Arthur Davis sent me a link to a really intriguing article he wrote about the future of campus ministry, that we then read as a staff meeting here in Hobart.
It spells out ways that we can round out our campus ministries to be more effective in all four of the following modes:
3. Apologetics and
Historically here in Australia, Arthur says, we are strong on the first three, but not so much on the fourth—unless it is a debate or a ‘dialogue meeting’, where the focus remains maining apologetics and evangelism. He is pushing in this article for us to think more about how we can genuinely contrbute to the life of the university, not merely as outsider missionaries coming in to train and to preach, but as citizens of the community, seeking to enrich the whole academic endeavour and formation of university students.
Arthur sees the ministry of the Simeon Network in Australia, connecting Christian academics to think deeply about how their faith informs their research as an example of this.
What I like
I like the desire for holism. Evangelism should be more than the thin, fundamentalist type of preaching. Discipleship should be more than being accountable about pornography use and daily quiet times. Training should be more than how to share you faith and run a Bible study.
I also agree that we want Christian groups that exist as part of the larger university community and are good and engaged citizens of that community. This is why I favour Christian Unions over uni churches doing evangelism to uni students. A Christian Union is able to be more deliberately and demonstrably committed to the university. They exist for the sake of the uni, whereas uni churches can sometimes seem to have a slightly more mercenary relationship: we are merely coming on to campus to save souls and scoop up potential congregation members.
I like the outlook that sees graduates as a third part of campus ministry. Graduates from Chrsitian Unions should not simply be seen as a recruiting ground for apprenticeships and a support raising base. Christian Unions are well positioned to keep investing at that high university-educated level into the gradutes from the ministry as they go into their working lives. Even if we can't do heaps in this area, it seems fitting that we should do something… or work closely with groups like City Bible Forum and Simeon Network who can pick up where we left off.
What I’m cautious about
1. There is a limiation to how many events and programs we can run: the reality is, there are only so many events we can fit into our calendar, only so many things we can organise, promote, run, and follow up. Given the limited time and energy we have, I am convinced that the main focus for Christian groups should be evangelism and leadership training, rather than holistic worldview interaction. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to do this, but just that it can’t be our main emphasis.
2. You don’t need a new event, program or publication for every distinct thing: the lazy way to fix a perceived lack is to start something new—a new conference, event or website that will focus on the lacking area. And so it might seem like the positive response to Arthur’s article is to start new events that facilitate more of the dialogic engagemenet with the university. And the risk is that this takes too much time and energy to be sustainable.
However there are two other solutions which I try to work out in our local ministry and which are more efficient:
a) Weave holistic integration into the existing programs: Chrsitian Union meetings, missions, debates and dinners are all contributions to the life of the university. They are all para-univeristy structures, just like the Philosophy Club or the Alumi Keynote or the Residential College Tutorial Program. The best Christian Union evangelism and discipleship is academically deep and stimulating and so ticks all 4 boxes.
b) Encourage Christians to engage with the structures of the university itself: we don’t need new programs, new lectures, new publications. We can keep encouraging journalist students to be invovled with the student newspaper, politics students to weigh into student politics, high achievers to engage in various Dean’s List programs, residential students to connect with that community.
3. There is a limitation to how open Australian academics are to new networks: I am also delighted to see the growth of the Simeon Network, and hopeful that it will go from strength to strength. But my limited experience of interacting with Chrsitian academics, as well as the bits and pieces I hear from other campus pastors, is that they don’t all have the energy or inclination to invest in a new program.
These are busy people with lots of commitments. And some of them go to thoughtful churches that serve them well in their efforts to integrate their research with their faith. They are engaged in ministry through their local church or other networks they are engaged in. Not all academics are necessarily interested in taking on a new commitment to meet, write and present to a Christian academic forum, nor to mentor young Christians in their field.
Perhaps in places like Tanzania, where Arthur is, where there are a higher percentage of Christians in the university faculties, there will be larger numbers overall that make this kind of stuff bigger and more vibrant. But as with other cautions in this post, I don’t want to tie holistic Christianity to programs, events and publications committed to holistic Christianity.
4. Participation and Dialogue is Massively Time Consuming and Minimally Effective
In so many areas, it is true that more time talking, listening, eating and laughing would build connection and respect and understanding. This is true for families, staff teams, neighbourhoods, members of different political factions, staff and students, different nationalities, different religious groups. We could spend all our free time building rapport and connecting and understanding. It’s a nice idea. But it doesn’t in the end achieve much. And it takes heaps of time and resources to organise. It’s idealistic and after a while, exhausting.
Surely there’s a better way? Surely we can weave a stance of relationship building into productive activities. Can we take the time to listen and connect and love as we go about our business?
- Rather than set up staff-and-student morning teas, take the time to chit chat before and after class.
- Rather than set up getting-to-know-you meetings with other student societies, go and talk to them when they have stalls set up around the campus, and be friendly with those posted near you at O Week markets.
- Rather than hosting inter-religious dialogues, ask for their input when you are going to prepare teaching and training on topics related to their beliefs, or listen to members of those religions when they attend your events.