Summer 2008 Rapport: From the Leadership Files
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Go national, go global, by going next door!
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How God can use your current ministry to reach our nation with global impacts by going next door to your local college campus
Why, you may wonder, would I want to invest precious time and resources in an outreach that seems to promise little return for the local church body? Consider: Approximately 17 million predominantly unchurched young people attend colleges and universities in the United States. Of the nearly 4500 campuses nationwide, half are within reach of a local AG church. The harvest is not only plentiful; it’s right outside your door.
Why invest? Because the local church body was never designed by God to exist for itself. Ecclesiology exists for missiology—as patterned by Luke-Acts’ focus on local first, then progressively outward in evangelism. We must not passively sit by and wash our hands of responsibility while watching the spiritual crucifixion secular humanism imposes on this young generation. The church has the keys, the authority and the mandate to advance God’s kingdom. Jesus himself targeted learning institutions (the temple and synagogues) for evangelism and discipleship.
There are several reasons many local congregations do not prioritize reaching college students. Students look and act differently. They talk back and question the church’s positions on issues. Their tithes often add little to the maintenance of the church. Some pastor’s apologetic discourses fall short of changing young people’s perspectives on AIDs, poverty, pollution and injustice. We all find it much easier to hope someone else does the job. To some, the mystique and adventure of overseas mission captures their spiritual excitement more than ministry in their own home town.
A comparison between foreign missions and home (campus) missions may be helpful. Foreign missionaries have to intenerate to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to go abroad and serve for multiple terms. These dear missionaries learn a new language, observe unfamiliar customs and deal with technology gaps. They develop relationships with people of different worldviews and standards of living. On the contrary, home campus missionaries do not have to raise as much financial support. Everything else applies in a slightly different, and sometimes reversed, context. Yet the lead-in time to first contact with local campus natives can be mere hours, not months or years.
Be assured, the opportunity for a phenomenal Pentecostal witness exists today in the postmodern world. The peculiarity of these times heightens spiritual sensitivity among students, their willingness in experimentation, and the validity of experience as the preferred evangelical methodology—a perfect stage for Pentecostal evangelism. But our historical approach must change in order to open student hearts to receive God’s presence. A new approach involves experience concurrent with conversation, supportive imagery instead of statistics, interactive inquiry versus didactic monologue, and relational acceptance over sanctified membership1.
Experience concurrent with conversation
Instead of “Listen to me tell you how to know about Christ,” our new approach should be to beckon others to “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Evangelism in this context may involve campus-community signups for MAPs trips, accepting applicants before they embrace membership or salvation. Allowing pre-Christians to experience the ministry of Christ without expecting anything in return communicates something contrary to their perceptions of evangelism. Inviting college students to feed the hungry, clothe those in need and take care of the environment validates the church’s credibility. By the way, many college students are required to do community service. Organizing such a ministry is an easy way to pull the church and students together in close proximity and commonality. Making this connection demonstrates the servanthood of Christ and allows students to experience missional ministry first-hand among Christians.
Imagery instead of statistics
Students love to tell stories about themselves. Personal testimonies are vital in today’s relativistic society. A person’s story provides postmoderns with irrefutable evidence that what you say is true (for you). A word of caution is necessary, since one has to earn the right to speak by listening first. Honoring students by sincerely hearing and caring about their stories increases their receptivity to hearing your own story. This method of conversation invites the listener to imagine the possibilities of your story for themselves. Jesus modeled this by telling stories in parables—an art Christians would do well to practice.
Interactive inquiry instead of didactic lecture
Another effective approach involves the art of questioning. The days of monologue sermon lectures are over when addressing college students. They dread it in class; they won’t put up with it in church. Using guiding but open-ended questions and allowing students to ask questions is imperative. Remember, the questions have to flow both ways. I heard of an excellent scenario in which students were encouraged to text-message the pastor during an interactive sermon. The pastor can easily peruse the messages and pick out ones pertinent to the message. While this may be intimidating for some preachers on the platform, it fits well in small- to medium-size settings where dialogue can occur in a receptive environment. No matter what the setting, answering theological inquiries will most likely occur ad hoc while relationships progress. Their shared experiences with you invite Jesus to shine through the power of your life-witness. Please remember, unless students feel they are a valued part of the conversation, they will check out.
Relational acceptance over sanctified membership
I recently participated in a free hot dog and hamburger barbecue for college students from 11 p.m. Friday evening until 3 a.m. on Saturday. The ministers conducting this event preach with their actions by putting something in the stomachs of the students who are on their way to the nightclubs. We stayed there until the bars closed to give them another bite to eat on their way to their dorm. We passed out nearly 2000 hot dogs and hamburgers. Students asked why we were doing this. Our reply: “Because we appreciate you.” It didn’t take long for the students, on their own, to come up with a nickname for the food—“God dogs and Jesus burgers.” At first the students would cross to the other side of the street to avoid the host property; but word spread, and the students now flood into that small yard. They didn’t want to be preached at; they wanted to be appreciated.
College students tend not to initiate a conversation about salvation with strangers—unless they’re protesting. Yet they freely express their intellectual curiosity and spiritual experimentation to friends. When I mentioned the barbecue event to my students, they not only showed up, but also began asking religious and spiritual questions thereafter without fearing judgment. When we invite students to enter into a spiritual conversation and value them as those loved and sought out by God, they respond. When a local church includes them in a common community cause, they take time to reflect on the nature of that church. When we honor them by listening to their questions and coach them toward reconciling their theological issues, it excites them. If we love them, receive them and be their friends (as Jesus did), they respond.
A ripe campus ministry waits just down the street from your church. To learn more, please visit www.chialpha.com and contact your district Chi Alpha director. Visit www.reachtheu.org for training schedules, and begin connecting with exisiting campus ministries in your city like Campus Crusade, H2O, Impact and others—they’ll be glad you’re interested.
Rev. Robert Huckleberry is professor of aerospace studies at Bowling Green State University. He is preparing to launch a church plant for college-aged adults.
1. These concepts were derived and influenced by Earl Creps’ concept of reverse mentoring from his book: Off Road Disciplines, 2006. Leonard Sweet’s EPIC concept from his book: The Gospel According to Starbucks, 2007, helped organize the topics shared. All were evaluated under real-world conditions with the help of Dave Warner, lead pastor for Active Christians Today (ACT) at Bowling Green State University.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008 9:34 AM