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Engaging the university: first questions

‘Engaging the university’ is an exciting development in campus ministry circles. After my first coverage of it, here are a few reflections and questions. I’m continuing to focus on students in this post, and you’ll see why below.

There are some obvious practical questions, and a few initial answers.

  • How do we fit all of this integrative, dialogic stuff into the 3-5 short years of undergraduate study?
  • Should every single campus group aim to cover it, or is it better focused at a more regional level?
  • How does it start off, especially when a campus group is small, or when the national ministry doesn’t have much infrastructure?

One starting place is Terence Halliday’s talk from the 2011 IFES World Assembly, in which he spells out a concrete model (more on this later). The IFES blog has also begun giving examples of campus initiatives.


I see this vision not as a call to take our eyes off students, but to do more for students.

We campus ministers have often focused on Christian growth apart from thinking Christianly. As my friend Richard put it, we have been concerned with the question of ‘How do you stay a Christian working for a bank or a law firm?’ instead of ‘How might Christians think theologically about banking and lawyering?’ So let’s do better at modelling integrative thinking; let’s do better at equipping students for a world of complexity.

  • How can we better interact with the academic disciplines and with students’ fields of study?
  • Even if it is appropriate to compartmentalise exegesis, doctrine and ethics in a linear hierarchy for training undergraduates, how can we improve at actually moving students — all of them — towards the pointy end of ethics and real-world engagement?

Some of us have made moves in this direction, but there’s a lot more we can do. A dialogic approach will, I think, help pave the way and give shape to all this.

The university context is all-important, but its significance lies not only in its learning community.

The university is a place of both learning and preparation; universities create doctors and lawyers as well as research physicists and historians. On one hand, we should certainly treat students as part of the university organism, not as tourists just passing through. On the other hand, most students will leave the university within a few years of their arrival: many students intend to enter a non-academic profession, and many undergraduate students may not be able to fully experience the university. (I wasn’t really inducted into the university until my honours year.) We must address this fact regardless of how we view the nature of the university itself (place of learning versus job training centre). Because so many students are on a trajectory that will land them outside the university, I take it that we cannot care about students only as learners and academic fellows. To pursue Christian thinking with students will take us beyond the reach of the university.

  • How can we engage with students as workers in the making?
  • How can we promote thinking Christianly about the professions — or should this really be left to workplace ministries and marketplace institutes?

Categories: University ministry Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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