does your college ministry give spiritual support to smarties?

In two separate conversations with two professors recently, I Peter 3:15 was brought up in the context of how college ministry does (or doesn’t) offer students collegiate-level answers to their faith-questions.

First, the verse:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (I Pet. 3:15 ESV)

You may, like me, be more familiar with the translation that commands us to be ready to “give an answer,” but the exact wording here isn’t really the issue. (Though if the ESV reading is best, then it argues my point all the more, as you’ll see.)

In my discussions with those profs, both were concerned that college ministry by and large doesn’t know how to deal with students (or others in the college community) who ask the hard, academic, complex questions about Christianity. In other words, we don’t always offer our students a way to get answers that accord with the questions raised within the very setting in which we serve.

These professors’ concern is a concern worth hearing, especially because it comes from Christians who operate in that same world – and yet are uniquely suited to understanding the kind of answers needed within the university setting.

The author of the recent “Missional Campus Ministry” series at the Jesus Creed blog recently noted the same concern:

The university or college campus is a mission field in many ways – and the pressures on eager undergraduates on their own for the first time are immense. … The broad middle of the student population is a group in need of attention – and I appreciate the hard work that goes into evangelism, relationship, and discipleship in a wide range of active campus ministries.

But we need more than this as well…

We need to be able to ‘meet the university on its own terms: discussion of issues that matter in a way that meets the university’s own ideal standards of engagement, standards of both courteous respect and intellectual rigour.‘” [that last bit quoted from a post by John Stackhouse]

I happen to be somebody who has always been academically strong, and I know the loneliness of not knowing who – if anyone – might be able to help me navigate through the more complex issues that arise in our faith. Had my major or circumstances been even slightly different, it would have been quite easy for despair to set in – or worse. Because for all the greatness of the college ministry experience I had at Texas A&M, spiritual support for “smarties” wasn’t obvious at all.

Those two posts – on Jesus Creed and on John Stackhouse’s blog – go further into this and better into this. So I urge you to take a look.

The answers to this vital concern don’t require all college ministers to be bookworms or to be brilliant. But obeying – and helping our students obey – I Peter 3:15 will probably require a different preparation than if we were serving elsewhere.

All missionaries have to study answers to the questions of their unique tribe, right?

written from some Motel 6 in Eastern Ohio…


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Road Trip 13: Days 38 & 39 recap
recap: finished out my time at the college ministers’ conference, then flew back to Ohio to pick up my car and head eastward! (see all explorations so far)
T-shirts: the Eagle tribe of Emory, and the Hardrockers (!) of South Dakota School of Mines
thursday: on to Pittsburgh (and beyond), including connecting with Coalition for Christian Outreach national office people

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