The 5 Big Issues in Campus Ministry Today: #5 Sustainability
I’m devoting this week on the SENTinel to answering the question I posed last week: what are “The 5 Big Issues in Campus Ministry Today”? I’ve been writing on one issue a day. Today’s post is on Sustainability. You can read previous posts on Missiology, Theological Foundations, Ecclesiology, and Innovation. Be sure to check out the Comments under each of those posts as well, as well as Todd Engstrom’s related posts here, here, and here!
Sustainability is the biggest single issue that we are not talking about enough. If you haven’t read the iMonk’s blistering article on The Coming Evangelical Collapse, you should. Here’s the introduction:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
I’m not trying to be alarmist, but if half of what he says comes true, the landscape of ministry will be utterly different. And I’m afraid much of campus ministry is asleep at the wheel.
Like the iMonk, I don’t think this is all bad. But getting there will be painful, especially for the unsuspecting.
Think of campus ministry sustainability as analogous to environmental sustainability. We have a mess to clean up, problems accessing what we need, and we have questions of how we’re going to pay for it.
1. A Mess to Clean Up
I know this isn’t universal. I know many ministries have fantastic reputations on their campuses. My good buddy Jonathan Weyer just won the multi-cultural award at Ohio State University this past year. I know plenty of you are doing a good job, have great reputations on campus, and don’t make any messes.
That’s why I’m talking to you. It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s the other people who go around in Jesus’ name and make the messes for us. You know who they are. Most every campus has them: The raving, raging, often heretical “preachers.” (I just got into it here on my blog the other day with Penn State’s preacher–check out the comments section). The borderline cults. The groups who have their lawyers on speed dial for any possible infringement on their legal rights. The ones who confuse politics with the Gospel.
They make it very hard for the rest of us, and the damage to the Gospel is often incalculable. It’s toxic. And it lingers for a long, long time. We’ve got to go in there and clean up a previous generation’s mess so that a future generation can function. That’s our job. That’s our calling. It’s a thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.
2. Access to Campuses
Part of the fallout of these messes is loss of access. We should be paying attention to cases like that of Intervarsity at the University of Wisconsin a few years ago, and others like it.
It is likely that these sorts of cases will become increasingly common. What will be our posture? While there may be some legal ground to stand on, and undoubtedly a good deal of legal wrangling, eventually many more campus ministries will have to figure out how to function without full recognition or legal sanction.
An approach that emphasizes equipping students to lead and disciple other students, as opposed to a dependency on staff, will be most able to absorb loss of access. We should also work hard at cultivating connections with Christians who already have access: faculty and staff.
In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Mark Noll reminds us that in the 1940s and 50s, it was commonly said that we had “lost China,” because the Communists had expelled the missionaries. Yet in retrospect it was the best thing to happen to the Chinese church. It forced the indigenous Christians to lead and work towards uniquely Chinese expressions of their faith. Now, the Chinese church is perhaps the largest in the world. If we see loss of access, might we see a similar spiritual resurgence among college students?
One line in particular keeps gnawing at me: “The money will dry up.” What happens when the Builder generation is gone and the Boomers are using all their savings on healthcare? What happens when there are FAR fewer churches, far less discretionary missions budgets, and thus far fewer missionaries? What will we do then? What will happen to campus ministry?
We already have an image problem as not quite “real” work, not even “real” ministry. I believe we will be among the first in parachurch ministry to have a sustainability problem, particularly as it relates to funding. This is much more far-reaching than our temporary problems due to the economy–this is a long-term question.
I would love to know if it is any harder or easier to raise financial support today than it used to be. But assuming that the financial pie is smaller in the future, campus ministers will have to become bivocational, perhaps entrepreneurial. Innovation could play a pivotal role in generating new sources of financial support, besides the “direct ask.” And regardless, we’ll have to get better at mobilizing volunteers.
Any ideas on how to address these issues? What do you think are other sustainability issues? How are we/will we address them?