chi alpha, from the outside

I’ve had a few cool opportunities recently to “dive in” in extra-special ways to various campus ministry groups – and then to return to the surface with something to share. After the Urbana conference, I got to highlight InterVarsity. After the local Campus Crusade Winter Conference, I shared the ways it reflects Cru as a whole. And after my surprise trip to a conference last August, I shared some distinctives of the campus ministries of the Independent Christian Churches. (For all the Profiles of individual ministries, check out that category.)

Hopefully those posts have been helpful, whether you’re outside of those groups (like me) or whether you’re inside (to see the viewpoint of an educated outsider)!

So that leads to today’s post, yet another Profile on a major college ministry org, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. If you’re unfamiliar, not-super-familiar, or completely familiar with Chi Alpha, below you’ll find my take on some of their key distinctives – especially in comparison to the wider world of college ministries out there.

But make no mistake: Whether you know a Chi Alpha ministry or not, this is one of THE major college ministries in the U.S. – certainly among the 4 or 5 best-known. (More on that tomorrow.)

This past semester, I had the marvelous chance to visit 10 chapters of Chi Alpha. The innovative National Office guys actually sponsored me to visit their ministries around the country, attend their large group meetings, visit with their Campus Pastors, and write articles about what I saw. Not a bad plan for sharing their strengths with supporters and other constituents, I thought.

I had, of course, been around Chi Alpha ministries before. And those guys have actually been some of the most supportive of my exploits – including spreading my free book – of anybody out there. Now that I’ve gotten an even bigger national picture, I wanted to share some of the perspective I’ve gained. Hopefully it’s a helpful introduction…

College minister, meet Chi Alpha.

community

I recognize that a sizable portion of college ministry energy across the board is spent working to build community, so it’s not particularly interesting that XA ministries aim for that target. What does seem to be noticeable is their success in hitting it.

“Community” – or if you prefer the trendy use of Greek, koinonia – is of course fairly intangible and even more unquantifiable. But the fact that I’ve visited hundreds of college ministries in the last few years, yet notice a high level of “community-ness” in Chi Alpha ministries, has to mean something, right? I don’t mean that they’re nice to me – although they’ve been great hosts and seem to have built a cool climate of hospitality (or at least meal-reimbursement!). I mean that I observe out-of-the-ordinary camaraderie – among students and between students and leaders – in chapter-after-chapter, in a unique way.

Like all aspects, your local Chi Alpha ministry may differ. But the level of community I’ve seen in XA has been noticeable. That’s all I’m sayin’.

training

Perhaps more than any other aspect of Chi Alpha, I get excited about the way new Campus Pastors are trained. (Check that: There’s an aspect I’ll bring up tomorrow that’s even better.)

While I haven’t learned every detail of the XA system, the distinctive point to me is the standard internship year. New Campus Pastors (whether recently graduated or older) apply to various internships around the U.S.. Only a handful of Chi Alpha chapters have generally housed interns; these designated locales seem to be strong campus ministries that also have experienced Campus Pastors to oversee the internship. So the internship year is a sort of “apprenticeship” – notably, at a location where most apprentices did not go to school and where most will not remain.

I recognize that other ministries have training and internships, and maybe some do it this way, too. But here’s the huge asset for Chi Alpha: They end up with so many college ministers with multi-campus experience! I am totally devoted to the idea that having experience in multiple settings prepares college ministers in profound ways – I’ve seen the fruit time and time again, in conversations with all types of college ministers and through my own multi-campus exposure.

Think about it. If I’m doing the math right, a large percentage of Chi Alpha campus ministers have experienced two or three different campus ministry settings AND have spent at least a year under a particularly strong leader. I’m telling you, the fruit of that system becomes clear with the XA Campus Pastors I meet.

more tomorrow! Here’s the continuation of this post. And feel free to add what you’ve seen (or correct what I’ve seen) – whether you’re a Chi Alpha insider or outsider!

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9 Comments

  1. Benson, thanks for the kind words about our training. I think you were with my son Matt at Cornell.
    We are excited with what we will roll out over the next few years. This fall we will offer as an augment to our internship an online servant leadership training curricula. We hope to add value to our graduates who will serve in the marketplace with a coherent theory of leadership.
    Then in about 3 years, we will offer through one of our AOG schools an online M.A. in Christian Leadership for our campus directors in a cohort learning experience.
    We are deeply committed to the training of collegians, graduates, and staff for a lifetime of service in the Kingdom of God.

  2. PC

    I am excited for your continued coverage of Chi Alpha.

    There is a Chi Alpha chapter at Sacramento State, which is primary university my students attend.

    I am a College and Young Adult pastor at one of those larger churches who still have a college and young adult ministry.

    Our involvement on campus is primarily driven by doing whatever we can to support those on-campus groups and organizations however we can. I try very hard not to be the mega-church trying to move in on groups who are already doing great things.

    Right now, at Sac State, IV and XA are really the only two strong groups, and they have both been great partners with us to reach the campus the best way we all know how. XA has been one of the stronger partnerships we have created.

  3. Harv,

    Thanks so much for your comments and adding to this. I’m excited about those training initiatives – both for your campus pastors and grads. Transition-Out ministry is one of the places College Ministry (of all kinds) needs a lot of work, so I’m excited y’all are tackling it!

    It was a blast hanging with Matt and his group among the Big Red tribe. And that certainly wasn’t the only time I’ve heard about your impact as I’ve met with Chi Alpha leaders.

  4. PC,

    Thanks a ton for your input. It’s VERY helpful to hear reports “from the ground” like that. I’m glad y’all have found partnership to be fruitful. I also really appreciate that this is your church’s M.O.

    I didn’t get to visit Sacramento State on this last trip (though I was hoping to), but one of these days…

  5. Eric Kuhn

    Hey Benson!
    Thanks for all the work you are doing for XA. It really is a blessing to have some “outsider” eyes to look at what’s going on.

    I’m an intern this year, not at a major CMIT school, but at the U of MN-Twin Cities. I know they are in the process of trying to become a CMIT school, but it has been amazing to have that cross-campus experience. (Although I went to school there and was very involved with CCC.) I now live in Winona, MN and do campus ministry there as well with XA and my church’s college ministry, The Lighthouse.

    I stay in the Twin Cities 3 days a week, but live in Winona and am there the rest of the week. I know Steph Peterson (our Winona XA Campus Pastor) told me you stopped through a couple months ago and I was bummed I wasn’t there as I have been reading your blogs and your book over the past year. You’ll have to come back sometime.

    Thanks again and may the Lord continue to lead you and provide for you!

    Eric

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