we look or our christian duties/morality or our achievement in another area. However, our greatest need is to humble ourselves, admit we could never make it on our own and throw ourselves on God’s grace. Jesus said “blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3) so we need others who will help us be real with ourselves, our failings, insecurities, weaknesses and sin and will help us become all that God intended for us to become. For more information on this see Hebrews 3:12-13 and Ephesians 5:8-10. DON’T try and be best friends with everyone – that will end up in slavery and immaturity. Invest in a few friends well. Proverbs 18:24 puts it nicely.

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

(3) Engage your brain

kellerWhen you come to university in Dublin, you come into an intellectual landscape that is (a) increasingly secular and (b) deeper than you have ever had to think before. If you are not careful, you may find that your reasons for being a Christian are rather flimsy and shallow compared to others around you. This naturally leads to doubt and confusion and is the reason many fall away from faith. The bible tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. One of the ways we can do that is to engage our brains, even if you are not someone who is into theology or philosophy. That is one of the reasons why I wrote The Intro Course which is all about asking the big questions of life (questions on meaning, truth, love, Jesus, suffering and religion). I was acutely aware that 18-35 year olds today have no place where they can ask their questions, voice their doubts, grapple with different perspectives and develop their thinking. There are few places to dialogue together with people from different world-views and religions. So my encouragement to you would be to face up to the fact that you probably know less than you think and that your Christianity is probably more shallow than you think – and engage your brain. A great place to start is to read The Reason For God by Tim Keller, If God Then What? by Andrew Wilson or The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. If you are struggling with the reliability of the bible then you should read The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? by FF Bruce.

The book of Hebrews is a pretty harsh book to a church that was falling back into old patterns of thinking and sinful behaviour and many in the church had already deserted Christ. The writer has these strong words to say,

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

Many of us need to move on from the elementary teaching about Christ and move from milk to solid food (see also 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

(4) Take a stance early

stand outIt is very important you nail your colours to the mast early because if you compromise your christian value-system in the first few weeks for the sake of fitting in (whether with drink, drugs, sex or whatever else) you will find it very hard to claw back that ground that you have lost, and you’ll feel like a hypocrite. Now there is always new mercy every day (Lamentations 3:23) and God is gracious, patient and forgiving, but that is no excuse for excusing sin. It is actually a stimulus for holy living!!

Now to take a stance early you will need to (a) be convinced biblically on the stance you are making and (b) be confident in the value Jesus gives you. If either are unclear in your heart or your head then you will more than likely compromise when peer pressure or exam stress kick in. Knowing your identity in Christ (point b) is so important because it will give you the power to be rejected by your peers, because you know you are ultimately accepted by God. This also leads back to points 1 & 2 and finding a good church to support you and genuine and deep friendship.

(5) Go for it.

jumpingThere is nothing more destabilising for your non-believing friends than to find that you are the life and soul of the party. Jesus promised us life to the full and you’ll be amazed when your friends see you living life fully for God but also fully engaged in many aspects of university life. They may have (previously) written you off but over time, you will win their respect.  In the end, a quiet confidence, a humble strength, a deep-seated joy and a genuine love for others shines through. Those qualities are all found in knowing your identity in Christ (see number 4) and the way to that is through the scriptures and community (numbers 1-3). Of course, you’ll need tonnes of the Holy Spirit too!!

My cousin Luke Smith (who works full time with students) put it well in an interview when he said:

My advice to a christian fresher is tell your house mates that you are a Christian as soon as possible (don’t expect them to be impressed). Then be the life and soul of every party (watch them be affected over the first year)!

So there you have it. I am sure there are more things to be said, but these would be my 5 top tips. One final point – however you decide to navigate the challenges, tensions and complexities of being a Christian student in Dublin in the 21st Century, whatever you do, do NOT end up in a “Christian bubble!”

I hope you end up swimming!




Provocative Church, Blaise Pascal & Inbound Marketing

31 August 2014

Church in DublinEvery now and again you read a book which expresses an idea that crystallises everything you thought but had never put into words. One of those books for me was Provocative Church by Graham Tomlin. I read the book 7 years ago and it has shaped my approach to Christianity and church ever since.

The central theme of the book is actually based on a quote from Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century mathematician, philosopher and theologian. He famously said:

Make religion attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good.

3 weeks ago my manager at HubSpot, with whom I have many humorous discussions about Jesus being a fairytale, said to me “it’s a great idea Steve…be great if it were true!” Now whilst he thinks I am crazy for believing what I believe (and he really does!), at least he thinks it’s a good idea, at least he can see that it is attractive, it makes a difference to my life and if it were true, it would make a difference to the world. So according to Pascal, I am 50% of the way there…I now just need to show him it is true!!

Tomlin says at the start of his book:

One of the key themes of this book is that unless there is something about church, or Christians, or faith that intrigues, provokes or entices, then our message will fall on deaf ears. If churches cannot convey a sense of ‘reality’ then all our ‘truth’ will count for nothing. Unless someone wants to hear, there’s no point in shouting louder. Churches need to become provocative, arresting places which makes the searcher, casual visitors, want to come back for more.

He goes on to say:

Pascal’s point is that before we ever get to the stage of explaining or convincing, there needs to emerge in people the desire, the question, the hunger to discover more, to find God.

Provocative ChurchNow reading Tomlin got me back to reading my Bible (like all great Christian books should do!!) to see what God’s word actually said about the the nature and witness of God’s people (in the Old and New Testament). As I re-read the ‘big Bible story’ I could see that the idea of a “provocative people” was there all the way through.

  • Abraham and his descendants were to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3) and that they were to be distinct in the way they lived (Genesis 18:19).
  • Moses was given the law by God on Mount Sinai so as to show the wisdom and closeness of God to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:6-7)
  • The high point of God’s People in the Old Testament is 1 Kings 10 when the Queen of Sheba (probably the richest person in the world) comes to hear the wisdom of Solomon and delights in the happiness of his people.

And I could continue with more examples. Of course we know that God’s people made a complete mess of it, and we still do today. But God’s intention for his people and what we see when they get it right is a provocative people who cause those who don’t know God to start asking questions…to awaken a hunger in people that what they are seeing before their eyes is true!

So it is not surprising that when Jesus formed the new community of God and speaks the most famous sermon in the history of the world (The Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5-7, he describes the church like this:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

This is not about people being bashed with the bible. This is about people seeing a light, a love, a hope, a joy, a strength and a wisdom among God’s people that causes them to investigate the light (on their terms!) and then, if they so decide, start to follow the light itself.

To bring this all up-to-date, modern marketers are now understanding what God had always intended (it’s good to see business and culture catching up with God’s eternal ways…haha!!). I work for HubSpot which is a software company which helps companies grow through implementing Inbound Marketing. Inbound Marketing for ChurchesInbound marketing is an idea that was first put into print by HubSpot’s 2 co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah October 2009 (the company was started in summer 2006). Inbound marketing is all about attracting people to your company/product through remarkable content (blogs, videos, whitepapers, ebooks etc) rather than forcing your company/product onto people through TV ads, billboards, spam mail etc (this approach is called outbound marketing and is said to be, mostly, ‘broken). So the idea of inbound marketing for your company/product is the same idea as what the Bible, Blaise Pascal and Graham Tomlin are saying about the church. Don’t force your way on people. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t shout louder. Attract them, lure them, bless them, delight them, help them, awaken a desire in them … and only when they want to engage with you, start to talk more about how what you are doing could be what they need!

That is my hope and desire for us as a church. That we would provoke questions, awaken desire and make people think. Many people will think we are nuts (they thought that of Jesus!) and many people will reject us (they rejected Jesus too!). But my hope is that many people will be intrigued enough to at least check out whether what we are saying could be true.

If you’re interested, we start a 5 week series called ‘Provocative Church’ on Sunday 7th September (next Sunday) at 4.15pm at Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar. Our church then officially launches on Sunday 12th October, same time, same place. For more details about Christ City Church do read part 1 of a 6 part blog series looking at our vision and values.

I hope to see you soon.


Why Go To University In Dublin?

30 July 2014

This blog post was primarily written for those non-Irish prospective students who are considering moving from overseas to Dublin to study. Whenever you make a big decision like this it can be hard to know whether you should ‘take the plunge’. So here are 6 reasons why I think you should come to Dublin to study.

(1) Because of the Guinness. It really does taste better than Guinness anywhere else in the whole world. Read this post for more details…

(2) Because the Irish love the ‘craic’. What better place to study and have the time of your life than amongst the outgoing and fun-loving Irish, the most welcoming people in the world!

(3) Because of its vibrancy and beauty. Dublin is a city famous for its culture, history, tourism, music, sport and much more. It used to be famous for its Guinness and Jameson Whiskey factories but nowadays it’s better known as home to the European headquarters for Google, Facebook and many other worldwide, billion-dollar businesses. Dublin is also as beautiful as it is cosmopolitan. It has the picturesque River Liffey running through it and sandy beaches are only 15 minutes from the city centre. It is a short drive to the stunning Wicklow mountains and the west and south coasts of Ireland are breathtaking.

(4) Because there are 4 great universities in the city. Dublin is home to around 75,000 students. University College Dublin (UCD) is on the southside (25,000 students), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is in the city centre (17,000 students) and Dublin City University (DCU) is on the northside (11,000 students). There is also the Dublin Institute of Technology, which has around 22,000 students among its various campuses. So Dublin is geared up for students with 100s of different courses.

(5) Because you’ll end up with much less debt. Whilst living costs in Dublin may be higher than in the UK, tuition fees for EU residents are much cheaper. Studying in the UK could cost you up to £9,000 per year but most EU students studying in Dublin would pay student fees of around £2,000 per year. This means you could save up to £7000 a year and around £21,000 over 3 years! So whilst there may be higher costs in the short term for studying in Dublin, imagine what you could do with a long-term saving of £21,000?**

(6) Because we are launching a church in a unique time in Irish history. Christ City Church DublinIn recent years Ireland has seen turmoil at its core – political, economic and religious. The very foundations of society have started to crumble. This has led to a collapse in hope and identity. This September we will be launching our church into the heart of the city centre (filmbase) with the aim of being a blessing to the city of Dublin, inspiring 18-35 year olds to discover their true purpose and to invest in the good of the city. To find out more check out or e-mail


If you want to read more about living in Dublin, do read this blog called “10 reasons Dublin is a great place to live”


* The Irish equivalent of UCAS is CAO (Central Applications Office). In Ireland applicants are made offers after receiving their exam results (this week), and any available places will then be advertised on the CAO website.

** Please note that fees in Ireland aren’t incorporated into a student loan as they are in the UK and that you may not be eligible for the same loans that you could apply for in the UK.

Internship Opportunity in Dublin, September 2014

22 May 2014

Internship DublinIf you’re interested in maturing as a person, developing your skills and investing in your theological and biblical understanding then the Christ City Church Internship could be just the thing for you. Additionally if you’re reading this and you’re not from Ireland, then you will also gain great experience in cross-cultural ministry and church planting.

This year our church has had the great privilege of having two interns with us, one for 6 months (Gabriel) and the other for 9 months (Christian). It’s been great to have them with us for the year and it’s been fantastic to see them grow, change, step outside of their comfort zones and be used by God.

The internship which is based around 3 areas

  1. Ministry experience (developing your skills)
  2. Theological training (developing a biblical worldview)
  3. Character growth (growing in Christ-likeness)

Each Intern will receive a mentor and line-manager. The mentor will help them with personal growth and the line-manager will help them structure their week/year.

We are looking for 2 new interns for when our church launches in September 2014. If you’re interested do get in touch ( and I can send you the application form and more details. Or else I can connect you with the 2 interns we had this year and you can chat to them first. The Internship can be full time (and we’ll help you with funding) or part time (and you work part time to earn some money) and it can be done for anywhere from 6-18 months.

All the information about the Internship can be found here


Baptism – A Life Transformed

19 May 2014

Max BaptismThis Sunday just gone we had our first baptism service at Christ City Church. You can read about why we baptise people here and see more photos on our facebook page. I asked Max, who came to me 3 weeks ago asking whether I would baptise him before he headed back to France, if I could publish his story on my blog. I said I would baptise him and I am very glad to say that he said I could publish his testimony of coming to faith and wanting to get baptised. This is what he read out before we plunged him into the water. Enjoy!

Hi my name is Max, I am going to be get baptised today and this is why.

I was born and raised in France. My mother was from a Catholic background but she wasn’t Christian. She brought me up with Christian values, but I wasn’t a Christian either. In fact I did not really care about Christianity, I even mistrusted people who talked to me about Jesus/God.

However things started to change in 2006, when I was 10 years old when other members of my family started to believe in God after facing many troubles. I started to go to church and study the bible. I met lots of nice people but I quickly lost my interest.

In the next years, I underwent many painful experiences and eventually got diagnosed of OCD, a mental illness that really hampered my life for a while and still affects me today. I then turned to God and decided to put more trust in him. But I was in truth “resorting to God” only when I had problems, and the rest of the time neglecting his presence and his Word. In fact most of my teenage years were marked by how I hated people, stole things and used lots of bad language.

However all this started to change when I came to Dublin in 2013 as part of an Erasmus programme. I felt suddenly more interested in Christianity again and decided to join a Christian student society in UCD-my university and other groups and started to learn about the gospel.

But it wasn’t enough, consequently when I went through an awful depression in Winter 2013, I almost denied the existence of any God and fell really low. To have some rest, I went back to France for the holidays and read a Christian book that a cool friend gave me before I left, it’s called “Unmerited Favour”, and was written by Joseph Prince, a Singaporean pastor. And thanks to that book, my life got transformed. I realised that Jesus was trying to save me but I just wanted to reject Him and sort myself out alone.

As I read the book I understood what it mean for God to send his only Son to Earth to die in suffering, in order to prevent the punishment we all deserved due to our neglecting of God and our unholy and violent behavior.

At that moment I can say I REALLY became a Christian and gave my whole life to Jesus

When I went back to Dublin for the second semester, I decided to join Christ City Church and I started to grow in confidence and understand how Jesus wanted to change my life. I also developed a love for the bible as a path for my life.

As I now look back on my life I can see that Jesus has kept me alive and kept me going. He saved me when I was in depression, He made me happy again, He helped and supported me a lot in my life, He took my burden when I was about to crumble.

I also came to realise how Jesus is the key for salvation. For me, the old covenant given to Moses long ago was no longer valid as Jesus made a new covenant with us.

The big difference is a personal resurrection, I put an end to my former life and got renewed with Jesus.

I consider I have a New Life. I do not identify myself anymore to the functioning of this world. I think I don’t belong anymore to this world. I want to follow Jesus and receive his blessings now and for eternal life when I’ll meet Him. I now realise that without Jesus my suffering would have been far worse

Since becoming a Christian my life has changed in 3 main ways

Firstly I am more confident. I have always been an idealist, but I lost complete confidence and hope when I realized that by myself I wouldn’t change anything, and this made me become violent and aggressive. Now that I am a Christian, I am able to do good around me without this being constantly giving up and I know in Heaven the existence of the ideal world I had been looking for.

Secondly my character has changed – God has made me I decided to be gentler, wiser, humbler, even when I don’t receive the same back off other people. However I still have a long way to go and I’d like to grow in my faith, especially in the areas of anxiety and forgiveness. I am a very anxious person and I want to learn to trust God more for the future. I’d also like to be less and less resentful towards people who hurt me.

Thirdly I have new ambitions – My goal is to know always more, and to change always more my knowledge about Christ. I have decided to let Jesus do everything for me without fearing the days to come.

Following Christ is however not always easy, especially about forgiveness and fear for me. I enjoy behaving kindly and trying to imitate Christ but of course I don’t enjoy being morally assaulted, insulted, beaten even or having to forgive my enemies. I think it’s one of the inevitable things to do when we follow Christ, we have to carry our cross with us.

The main reason I want to get baptised is because it is prescribed by our Lord Jesus and I want to mark my new life as a Christian in the way he told us how.

Thank you for listening.

The Dublin Banquet inspired by Jesus’ parable in Luke 14

11 May 2014

Last week I wrote this blog post regarding a banquet we were giving our Fearless Team 48 hours to prepare. It was inspired by Luke 14. Do read about why we did in that blog post. Here is a quick video of how it went…truly thrilling!



For more pictures and updates do check out the Facebook page and the twitter handle – @banquetdublin

Well done Christian and the team.

The Intro Course – How Do We Know If It’s True? (By Fergus Ryan)

8 May 2014

This week we started The Intro Course which is all about asking the big questions of life. Week 1 was all to do with meaning and finding the meaning of life. Week 2 is going to be about truth and how can we know anything at all and I am delighted to say that Fergus Ryan will be speaking.

Fergus is a man who wears many hats – husband, father, grandfather, (ex)pilot, (ex)church leader, professional artist and a (wannabe?) philosopher and theologian. I have known him for just over 2 years now and have learnt lots from him and enjoy every discussion I have with him (in every conversation we agree on about 20-70% of what we are talking about, which is why I so enjoy talking to him).

Anyway, do check out his website and Facebook page to find out more about him.  Here is a short synopsis of what we will be looking at next Wednesday, 14th May, at 6.30pm in the upstairs room of the Harbour Master Pub.

I miss the days when we could have good old old-fashioned arguments about which view of reality was really the truth—things like the meaning of being alive at all, about hope and love, and what is truly good or bad, and whether there is another dimension of existence after we die, or the reason for evil in the world, or whether there is a personal intelligence behind everything, a god of some kind. And how would you find out all this stuff?

Things have changed, though, and now whatever anyone thinks is their truth, it’s true for them. Now that really is a very big change indeed, and it changes the meaning of the word ‘true’! On the one hand it’s made us more tolerant of the views of others—everyone’s view is OK, but only so long as they don’t claim that what they think is actually true! Then they’re, well… wrong! The ‘idea’ of God may help some people, but that doesn’t say anything about whether it’s true or not.

Like I said, ‘true’ used to mean something like ‘the way it really is’. Like ‘God’, for example; or ‘no god’. So the big question then is how do you know anything at all? There have always been two ways of going about it. The first idea is that truth is sort of built into us, it’s innate, a sort of collective memory of reality, inside us. We just know things in our knower, like triangles are triangular. The other, more familiar way of knowing, is that we experience reality outside us; we can measure it, just like science does.

So how would we go about deciding whether the existence of God is a fact? There have been many arguments put forth for God’s existence, some quite good, others less so, and perhaps they help us get up the ladder some distance. But they aren’t proofs in the usual sense, because God is not a thing you can put in a laboratory and analyse. The methods of scientific analysis are simply not calibrated to demonstrate whether a non-material ultimate personality like God exists, even if he does. Just as a thermometer can’t measure hope, or a ruler beauty, or a microscope meaning. Yet these things exist. Science can say a lot about what is materially real, but it’s not a theory of everything. Love and meaning and hope and beauty and goodness is an awful lot not to be able to say anything about!

Christianity does not arise, as many think, from some philosophical or pseudo-scientific proofs for the existence of God. In fact the apostle Paul says quite the opposite, that God saw to it, in his wisdom, that mankind, in its wisdom, could never find God! Get that. Philosophy may be helpful in considering the case for a God, but it is not an instrument calibrated to introduce you to God himself. Personally. Relationally. The Christian claim is much more direct: God came down the ‘ladder’ looking for us, and appeared in our history as Jesus. He did this, the message goes, because we are of ultimate worth, of inestimable value. He came for relationship, to give us back our sense of magnificence, to restore us to our true destiny. Just saying this doesn’t make it true, of course, but it’s definitely a game changer in the conversation about what is true. The question is totally different now. Was Jesus Christ really God coming looking for us? Is he looking for us now? And what if he finds us, or we him? If that’s true, everything, absolutely everything, is different.

Hopefully I’ll see you on Wednesday, with a pint in hand, to discuss how can we know anything at all…and how could we know whether God existed!



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