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Christian College Environments [2]

 —  May 20, 2009 — 27 Comments

Back on this again for part two. It’s no doubt that the mission of Christian colleges has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. And frankly, I’m fairly certain we’re not heading in the right direction with them.

I’m concerned that Christian colleges feel the need to provide yet another separate community apart from local churches. They have “spiritual life” directors and programs, campus pastors…you name it. Let’s think about this for a minute. Is that really the best thing? Is it really best to provide everything on a campus rather than putting that time and energy into connecting students into the life and body of a local church?

Why not connect them with a pastor in a local church? In my experience there can even be animosity in these situations. I have personally faced harsh opposition by seeking to be involved on some Christian college campuses. These campus pastors or spiritual life directors are very clear what their role is and what mine is. And I can tell you from their perspective mine is not on their campus. They have it under control. On these campuses, I simply leave that campus pastor to do their “job” – but frankly I leave with a broken heart, knowing full well that those students are being robbed of the beauty of being involved in a local church.

Let’s say we suggest it’s appropriate to have all a church ought to be doing in the life of an individual on a Christian college campus. What happens when the student graduates? They’ve likely been disconnected from a local church for 4-6 years. They don’t know where they fit, have little of any relationships with others in the church, and will likely not go back to the one they grew up in – that would be going backwards in their mind. How does this make sense?

I’m getting more concerned about the role Christian colleges are playing in the lives of people. I certainly don’t think it’s ill motive or a bad heart, but I do think Christian Colleges are inherently saying through their actions that the church is not important.

Oh man, I’m gonna get into trouble with this series. I’m just beginning too…

Chuck Bomar

Chuck Bomar

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Chuck Bomar planted and is Lead Pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon and is founder of both CollegeLeader (www.CollegeLeader.org) and iampeople (www.iampeople.org). He is author of six books, with the most recent being the highly anticipated work titled, Better Off Without Jesus (August 7, 2012). When he is not traveling the country speaking at conferences or consulting with church or denominational leaders, he is home with his family, the place he loves to be more than any other. Chuck and his wife, Barbara, have three beautiful daughters: Karis, Hope and Sayla.

27 responses to Christian College Environments [2]

  1. I agree with you. Christian colleges should be focused on connecting students to local churches rather than trying to be church for their students. It is natural for students to feel like chapel replaces church… it is also natural for students to want to sleep in on Sunday mornings. :-) If they DO go to church, they often opt for the Friday or Saturday night services which tend to be more young and hip. This presents another problem because students are not engaged in multi-generational relationships. I’ve included a list of some things that I’ve experienced in the school where I work that help with these issues:

    -I Provide a comprehensive list of local churchs and service times to all new students in their orientation packet.
    -Develop a carpool system for church the first Sunday that students are on campus. Current students who attend a church give a ride to new students who want to visit.
    -Invite local pastors on campus during the first week of classes to connect with students at a community involvement fair.
    -Provide opportunities for students to serve in a local church.
    -invite local pastors on campus to host small groups and/or Bible study.
    -Use campus ministries not just to minister to the needs of the campus, but to provide opportunities for students to serve off campus.
    -Be very clear with students that chapel is not church and does not intend to take the place of being connected to a local body.

    Christian colleges have the tendency to be a “bubble.” Our staff and faculty are constantly discovering new ways to challenge our students to “break the bubble.” In no way do I intend to communicate that we’re doing everything right but I WILL say that we are diligently trying. Thanks for this post Chuck!

  2. Chuck Bomar

    Thanks Traci, great thoughts and suggestions! You actually hit on a few things I’ll be discussing in future posts – the bubble and chapels being two of them.

  3. Chuck Bomar

    Thanks Traci, great thoughts and suggestions! You actually hit on a few things I’ll be discussing in future posts – the bubble and chapels being two of them

  4. I think you’re generalizing quite a bit here. How many colleges have you had this experience with?

    Every year, Westmont College in Santa Barbara has a “Ministry Fair” where all the local churches and ministries are invited to campus in order to let students know what they’re about and get them involved in their bodies.

    I see what you’re trying to say, but don’t write off all Christian Colleges based on your limited experiences.

    I think your experience may be more of a reflection of the Campus Pastor and his/her ego than it is of the College itself.

  5. Chuck Bomar

    Thanks Phineas. good comment and caution. I do know Westmont, my wife actually went there – as well as her younger sister. They have done a good job at inviting pastors onto campus and encouraging them to be a part of their life. However I can say that I have had this (negative) experience with at least a dozen schools personally and have talked with at least dozens of church-based pastors that have had a hard time with numerous campuses as well. The core of this series and my concerns will develop as I write more, but I’m glad you issued this comment articulating that there are positive experiences in this regard!

  6. p.s. I like this topic! Can’t wait for more!

  7. Casey McCollum May 20, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I’m with you on this. I work on a Christian campus and it seems the mindset of students is – “I am getting fed by my school so i don’t need the church.” And while this may be true, the students are missing out on what it really means to be part of a local church – namely, intergenerational relationships but other things as well.

    Great discussion and very needed.

  8. This isn’t exclusive to Christian colleges. I’m an elder at a church that meets on a “regular” university campus. There are active parachurch groups as well. We often find graduates having a difficult time finding a church after graduation, because their experience has been that they are catered to in music, format, etc…
    I can’t tell you how many times a grad has said, “I just haven’t found a church to meet my needs”. We’ve failed these men and women by not giving the a good theology of the Church or a good system for finding a church when they graduate. We are on task to address this as some students are helping us craft some teaching on what THE CHURCH really is. Thanks for keeping thing interesting Chuck.

  9. We work closely with a Christian college close-by. Most of them are helpful, but others in the administration treat our church as competition. Heaven forbid we get students plugged into our church and on their campus. With the influx of non-Christians on this campus, we should be partners in reaching students and discipling them together.

    I agree the glut of chapels and Christian organizations on the campus have often replaced the students experience for church. They have been sermoned out and don’t really care to come to church because chapel or their campus group has met that need.

    Good discussion.

  10. CC’s, just another haven for Christians to hide. Most have totally abandoned the command to “go” into the world! To be honest, you don’t get real training in the classroom, you get it by being out in the world reaching it!

  11. Good thoughts, but I think too much of the onus is placed on the college getting the students connected to the church. Too many times the church is waiting for the school to funnel the students in. (We see this with campus ministry in non-Christian colleges as well). What are the churches doing to reach out to the students? Are there pastors/church leaders who are willing to put in the time on campus to develop these relationship?

  12. So, is plopping a freshman into some local church the very best thing that christianity has to offer? That’s the goal? Really? Ever think that the reason that college students don’t plug into local churches is that they can see the withering, ineffective, vapid, and general irrelevant experience of many a traditional “church”? A sunday morning pit stop is the best there is? C’mon folks…

  13. Jason Barnhart May 21, 2009 at 11:04 am

    brianberger:

    I find your comments a little disheartening. So what if the church is a little irrelevant and the music is a little outdated…that is the beauty of the church. It is real people making up a real mission. I am very cautious about how the Christian landscape has latched onto the word “relevant” and totally overlooked the word “commitment”.

    After these students leave college, they will need to find a place to settle down. A people to call their own people. Campus ministries cannot be replicated in the life of a local church. Why? These churches are not on the campus and churches are, traditionally speaking, multi-generational.

    I agree that there is far more than Sunday morning “pit stops”. I love that phrase. But, there is something about people with all their flaws, leaving behind the consumeristic gospel that is America and journeying with a people warts and all. Do you catch what I’m saying?

  14. And who says that local church are all outdated? Youch!

  15. Chuck Bomar

    brianbarger, I understand where you’re coming from, but you are assuming that my definition (and others commenting) of connecting them to a church is getting them into a church service. If you read back through my post, I didn’t mention a church service one time – and that was intentional.

    chuck

  16. Chuck Bomar

    good question billy v. I think there are more than ever before, for sure. But, we still have a long way to go!

  17. Chuck Bomar

    Casey, great thoughts! yes, so the next question is are we then enabling that thought process by continuing to provide everything?

  18. Totally agree, friend.

  19. Forgive my tone. I can see how it was abrasive. I’ll be more plesant from now on.

    Absolutely. I agree with you chuck. However, i am concerned with other posts in that the definition of “church” is never really resolved; here or in many other venues. Is it a community of believers or is it a common ground which people/seekers find the one way to Christ? It is rare that the two co-exist, but very common that the two are mutually exclusive. Have we created this environment that “Church” is not a safe place to do, for the lack of a better term, ‘research and development’ for Christianity?

    And to Jason Barnhart – “so what if the church is a little irrelevant and the music is outdated…that’s the beauty of church…” I find that statement disheartening. Are we settling for this? That is the attitude that is fodder for a cloistered and culturally separated atmosphere that will begin a second dark ages. I for one refuse to participate in that. Especially as a college minister.

  20. As a College Pastor in a local church, it is my desire and task to be all about connecting students into the Body of Christ. I would go even further than the Christian College to say that there are some parachurch ministries who try and provide everything a student needs apart from the local church. This is not good. My own anecdotal evidence is that when students do not connect into local church life, they struggle spiritually after graduation since there is no parachurch ministry for them, or no Christian college environment, and they flounder by not really becoming involved in a church.

  21. Jason Barnhart May 28, 2009 at 5:25 am

    brianberger:

    You are correct to call out my use of the word “irrelevant”. It was a bad word on my part. Here is what I’m getting at in my comment.

    If we look in Scripture, there seems to always be a tension between being relevant and being counter-cultural. Too far to either side and we enter dangerous areas.

    My fear is that many churches have become so obsessed with being relevant that they’ve forgot that the empire of our day, consumerism, is not congruent with the Christian faith.

    So, churches begin to give away Nintendo Wiis if people will visit. Is this really what church is all about? Is church merely funneling people into a building OR placing them in environments where everyone is exactly the same as they are?

    Many young adults, I’m 26 years old by the way, have fallen for the consumeristic gospel hook, line and sinker. A church is judged entirely on whether it fits my needs (did I like the music, did the message hit me, etc). I am incredibly bothered by that.

    For non-believers, I believe that we need to find areas of relevance and cross over those areas with the gospel. The Apostle Paul models this in Athens. BUT, many a ministry is guilty of simply sheep-stealing because Mr. and Mrs. Christian got tired of their church and left to go to a more “relevant” one.

    This ties back in with Chuck’s blog series. The local church offers unique challenges and opportunities to students. Plus, the local church is the only body of believers that will be around for students after they graduate. At last check, no parachurch organization follows an individual from cradle to grave.

  22. Jason:

    You make a good point about how parachurch organizations do not follow through after college. However, I think that the existence of these parachurch organizations are due to the fact that churches fall short of ministering to college students. Let’s face it, in the eyes of many churches college students are not consistent (since they have two homes and usually in different locations), they don’t really give money, and they are usually the smallest percentage in a church. I feel that if the local church is upset about poor college attendance then they need to stop blaming parachurch organizations or even Christian Schools, but instead get on the front lines with them. Churches don’t need to hand out wii’s or do online services, but they need to get a heck of a lot better at understanding college students, and the way to do this is by living life with them. And if a church doesn’t have a college pastor (which a lot of churches don’t) then there is a very slim chance of this happening. I was the president at one such parachurch organization while I was in college and now I am a College Pastor at a church and the model I follow is not the church’s model, it’s what I have learned in my discipleship from my campus ministers. I don’t view this as a competition and I am sure that sadly some have made it so, but I was always encouraged to be rooted in church.
    After college I went to Portland and helped a campus minister. I am from Texas so my eyes were opened to the mistrust towards Christianity. My campus minister spent 20 years at this college just hanging out, giving away free food, and breaking down the walls of many of these students, with some coming to know Christ and coming to our church. Campus ministry is an extension of the church where it is limited, not its competition. If anything it should challenge us to be better at really getting our hands dirty and living life with these students. If we’re upset about not being a part then join in!
    And I hate to say it, but pretty much all the campus ministers that I knew in Portland were women, and a lot of churches in certain denominations will not hire you as a college pastor if you are a woman.

  23. Chuck Bomar

    Michelle: good and insightful thoughts. I completely agree that we need to dive into the trenches with them, understand them so that we can minister effectively. Thank you for speaking truth like that. Oh, and you’re right, the church doesn’t have a model to follow yet. Which, ironically enough, is the core of my book, “College Ministry 101″ which will be out this summer.

  24. Chuck,

    I am looking forward to your new book and have already pre-ordered it! All debating aside I am so glad to have found you guys so I can start bouncing off ideas, and learning new insights. It is great to know there are other post-highschool lovers out there!

  25. Excellent post! Man this speaks exactly to the ministry context I am working in. The Christian campus (right across the street from our church) is literally its own church! I believe it is detrimental to “subconsciously” teach Christians that “forced chapel” can be a substitute for getting involved in a local Christian congregation. Why? Because we need the whole body to grow, flourish, serve, and thrive. We need older adults to mentor us, we need children to teach, and we need to have the support of people who have been “through it already”. There are so many great things about Christian colleges, but this is one thing that we definitely need to start changing! We need to promote the necessity of local churches and students becoming involved in fellowship and service throughout their college years.

  26. I am a college pastor in a smaller city with a great Bible college. I too feel the tension between the students involvement in the campus life and sometimes apparent lack of involvement in the local church. There are several things that have helped us in our context.

    -Understanding where the Bible college is coming from: the campus is often supported my many churches and can’t focus the students in just one direction. And, unfortunately, many of the churches are not stepping up to take care of and invest in the students.
    -Many of the students are community starved when they get to college. They might have been just one of a handful of active Christians in their home town school and possibly even church. To get to a college where they are no longer alone, where Christ is boldly proclaimed, where there are professors who model Christ, etc.; community naturally happens and is often very rich.
    -The students, like all students no matter where they attend, have issues, some of which are very deep. It is the responsible thing for those colleges to try to assist in their healthiness.

    We have decided to partner as best as we could with the Bible college in our town.
    -We positioned ourselves as the place for professional development opportunities for the students in partnership with the academic training they are getting at the college. We know that through this we are actually connecting them with the larger body while helping prepare them for what is next in their careers. Through this we get to connect their struggles with rich help that only the church can truly provide.
    -Many of the Bible college’s faculty and staff are a part of our ministry.
    -We don’t just work from the top down. We are meeting the students, speaking at their devos, and the students are passing on our philosophy to each other.

    I am very grateful for the Bible college in our town, but it does present some unique issues. I agree that the Bible colleges do need to continue to develop and create the relational opportunities that will only help equip the students for what is next.

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