College Ministry & Breaking Down the “Glass Wall”
Most college ministry is content to operate in a live-and-let-live approach. While in a few places hostility exists between administration and certain Christian student groups (eg, the upcoming Supreme Court case between the Christian Legal Society and University of California), in many places the University and Christian groups are happy to exist without much direct dialogue or overlap, as long as we don’t break any codes or ruffle to many feathers. We don’t have a glass ceiling–we have a glass wall. Our activities are in full view of anyone who cares to look, but still separate. We’re not regarded as core contributors to University life–perhaps even as necessary evils. And that keeps us from helping. I was reminded of this when This American Life profiled my #1 Party School, and an administrator rattled off all the departments and initiatives to curb underage drinking. Ministry wasn’t even mentioned. This is to our shame.
The “Glass Wall” exists because it seems to be easier for all involved. But it’s not the best.
What if we (Christian college groups) went out of our way to break down the glass wall, and to come towards the University? What if we looked for ways to bless the University we’re on? What if we sought to become meaningful partners in leadership development, providing viable alternative weekend activities, and generally contributing value to University life?
Last weekend I spoke to Harvest, a student church/group here at Penn State, on Jeremiah 29–having a vision to bless our context, to “pray for the peace and prosperity” of our city. Faithful college ministry MUST have the mission to their campus in full view, and this mission has to be more encompassing than evangelism (though that is essential). With a Jeremiah 29 vision, we should want the University to be better because we’re here. We should aim to to leave it better than we found it. We should ask the question “Would our ministry be missed by anyone if we pulled up and left tomorrow?”
Let me tell you one way that’s being worked out through my ministry at Penn State. After reading some research that the vast majority of college-age people want to have spiritual conversations, but only a small percentage feel confident enough to initiate them, I realized that we could have a role in initiating and facilitating these conversations. This is already what I spend a good bit of time doing, but what if we partnered more intentionally with the University to do so? If done rightly and well, we could contribute value to the University while also “stirring the pot.”
This led to approaching the Schreyer Honors College here at Penn State, and Dean Christian Brady, for a program to help students talk about faith. They were very interested, so we formed a direction team of students who planned and shaped the evening. On Monday night, Schreyer hosted a “Roadblocks to Conversation” forum. The event was moderated by Dean Brady. Students shared how their beliefs intersect with their studies and their relationships. Represented were Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Protestant, and Catholic perspectives. Each did a good job of articulating their beliefs. It was students talking to students. We were careful to set some groundrules: this was a “no proselytizing” event. It was generally respectful. We had a great turnout, and it was even covered by the Daily Collegian, our student newspaper. I did not participate in the dialogue–just observed and cheered on Dana Ray, who ably represented an evangelical perspective on the panel. The event went so well that there’s talk of doing more of these in the future.
So what’s the outcome? The University gets to host quality programming which meets a need and attracts students. We get to break down the glass wall, and join in with conversations that are already happening on campus. We get to contribute something of value to the University, and build meaningful partnership.