Mikey Lynch has written this response to my article about increasing our participation in the campus. I’ve already fleshed out a few things in these four posts, and there are a bunch of other previous posts on the topic.
I reckon Mikey and I are treading the same ground, namely how we can be faithful to the nature of campus ministry. What I’m talking about is kind of unprecedented, so I welcome his skepticism.
I’d better start with a disclaimer: I’m not living in Australia, and as a staff coach at the national office level, I don’t currently spend time on campus, so unfortunately I’m not currently in a position to thrash this out in practice! Yet it is Australia that I’m addressing in these posts (my familiarity is with campus ministry in Adelaide and to a lesser extent Melbourne).
Mikey is speaking at a very practical level: how on earth can we fit something new into campus ministry, even if it’s desirable? His post raises the question of what constitutes effectiveness in campus ministry.
And I pretty much agree with all his cautions. Well, I don’t know much about the one involving academics — but to keep things simple, let’s put that aside and stick to the existing undergraduate context, which is mostly what I was getting at in the Ethos article.
I love Mikey’s framing of campus ministry around evangelism and leadership development. (‘Meet Jesus at uni, take Jesus beyond uni’, anyone?) The thing is, this framing raises crucial questions for me, such as: Why are all our training events and conferences focused on Christians? Why do we run ‘mission’ events, and why do we have so few of them in our annual calendar? Why do we by and large find ourselves speaking with and for Christians?
Our standard model might not have the evangelistic legs we think it has.
This is a burning issue for me: an outward, evangelistic focus doesn’t seem to figure a whole lot at the whole-group level. We’re giving our calendar time overwhelmingly to Christian students and, at the group level, any wider benefit is peripheral. We talk about ‘relationship building’ as a purely individualistic aspiration that has no real impact on our week-to-week group activities.
I want to know how our CUs can be missionary communities, not just communities of missionaries. Evangelism should have a communal, structural thrust to it.
‘Participation’ is where I wind up as I consider all this. I don’t see it as an extra dimension in addition to evangelism and leadership development, but rather as part of our ministry philosophy/ethos, a way of practising both evangelism and leadership development. (This is a bit different to the ‘four legs’ image.) So while I agree with Mikey’s caution that we should try augmenting our existing practice before rushing to introduce new elements, participation will certainly shape the CU in specific, tangible ways.
So why aren’t CUs already demonstrating a much higher volume of outward programming? The reason seems to be that we have framed evangelism individualistically, such that we pursue it at the level of personal friendships, and the few evangelistic events we run are largely a prop for this. This might explain why we apparently have no interest in simply increasing the frequency of ‘mission’ events: it wouldn’t enhance what’s happening at the one-to-one level. Somehow we have reached a strange kind of saturation point.
Yet this reveals how thin our outward repertoire is at the whole-group level. We can only increase the volume by expanding our repertoire. For example, we know that a debate event may have some value for people who are already open to change, as William Lane Craig has said, but how do people actually become open in the first place? If we were to consider this, we would be pioneering conversation-based activities in the hope of promoting trust and curiosity (the first two of five suggested thresholds). This would be closing a hole in our ‘pre-evangelism’, if that’s the terminology you’re accustomed to.
Let’s do a tad less programming for Christians, and a tad more programming for the campus.
So while expanding our repertoire would definitely involve increasing the number of outward events in our programming, this would be a shift in balance rather than an addition to the existing timetable. Instead of adding further time commitments, we boost our outward programming by reducing our reliance on internal events.
Let me put this another way. If we intend to hold ‘word’ and ‘world’ together, currently our big-group events overwhelmingly emphasise ‘word’, while our opportunities for doing ‘world’ are very limited. But what if we shifted our word/world ratio closer to 1:1? I’m not saying we should necessarily run a conversation event every other week (although I do find that a very stimulating thought!), but what if at least one in three big-group events was genuinely outward? This is hardly ambitious: in a 24-week teaching year, it’s still only eight weeks designed to be open to the campus.
As Mikey says, we should be friends of the campus, so let’s follow through on that in our programming and see it reflected in our annual calendar. Think of what might be achieved through this. By changing our outward/internal or word/world balance, the CU tangibly turns its face towards the campus. Conversation-based events are not necessarily complicated, only unfamiliar to us. The CU might team up with other campus groups to put them on; the events could relate to the marketplace of ideas, student life, social issues or more.
What are our criteria for effectiveness? High on the list for me is our ability to create rich, apt, cumulative interfaces with the campus. This is about more than creating a straightforward platform for our message. We also need events that allow our message to come through implicitly or accidentally or obliquely. More than that, we need events that allow Christians to be seen as interesting and interested. We need room for artistic creativity, for the possibility of surprise and beauty, for deliberately moving outside modernistic frames of reference that always stress logic, facts and debate. Let’s flex our missiological imagination.
Being hosts to conversation demonstrates something about what kind of people we are. This returns us to the idea of ‘witness’: that every facet of our life together on campus is an opportunity to give witness to Jesus, whether in word, deed or presence. This is more pertinent than ever. In an increasingly fragmented world, on an increasingly polarised and alienating campus, the CU can become a beacon for something deep and life-giving. Onlookers may have to go digging to uncover more, but that should be a possibility we’re keen to entertain rather than close off. Taste and see that the Lord is good!
Image credit: Chris Sardegna
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.