two different fields

As I stated in the first post in this mini-series, it’s unwise for me to wade too assertively into areas I haven’t studied well. So tomorrow will be a day of trepidation, as I discuss briefly the apparent advantages and difficulties of students’ spiritual formation at Christian colleges in general.

But first, I should note an extremely important distinction, and it’s a distinction that can help any of us college ministers who happen to be near Christian colleges.

Christian college chaplaincy IS part of the “field” of college ministry. I believe those in Christian colleges’ spiritual life departments are in the same “field of study” as campus-based and church-based college ministers. So while the contexts are different, we can collaborate, cooperate, and even debate as members of the same field.

BUT…

Christian colleges as entire institutions are NOT within that same field of study. That field – Christian Higher Education – is its own field, with its own research, professional organizations, history, etc. So knowing college ministry well gives us no standing to discuss Christian schools as a whole. We might have some insight to offer and questions to ask, but unless we’ve studied this area as well, then we have to remember that we are outsiders here.

In fact, these institutions may even struggle to understand their own in-house college minister, the college chaplain (whatever he or she happens to be called). That’s because what the school does (Christian Higher Education) and what the chaplain does (College Ministry) are different fields.

The subject of Christian Higher Education is actually a much more developed field than our own. From what I can tell, there are more resources, more opportunities for serious and complex discussion of specific issues, and more of a “professional mindset” within this field. Groups like CCCU, NACCAP, etc., allow for field advancement for Christian Higher Ed in ways college ministry doesn’t seem to have found (yet).

So here’s my encouragement: I know there can be frustrations in dealing with Christian colleges. But I would hope we can understand that Christian Higher Education is a separate field from our own. If anyone wants to help impact that field, they have lots to study before broaching the subject in any major way.

In the meantime, whether we’re serving in a church, in a campus-based ministry, or even as a staff member at one of these schools, our best way forward here is our best way forward everywhere:

Approach the campus as a unique tribe, and build your best campus mission in light of this unique context.

Written from Cedarville University, Cedarville, OH

Road Trip #11 update (Day 37)
yesterday’s T-shirt: the Lancer tribe of California Baptist University

update: At the NACCAP conference all day today; please pray as I continue to prepare to speak on Friday!
(
click here to see all the explorations from Road Trip #11)

2 Comments

  1. Benson, I appreciate your insights and counterpoint(s). I agree these are currently not in the same field. I think that’s the problem. That’s why I was part of starting a Christian college where all professors, spiritual life, etc. was cohesive. And, we made sure everything was/is working in, for and through the local church.

  2. Can you explain more of what you mean by, “I think that’s the problem”? Are you saying that you want Christian Higher Education to mirror the approach / methodologies / models of College Ministry?

    If that’s the case, I disagree. While certainly I think the two fields can learn some things from each other, there is too much non-overlap for them to be considered part of the same field.

    I’m thankful I don’t have to read books on student retention or core curriculum philosophies, and I’m guessing Christian College professors aren’t going to read about reaching fraternities for Jesus or how to exegete a campus culture for the sake of building a longstanding mission there.

    Meanwhile, I think that most major Evangelical schools would claim that they are striving to be cohesive in the way you describe. I would guess that most schools differ on the “how,” not on whether that’s important.

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