big idea #4: figure out churchmanship

As I continue in the series of 10 ideas that God might use to transform a college ministry, I come to Number 4. This is one idea my big trip emphasized for me in a HUGE way.

That potentially transforming idea?

It’s important to decide what you (as a college minister) believe about local church involvement.

It would be easy to assume one of two things at this point:

  1. This idea only matters for church-based college ministers, because campus-based college ministries and Christian colleges don’t deal directly with “church.”
  2. This idea only matters for campus-based college ministers and ministers at Christian colleges, because church-based ministers have “church” figured out.

But I disagree on both counts! After interviewing hundreds of college ministers from the various branches of college ministry, I can say that one of our most prevalent traits appears to be a lack of ecclesiology. I don’t mean we have bad ecclesiology… I mean we have little ecclesiology! Many college ministers simply haven’t done much work to decide what we honestly believe students’ church involvement should look like – both now and in their future years.

Meanwhile, students themselves seem to have no idea what to think about church or what the Bible might or might not say about this area. This includes those who happen to be plugged in to church-based college ministries.

But wait! The main enduring community available to these students over their lifetime will probably be some form of “church.” Plus, it does seem that the New Testament demands involvement in the Body of Christ… and even includes some rules and principles for that involvement.

If that is true, then churchmanship (an old-school but awesome word) is a really important topic to discuss with students, in no small part because it prepares them for living in Christian community for the rest of their entire lives. Churchmanship is even more key, perhaps, than some of what we feel inclined to teach or some of what they feel inclined to learn.

[Continued in the next post.]


  1. So many thoughts…first off is how do we define “church”? Second, as some people think, it is the campus based ministers job to teach his/her students the importance of involvement in the “local church”. If this is the case, then what is the proper role of the campus based minister on campus? Is it merely a funnel to a local church? (I know church leaders who think this way). And if it is to be a funnel to the local church, then which one? And then, if the students do choose to get involved in the local church, then what should the students involvement be in the campus ministry? Have you seen this tension in your travels? How are campus ministers successfully dealing with this tension?

  2. Exactly! It’s a big mess! :)

    Because we don’t have solid, well-decided, biblical definitions of “church” or solid, well-decided, biblical recommendations for how students do “church involvement,” we’ve got major issues in this area.

    Taking your questions in order, here are my opinions…

    1. As for defining “church,” the post after this one gives my answer about finding a definition.

    2. Yes, I do think it is any college ministers’ job to teach their students biblical truth about personal involvement in the Body of Christ. I believe this is one vital area of discipleship for college ministries.

    (Note: I’m not sure church-based college ministers are generally doing any better in this area than campus-based college ministers or chaplains at Christian colleges.)

    3.-6. Answers to each of these hinge on our biblical definition of church (see #1). Once we get that down, we’ll be able to make decisions on these.

    7. I have DEFINITELY seen this tension. This “church involvement” issue is the biggest tension out there between college ministers. I kinda think it stays that way because very few seem to have a good handle on what they believe OR what everybody else believes… which certainly doesn’t bode well for cohabitation of the mission field.

    8. I don’t necessarily see a whole lot of success in this area, although the tension is certainly lessened as college ministers build relationships with each other. (It’s amazing what community can accomplish.)

    But, the success I have seen has probably come when particular ministers have worked through what they believe about ecclesiology and then have gone about college ministry in ways that hold that standard… WHILE remaining very flexible about anything they don’t feel the Bible compels in this area.

  3. Thanks for delving in to this topic. I still wrestle with this issue because involvement in the local church often feels extraneous to students. College life spent with Jesus is an exciting context, but often feels like it lacks sustainability. Unfortunately, it seems like students always tend toward a) the campus group as their “church” or b) involvement in the local church at the expense of involvement on campus. I seldom see students transcend these common roles.

    In your travels did you experience a better way?

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