In my experience, student driven innovation has been absolutely essential to pioneering ministry on campus, and we’ve seen some really amazing things happen as a result. For example, our St. John’s Day Camp was initiated and executed completely by Jackie Markovich, who subsequently became one of our interns:
Jackie had a vision, and through coaching and resourcing, she has created an enduring ministry presence of UT students in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Austin. Truly amazing work!
The missional community network at UT that is developing, Renovate UT, is certainly a noteworthy innovation in college ministry, and has resulted in united training for our ministries and a very unique cooperation. The idea of empowering students to make disciples and baptize them as they come to Christ has already seen abundant fruit…see below for an example:
Through missional communities campus wide at UT, we saw over 100 students come to faith in Christ, and this was primarily driven through students incarnational evangelism!
As we have been tracking the united campus effort, the University of Texas has gone from a place where 6% of students were actively following Christ 5 years ago, to 11% last year. That’s nearly doubling over the span of 5 years! God is certainly at work!
The Next Big Idea
One of the next innovations we are looking to make is creating a new mechanism for mobilizing students to the nations, as well as tapping into the social consciousness of many students at UT. We have a number of entrepreneurial students with excellent ideas for gospel-driven social entrepreneurship, and a great desire to make them work. We began to ask the question, what if the church were the place where great social innovation was driven? What if the church were the organization who took great risks on new ideas?
For most students, they lack two things to implement their great ideas: access to startup capital and a network of professionals to help refine and sustain their vision. We rapidly realized that our local church contained both of those resources, and therefore was an excellent launch pad for great innovation. We are excited to begin leveraging some of our missions funding in a “venture capital” form, rather than only contributing to traditional organizations, with the added benefit of mobilizing college students and creating a culture of innovation.
Lastly, it provides us the opportunity to speak the language of our campus, which is heavily driven by social action. We hope that this opportunity gives us a voice to speak the truth that that Gospel is the only worldview that makes sense of social action, which is desperately needed in our context.
Bottom line, the students of our campuses desire to do great things, and are simply waiting to be asked. We hope to create a culture of students who don’t “wait their turn” to do great things, but are radically obeying Christ and taking on huge challenges while they are still in school.
Empowering innovation takes challenging students, and then providing the resources to back them up when the pursue great things. I pray we see a resurgence of innovation in ministry on campuses all over the globe, and that the cause of Christ advances through their radical obedience!
Steve’s take is here, and below is his thesis for this issue in campus ministry:
Theological foundations are needed for the faithfulness and long-term fruitfulness of our ministries. We are running semester-long sprints when we need to be training students to run the marathon of the Christian life.
He then breaks the theological foundations important for campus ministry into 5 components:
I’d love to write a post on each of these, but I’ll just chime in with a few tidbits, and let you read what he has to say.
Practical theology, as Steve is terming it, is basically the fundamental disciplines and skills required for self leadership, missional community leadership, and ministry leadership. We focus on three core areas of daily discipline for an individual – the reading of God’s word through the REAP tool, copious and passionate prayer using the ACTS model, and sharing your faith through declaration (evangelism) and demonstration (mercy and service).
These core personal disciplines are the same basics we use in our missional communities, as we try to continue to reinforce that you never move beyond the basic disciplines of obedience, and your community ought to reflect those disciplines in caring for one another (we call it “gospeling one another”) and in reaching out (“gospeling the world”).
The overall narrative of Scripture as creation, fall, redemption and restoration has been powerful for many of our students in understanding the story of God. The second piece of biblical theology that we try to instill is God’s passion for His own glory, and that He is working all things toward the end of His supremacy.
This basic framework of Scripture has been an understanding that students crave, as they are often trained in basic verse-by-verse inductive study that often ignores context and the themes of larger chunks of Scripture. Two great resources where students have encountered this has been through the ministry of Tim Keller and The Perspectives course.
We teach this using Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology through our equipping ministry every semester with several students engaging, and I have also used it personally as the basis for my discipleship of students. In my experience, college students are longing for this kind of teaching, but it must be coupled with a passion to apply systematic theology into the fabric of their lives. Why is the doctrine of special revelation foundational to understanding evangelism? How does your soteriology influence the very core of your approach to ministry? Why are we unashamed about the nature of God’s sovereignty over all things, and how is this a comfort? These are the questions students long to have answered robustly and biblically.
The study of this discipline was hugely transformational for me, and am grateful for the teaching that I have received, and earnestly desire to share it with as many students as possible.
I would love to see a compiled history of campus ministry, as it would be tremendously beneficial. Has anyone come across one that is good?
Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and many of his sermons have been tremendously helpful in understanding how to articulately answer the questions of this generation. David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rswas also an excellent survey of the streams of postmodern thought, their origins, and the response of the gospel to their major foundational questions. It has informed me on how to effectively minister and understand many of the questions I am asked, and that I am prone to ask as a child of post-modern thought.
Developing knowledge in these particular areas is important for campus ministers to be effective, but I would take Steve’s conclusions one step farther in that we ought to be equipping students in our ministries in these particular disciplines as well as we can, and to the extent that we can. Again, the local church is essential in contributing the infrastructure and resources necessary to accomplish this kind of training and development.
We must also talk about what missional campus ministry looks like.
His basic idea is quoted below:
We must be concerned that most everyone is content to keep doing attractional ministry among the shrinking enclaves of churched kids. It’s not enough to attract a crowd anymore. We have to mobilize them for mission. What if instead of entertaining students, we called them to the sacrifice and service of being a missionary to their campus? We live in a post-Christian mission field. Are we preparing students to engage the world they will live in, or the one we grew up in?
Mobilization for mission has been the single driving force of our ministry at The Austin Stone, not just with students, but with the whole church. To read about our missional community philosophy, go here. From a college ministry standpoint, we have sought to contextualize this vision for students into engaging in missional community in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment.
This means we focus on large scale events only once or twice per semester, and only to the extent that they are moving students into our missional community structure. The rest of our energy is spent on developing leaders, and mobilizing missional communities to engage groups of people on campus.
From a campus reaching standpoint, we are realizing that the only way we can saturate campus is through a network of missional communities across ministry lines. This has required a great deal of prayer and humility, but God has done an amazing work in unifying 13 of our campus ministries around the strategy of missional community.
Through a new network we are calling Renovate UT (website coming soon…), we have agreed upon the following for a unified definition of missional community:
A community of Christ followers, on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that demonstrates and declares the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific people group.
They are committed to having spiritual conversations that lead to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with the people group.
They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for a people group.
They are committed to intentionally living among the people group.
They are serving the people group in tangible ways.
They are committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with one another.
They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for one another.
They are committed to intentionally sharing life with one another.
They serve one another in bearing burdens.
As the missional community grows, it is seeking to multiply and send new communities.
This partnership of ministries is already seeing fruit in students from across ministries partnering together to form new missional communities, and we are seeing a movement emerging that is doing amazing things together. for a view of what the missional community network looked like last fall, click here.
For the first thought on missiology in a college context, click here.
Steve Lutz inspired these posts, so make sure you read what he is saying here.
We need a missiology of our context: Higher Education/Academia
Steve’s second assertion expands the vision of college ministries beyond simply thinking about students, but as the institution as a whole:
We should be asking, “What is it about Higher ed that makes it a particularly challenging, strategic, and exciting mission field? What are the common defeaters to belief here? What are the institutional, social, and cultural obstacles to the Gospel here? What would this sector of society look like if it was increasingly renewed by the Gospel?”
I am thoroughly excited about this kind of vision, which is thinking through the broader context of college ministry to include the whole institution, as well as the surrounding city. Why is it important to think this way? Because there are 16,500 faculty and staff at the University of Texas which means for every three students, there is one faculty or staff member who has a significant presence on campus.
The concept of campus missional communities will be instrumental in reaching the differing pockets of students around campus, but it will take the larger body of Christ to influence and reach into the entire spectrum of people on a campus. We have a number of professors and staff who are connecting with our local church, and I’m hoping to foster connections both between them and with students to help foster the questions of “how can I best incarnate the gospel in this place?”.
Secondly, there are a number of classes on our campus that consistently challenge students in their faith (including one in particular – The Rise of Christianity). It has been good practice to listen to students, and help them think biblically, critically and philosophically as the wrestle, often for the first time, with perspectives that challenge their long held assumptions. We are also in the process of developing resources which will help students with appropriate responses to these challenges.
Thirdly, there are a number of world-class Christian thinkers on our campus (J. Budziszewski, Marvin Olasky, Dan Brinks, etc.), and making students aware of these individuals and encouraging interaction with them. These are the most invested individuals in God’s movement on campus, and we’d be foolish to ignore interacting with them.
The largest barrier, I think, to engaging campus holistically tends to be the focus of personnel resources. Most people who are pursuing college ministry have a specific reason they get involved: the students. It’s difficult to prioritize meeting with professors and staff members at the university when you passion and expertise is with students.
The answer to the barrier is, in many ways, the local church. The resources already exist, and often times in fact are connecting with campus leaders, it’s just that the worlds don’t tend to overlap. We have the great blessing of having a local body that is reaching a growing diversity of ages and are connecting with students and professors alike, but for most campus ministries, a better strategy may be cooperating with existing churches and investigating where faculty and staff are engaging.
Engaging faculty and staff will give us a much broader understanding of the missiological setting of campuses, and the differing dynamics of reaching them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so chime in with a comment!