first thoughts on church & campus community

A few days ago, I wrote a post highlighting an issue I’m feeling more and more is crucial in for us to address. The issue’s old-school name is churchmanship – in this case, describing the involvement of college students in local churches during their collegiate career.

Especially if you are a college minister, youth minister, parent, or pastor, I urge you to begin letting this topic “marinade” within you. We’ve got to do better in this area, especially when well over half of our Christian, “youth group” kids are leaving the church during or soon after their “youth group years.” Yikes! Double yikes!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to catch up on the topic by looking at:

This post, summarizing and linking to the recent Lifeway Church Dropout Study and discussion of that information. (More has been added to the discussion since this summer, too.)

This post from last week, detailing the church-involvement discussion at Wheaton College so far this semester.

In this follow-up, I just wanted to offer “first thoughts” of my own on this issue. At the end of the post, I link to more from Wheaton – some important chapel messages from the Spring Semester. So, if you’re interested, click “Keep Reading” to read the rest of this post.

My first thoughts:

  • This issue is on a lot of minds. I’ve heard about this “church” issue multiple times during this trip, and that’s only in 7 weeks. It came up in relation to Christian schools in Chicagoland, as well as in regard to campus-based ministries on secular campuses. But I’ve also been hearing more and more about local churches in the life of college students for a few years now. So maybe God’s working on us particularly in this area. We’ll see!
  • I do believe in church. For the record, I personally believe strongly that committed local church involvement is a crucial part of Christian life. I believe the New Testament makes that clear, both in its commands and its expectations. That’s why I care so much about this issue; if I’m right, then students fully finding the “story” God has for them requires committed church involvement.
  • But our definition may be a problem. A big part of the difficulty may lie in our “walking definition” of church. (By “walking definition,” I mean the way we talk about church normally, regardless of how we might actually “define” it if pressed to do so. The walking definition is what our students absorb, especially if we haven’t ever given an explicit actual definition…) If we highlight “church” as primarily a place we get solid teaching and worship together, for instance, then we can’t expect students to look for anything more than a good campus Bible study or chapel service, right? Maybe inadequate implicit and explicit definitions of church are why brilliant Christian college students (like those at Wheaton) can profess a really poor understanding of the whys and whats of the Body of Christ.
  • As a college minister, I have certainly seen the fruits of this first-hand. Because they don’t have a strong definition of church – or strong arguments for why church matters – this area is a pretty big struggle during college.
  • Overcorrection may be in play, too. One thing I’ve been thinking recently is that our failure here may have arisen partly through overcorrection of past mistakes. I know when I was growing up, I heard a lot of youth speakers talk about how they were made to feel guilty if they weren’t in church “every time the doors were open.” This, they correctly observed, was legalism. But while I heard about anti-legalism a lot, I don’t remember hearing much regarding the importance of solid church commitment. It was good they told me that God is okay with the occasional sleeping-in on Sunday morning (for example). But also give me a good argument for why I generally shouldn’t. If we were “falling off the horse” into legalism a generation ago, it seems our (over)correction has led to the same result on the horse’s other side today.

These are first thoughts, that’s all. These are the kinds of things I’ve been throwing around with college ministers on this trip already. The Wheaton articles provide other good starting points, as well.

In light of this issue on his campus last semester, Wheaton’s chaplain organized a week of chapel messages devoted to the topic. (In those mornings, students also gave testimonies of their own involvement in local churches, too, I believe.) In my opinion, these messages are quite helpful. If you are interested in this discussion, I encourage you to take the time to listen.

From the site:

  • February 26, 2007 (download the mp3): Dr. Mark Husbands, Wheaton College Assistant Professor of Theology. This is the message directly referenced in the Letter to the Editor from the Anthropology professor. This is also a pretty theological message and is therefore fairly dry – but don’t let that scare you, or keep you from listening to the other two, which are more lively.
  • February 28, 2007 (download the mp3): Dr. Christine Gardner, Wheaton College Assistant Professor of Communication.
  • March 2, 2007 (download the mp3): Dr. Brian Howell, Wheaton College Associate Professor of Anthropology. This is the prof who wrote that Letter to the Editor in the series of Wheaton articles.

Listen to those messages if you can!

And if you want yet another good resource on this topie, I have read Joshua Harris’s book Stop Dating the Church and found it a great, modern “primer” for this discussion.

So there you go. I’ve got to get to sleep. Peace out, from Boone, NC.

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