Notes from the Front

I’m writing this in the middle of a very full New Student Orientation day. I will say, there are far more colleges in Chicagoland than I realized. It seems like every time I drive anywhere, I end up having to Google some new school when I get home, ’cause I saw a highway sign like “Chowchow College, Exit 43C.” But the abundance of schools is fairly commonplace for big Metro settings, I figure – and yet it makes figuring out college ministry a little bit tricky. Starting a college ministry? Where would you start? I look forward, after the dust of orientations clears, to interviewing those college ministers who attempt this valiant effort here in Chicagoland.

In any case, there is something incredibly exciting about seeing a campus full of Freshmen – these are our ministry for the next 4-or-so years. They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, either, nor how much of a junction this all is. More on that later.

I promised details from the past weekend, so that’s the rest of this blog. I’ll report fully on Orientations after this first round is over. Clearly, the main purpose of this trip is not to report on churches as much as it is their college ministries. But if we don’t recognize that the church service (and other pieces of a church) are huge parts of their outreach to students, then we’ve already missed a major point.

But beyond even that, this is a year of experiences. So there will be plenty that I “investigate” not because it’s particularly “collegiate” but because it is particularly “fun.” Giddy-up.

Wait – there’s more. It has come time in ye olde blogge for the DISCLAIMER. This one’s so important, I’m going to go to great lengths to give it its own heading…


I truly believe that opportunities to learn wisdom surround us on all sides, all day, from just about all quarters – conservative-evangelical-Christian and otherwise. You may or may not agree with that. But for me, this is a year of heightening our chances for victory through interaction with many counselors (Prov. 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Even some I might have major difficulties with – philosophically, methodologically, even theologically. I’m learning, regardless of whether I’m agreeing.

So… please, please, please recognize that I might investigate and/or discuss some schools, churches, people, & ministries that I might not ultimately recommend to potential contributors, attenders, and constituents. But I’m aiming for “charitable” this year, as I encounter lots of things to learn – to learn what’s good, what’s bad, and just what’s out there. So be charitable with me! Please don’t assume I’m a ______________ just because I discuss somebody who is a ______________. Even the most ridiculous or audacious ______________s are important to investigate, and some could even have an occasional good/interesting/surprising idea, right?

Of course, this doesn’t mean I value all contributions to our collective understanding equally, and neither should you. In the end, we should very seriously analyze all these things, because “What is right is not always popular; what is popular is not always right.” If your 4th grade teacher didn’t have that above the chalkboard…

Disclaimer All Done

Whew! Sorry for all the “Pre” to this post.

Now, I’m not real sure what kind o’ stuff you’ll find interesting about my various activities (in this case, church visits). So feel free to ask questions (for example, my buddy Kirk already did a few blogs ago), and I’ll try to get a feel for what interests you. Meanwhile, it is my blog, so I’m sure you’ll get a healthy dose of what interests me!

5 churches this weekend. How did I decide? A lot like freshmen might – by convenience, by those I felt most interested me at Saturday’s church fair, by reputation, and one church purely by Google. There are plenty of other ways students find a church, but I’m playing the no-friends-know-nothing-new-to-town freshman. Which, I basically am.

Beyond that, I’m not sure these views of church will provide much – yet – in the way of “collegiate ministry research.” In weeks to come, what I saw this weekend will be paired with lots of further data to provide composite pictures of collegiate experiences. But since you’re experiencing the nation with me this year, I want you to see what I see, even incrementally. We can put it all together in coming days, after this portion of the ride comes to a complete stop.

A correction to my earlier reporting: I actually saw six videos across Saturday night and Sunday. They were:

  • a clip from “Freedom Writers”
  • a “Way of the Master” evangelism clip
  • a Steven Curtis Chapman video
  • an apparently-homemade (but well done) “theme video”
  • a video honoring a youth minister’s tenure
  • and an Audio Adrenaline video played during the offering

So there ya’ go. Now, here are the churches I visited, how I picked ’em, and any notes I wanna give (remember, you can ask anything else you want to know):

Saturday night: Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington campus (the mother ship of the Willow Creek churches)

wcreeksanctuary.jpgObviously, I was gonna check out Willow Creek while in Chicago, and I do look forward to finding out about their collegiate programs. In the case of Saturday night, though, there weren’t a lot of services I could get to quick enough from the Trinity campus (and I was late to this one, in the end).

The drive up to Willow Creek is a meandering “stroll” through some very pretty nature. I could certainly picture arriving after a hectic morning, breathing deep as I noticed ducks and lake and trees, and settling on the God who made all that. Sweet.

Sunday morning #1: Harvest Bible Chapel, Lake Zurich

HBC Lake Zurich is a true “plant” of the big Harvest Bible Chapel; there are several of these in the area, as well as some simulcasting satellites, as well.

I chose HBCLZ because the guy who turned out to be their pastor (I think that was him) was particularly friendly at the Trinity International University / Trinity Evangelical Divinity School / Trinity Graduate School church fair the afternoon before. Their materials, additionally, stated “We Love Trinity Students” real big, which I thought was cool. I also figured, since this was “orientation weekend” for Trinity, that students might be drawn there – it’s close, just off Half Day Road, which runs right into the Trinity campus.

There were actually three HBC sites at the Trinity church fair – the “mother ship,” LZ, and HBC Gurnee, a new plant that starts September 9th. (Hope I’m not leaving anybody out.)

Sunday Morning, Take 2: Evangelical Free Church of Libertyville

The only church with an actual Denomination of the weekend, Libertyville EV Free was picked because of their presence at the Church Fair, the materials they provided there, and my assumption that it, too, might be a popular choice with Trinity students. (I didn’t realize that Trinity is an EV Free school before this trip.) In fact, the gal I sat next to did choose for just that reason – she comes out of an EV Free church back home, and her parents wanted to go with her.

The Youth Minister (who did some announcements) and the Pastor mentioned college students in some context or another about 4 times. That was impressive, as was the “spur-of-the-moment” announcement of the need for volunteers to help pick up students on Sundays based on the need assessed the afternoon before at the church fair. So the church body actually listened to students and adjusted their practice accordingly, if you’d believe it.

Sunday Night #1: Moody Church

moodychurchjusttitle.jpgThe famed Moody Church was my stop for Sunday night. As stated in an earlier blog, Sunday night services aren’t so prevalent here – at least with the churches I’ve checked into so far. So this service was found simply because of reputation – I knew of Moody Church, so I looked to see if it had a Sunday night service. Indeed, it does.

This wasn’t exactly a “service”; they called it a “class,” and it was – an exegetical look at Jesus’ “the sheep and the goats” non-parable. And, happily enough after no dinner for Benson, this class came complete with SunChips and strawberry shortcake. (And some other stuff, but that’s what I ate.) Certainly seems like the kind of place that could be popular with Moody Bible Institute students, especially ’cause it’s just a few blocks away. (I think. I’m still learning this city.)

[John MacArthur’s on Larry King Live right now. I think I’ll be visiting his church later on this trip.]

Sunday Night Numero Dos: City Church

This was my purely Google-found church, although not in the way you might expect. When I searched for “Sunday night service” or something similar, I found a Chicago Tribune article; it actually took me a good long while to locate the church’s web site. As a new, middle-of-the-city church, it will be interesting to see if City Church will pick up any college students – it’s certainly targeted toward that sort of crowd. It meets in the Main Stage room at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown – a nice quick drive from Moody Church for me.

City Church is “city plant” of Family Christian Center, a TBN-genre, suburban megachurch actually just on the Indiana side of things. The pastor of City Church is the son of FCC’s pastor, and surprisingly his just-had-a-baby wife was right up there leading worship.

This was actually the site of the glass-walking. So that nobody gets the wrong idea, please know that the pastor made it very clear that there was nothing “supernatural” about his walking on glass as an illustration in his message. Like any youth pastor might, he used the glass pile as a (really good) illustration throughout his message of how we avoid or delay encountering trials that God actually wants us to walk through. It sure kept my attention, as he would periodically mash his bare foot down in that glass. Yikes.

At the end (and after he walked all the way through the pile), he erased any remaining “mystical” misconception by saying anybody could come down and learn how to do it after the message. So, obviously, a bunch of us did. You gotta walk on broken glass barefoot when you have the chance, right?


Well, there you go. Weekend one, with all the churches pertaining thereto. Some of you probably want a whole lot more info (if you’re like me). In that case, JUST ASK. Anything you want to, down to the nitty-gritty. Either in the comments, or send me an email (my email is under “About Benson“).

Others gave up on this post a long time ago, I’m sure. And that’s okay, too.

I’m gonna go now. Some of the freshmen are competing in some sort of crazy games, and then they’re bringing in an Improv troupe tonight. Sweet. I’m gonna go check that out.

Pictures – hopefully – tomorrow.


  1. Thanks, yo.

    Nope, this wasn’t the big one (or a satellite). It was a true church plant, just pretty close to “home.” They have their own pastor – Mel Svendsen. I do look forward to hearing McDonald on his home turf (or at a satellite) on of these days.

  2. Joanne

    Wow…just after reading this I am worn out. You are getting my prayers for strength and endurance! I think I remember you saying you had more orientations today and tomorrow, so good luck getting everything done once again before your weekend church adventure.

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