I've been heavily involved in or around campus ministries since 1993 - Arsenio Hall was still on TV and Beavis and Butthead were a cultural phenomenon. So I've seen a few things change since then - but one thing that hasn't changed is the annual tension that flares up between churches and campus ministries in university settings as a new semester begins.
Last month, Steve Lutz laid out the primary issues that feed this tension:
- Are church and parachurch partners, or should they have “sphere sovereignty”?
- Regarding parachurch, is there something inherently illegitimate about its existence?
- Regarding church, should it defer to parachurch’s unique calling and equipping for on-campus ministry?
- How can the local church most effectively serve and reach out to students?
- How actively should parachurch ministries be making local church involvement a priority?
- In the age of house churches, what IS a church, anyway?
Steve's entire post on ecclesiology is helpful - and at the end he lays out this perspective: A missional campus ministry approach utilizes the strengths of parachurch ministries to empower the local church to take its place on the missional edge.
There are two things that keep this kind of partnership from happening:
- Churches who insist on creating a rhythm of life for students that consistently pulls them off of the campus and out of their mission.
- Campus ministries who insist they have the same authority in the lives of students as the local church.
One way forward - and we're seeing this happen through our relationship with Campus Outreach at The University of Georgia - looks like this:
- Churches who encourage and equip campus ministries to do what they do best - incarnating gospel, community and mission in a context where most people in a church do not fit and honestly don't belong (I'm talking to you, Mr. I'm-45-and-wear-my-Auburn-War-Tigers-jersey-every-Saturday).
- Campus ministries who structure their missional rhythms to move students into the life of the local church. Figure out how the church trying to grow students and grace and don't hamstring the church by scheduling events that overlap with those events (NOTE: it helps if churches have a clear and simple pathway of corporate discipleship for students).
I love being able to encourage and equip the men and women who have shaped their entire lives around the mission of Jesus on campus. And as we continually wrap our collective gray matter around these central themes of gospel, community and mission, we're finding a great deal of overlap and the opportunity to give up control and free up students to live out a healthy pattern of life involved in both the local church and the particular work of campus ministry.
In the end, students belong neither to the church nor campus ministry XYZ. They belong to Jesus - and Jesus loves the local church and the local church can join him in his mission on the university campus by raising up and releasing missional tribes on campus.
It's all about learning to dance, boys and girls.