Posted by: naccm | February 24, 2010

A Movement…Grassroots // by Tim Hawkins

Understanding the history and organization of the campus ministries of what is now the Association of College Ministries means reflecting on the history of a church movement that that was resistant to anything resembling denominational or para-church structures.  Some of the early struggles in this non-creedal, independent, Bible focused, name of Christian only movement (The Restoration or Stone/Campbell Movement – See Dave’s (Part I & Part II) & Mike’s previous posts) centered around this particular issue of independence and collaboration.   Should churches, independent churches, collaborate for purposes not directly flowing from the local independent church, whether by mission organizations, conferences or local collective gatherings (conventions)?

Furthermore, what would/could insure that the values shared amongst these churches were shared with equal conviction and vigor if there would be no structure of authority or binding association to govern adherence to these ideals?

In many ways, the answering of this very question is perfectly exemplified by the campus ministry structures of the three main branches of this Restoration (Stone/Campbell) Movement.

Churches of Christ campus ministries operate (almost) exclusively out of a local church.  A Church of Christ located, preferably, within close proximity to the local college/university.  Staff is hired to develop campus and college ministry directly by the elders of a particular local church.

Disciples of Christ’s campus ministries reflected a part of the movement that moved toward more collaboration and structure.  With General Assemblies and regional ministries, the work of campus ministry falls under the general assemblies ministry in higher education.  You can read a full description of the organization of the Disciples of Christ at their website.  This paragraph from the description of the “design” of the Disciples of Christ should be helpful:

In keeping with this Design, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) shall establish, receive, and nurture congregational ministries; provide for regional and general ministries and such other organizations as may be required; have a General Assembly, a General Board, and an Administrative Committee of the General Board; define policies and criteria for its Order of Ministry; develop or recognize new forms of ministries for mission and witness; maintain appropriate relationships with institutions of higher education historically related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); provide appropriate consultation and procedures whereby existing organizations may make any necessary transition within the provisions of this covenant; and engage in continuing renewal, reformation, and adaptation as necessary to minister in the world.

The independent Christian churches (from which the ACM emerges) operate more like a grassroots political campaign.

  • Regional churches in close proximity to a college/university choose representatives to form a board of directors, commit financial resources to, and commission that board of directors to oversee the development of a non-profit organization independent of any one particular church.
  • Once a non-profit (parachurch or sometimes “church”) status has been officially recognized in the state of operation, the board of directors is empowered through those bi-laws to hire staff to work toward a particular campus or campuses, independent of any one local church.
  • It has traditionally been the role of the campus minister developing the organization at the college/university.  This typically means the development of a core group of students (traditionally from the churches providing the financial support and governance, though that has changed more recently) that organize to form an officially recognized student organization through the student life offices at the particular college/university.
  • The official names of organizations on campus vary.  Names range from Christian Student Fellowship, HIS House, Christ on Campus, Campus Christian Fellowship, Koinonia, and more recently names sounding more like new church plants have been used like:  Encounter, The Shack, Sojourn, Refuge, Oasis and others.

    In the early formation of campus ministries of the ACM, often houses were donated or purchased near the university/college campus, consequently many of our campus ministries began with the name “Christian Campus House” because of the “Christian” housing option then offered to students coming to college/university (and continues to be a thriving ministry for some).

    1. The geographical scope of the board of directors differs in various regions.  For example, in Michigan all of the affiliated independent Christian church campus ministries in the state were started UNDER the operation of the original board of directors of the original campus ministry and the lead campus minister.  In the state of Missouri there are at least seven different regional boards that have campus ministry expressions on anywhere from 1 to 4 campuses each.

    The beauty of this local structure is that it is small, nimble, easy to turn and negotiate changes as the student culture changes.  However, one of the difficulties is the limited geographical dependence.  If our churches don’t exist in a geographical region, then neither does our outreach to students of the campuses in that region or country.  The formation of the our national association in 1963 reflects the values of our local focus, simply to equip and encourage the work of campus ministry among the independent Christian churches.

    For those of you working within ACM ministries, I’d love to hear your comments about what other advantages these regional structures have and/or what other ways this might complicate effectiveness.

    Next Week:  The Organization & Vision of the ACM



    1. As an outsider (but friend!), the presence of Boards seems like a method that other campus-based ministries would do well to consider. Not all need it, but I can certainly see its value. Baptist Collegiate Ministry does this in, I believe, a somewhat different way – or at least I only ever hear about a board when it comes time to hire one of their new ministers. So… not sure about that.

      As for the regional question, there can be benefits to not having every church in the backyard. To reference the BCM / SBC again, it is a REGULAR point of frustration to have multiple local churches – if those churches get concerned that students aren’t headed that way. At least remote ministries are very clear on the fact that the mission to the campus trumps any “return” their individual church receives.

      That upside may or may not make up for the downsides, but I thought I’d point that out.

      And thanks, Tim, for a really great article – I really appreciate tying the denominational history / realities to the way it plays out in campus ministry. Yet another way others would do well to copy you guys. 🙂

    2. Thanks for these thoughts Tim. I’d love it if we started a discussion on how we might move forward in the future. I think our churches have much to offer, yet much to do in the area of campus ministry. I can’t help but feel that greater organization is needed. T’would be good to start some brainstorming.

    3. […] stuff, but Heart of Campus Ministry has produced some neat posts (from Mike Armstrong and from Tim Hawkins) on how being a part of their fellowship of churches (the Independent Christian Church) impacts the […]

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