Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When the Bell Fell Silent: The Church, the Parachurch, and Christian Witness to the American University, Pt. 3

So here we are. We've got an overdeveloped parachurch and an underdeveloped local church in relation to the college campus. Where do we go from here?

Well, I'm not the answer-man, but I will take a crack at this. I would suggest that the primary need we have is for a pastoral corps that has been trained to love people, to preach the Word faithfully and powerfully, and to engage the thought and practice of the culture. If our local churches are going to reclaim the college campus as a place of considerable investment, they must be led by men who are equipped to reach out to students and to engage their questions. Though this may not be ideal, college students, often in the flower of youthful hubris and pride, tend to blow off people who they sense don't really "get" them. Our pastors do not need to be professors. But they do need to reject the anti-intellectualism of the twentieth-century model, and they need to be able to engage sophisticated theological, moral, and philosophical questions. Again, they don't need to be professorial as they do so. Pastors, when they are gifted in both personality and intellect, are uniquely suited to reach students, because students generally enjoy both a lively, warm personality and a strong, nimble mind. Pastors should seek to love students through their engaging personalities and should couple this love with an awareness of the questions that confront the particular generation to which they are ministering. For example, it is great to know all about Francis Schaeffer and what he said, but the questions Schaeffer confronted in his day, while still quite relevant to ours, are nonetheless not the same as those that our students face. Thus we should take it upon ourselves to read up, to honestly engage the intellectual questions of our day.

Some pastors who read this will think, "But even then, I won't be able to refute the highest level of intellectual scholarship." Well, you don't need to. You will go a long way to connecting with students simply by trying. In addition, if you can be in touch with books and people that do refute anti-Christian thought with considerable facility, then you can refer students to those resources, and they will be stimulated.

Why am I spending so much time on intellectual matters? Because that's where many students are--figuring out the big questions. Groups like Campus Crusade know this, and that is one reason why they are so successful in reaching students--they ask, and answer, the big questions.

Beyond this, churches must develop strong discipleship programs which they can plug students into. This is huge. We cannot simply hold a meal once in a while if we expect to reclaim the rightful place of the local church in relation to the college campus. We need to plug students into discipling relationships, hold events that they can come to, bring in speakers, integrate students into the family lives of our members, and so much more. Students have--despite what they may think--lots of free time, and parachurch groups know this and plan accordingly. So should we. We must not assume that we will fill the role of the parachurch simply by holding a solitary event once in a while. We will not. This is difficult for seminarians to hear, because we so want to reach out to students, and yet there is so little time to do so. For example, when I was leading college ministry at my church, I was painfully aware of how little I was actually doing to reach students in the ways I've just listed.

I very much hope in the future to be able to focus more time and energy in these areas, because unless the local church considerably ramps up its outreach to students, the parachurch will continue to be seen as their primary place of discipleship. This should not be so. We need tons of local churches to commit themselves to considerable investment in the college campuses in their communities. We need young men to get a bold and ambitious vision for the college campus and to attain training and personal development so that they can minister effectively to students. We need our average church member to see the college campus as a mission field, not an enemy training base. We need families to get a heart for students and to invite them into their homes for meals and meaningful fellowship. I do not hold myself out as the exemplar of such activity. But I do think that I am talking about one of the serious deficiencies of the local church in America, and I want in the future to be a part of the solution. I want to be a man who plots strategically, ambitiously, and prayerfully to make a significant impact on a college campus. I hope that some out there will catch the same vision if they have not already.

Perhaps in days to come the bell will ring once more.

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