Posted by: naccm | June 23, 2010

We, The Privileged by Tim Hawkins

I used to think church had a problem with campus ministry.

I’m wondering if it is not the other way around.


The church at its best should be a place where the academy educated and the street smart can be in common, where the social networker & those on social security are available to one another, where hipsters pray with those having hip replacements.

There is a tutoring in the way of Jesus in diversity that is not available through any fabricated form or many other social organizations.

If we mentor and disciple students in a way that devalues the local church, by this I mean what we say and what we do, we miss a great opportunity to disciple in the grace and humility of Jesus.

I’m not saying local churches (especially given the form our contemporary church liturgies take) don’t take some responsibility for the distance between campus ministry & the local church.  But, much has been written about this in other places, and as far as I can tell this is the reason campus ministry exists.


We have the privilege to mentor, teach, disciple and pastor one of the most affluent, educated, homogenized groups of people on the planet via campus ministry.  Ethnic diversity exists, but is limited.  Socio-economic diversity is present, but mostly hidden.  And what generational diversity that exists is limited to the boundaries of the classroom….maybe 20…maybe 300 students and one “older” professor/instructor.


Over the course of the Wednesdays this summer, my hope is to begin a dialogue.  For many, this is already important, you already disciple students in the blessing of the local church.  For others of us, we are coming to it slowly, apprehensively, or maybe not at all.

This series of articles is intended to provoke us think how our participation, not just obligatory attendance because we might lose financial support, but our participation and championing of the local church can make better disciples of students.

[The Bonhoeffer Principle]

He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself is a destroyer of the latter…

Few books have impacted like the short book, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

When conversion is simply about me and what I need and want, my view of Christian community takes a similar form, it is to serve me and meet my perceived needs.  The beauty of the early church was the tension in a new kind of relationship being forged between the slave and free, men and women, Jews & Greeks.

When we abandon that tension, we limit the opportunity for selflessness.  We limit the natural order of community, and perpetuate a fantasy.  One that is difficult to maintain past college.

We need that tension to tutor us in selflessness.



  1. Tim,

    Good thoughts here. We are BIG advocates of the local church here at BU. Are thought is that students only have campus ministry (and ministers) for a few years… and if they haven’t learned to seek out, and plug in to, the local church than we have done them a great disservice.

    A couple of things we do to promote the local church: 1) we require all of our student leaders to be active members of local congregations; 2) we host a “church fair” at the beginning of the school year – inviting about 40 local churches that create space for college students in their ministries… and it serves as a “one stop” church shopping experience – and helps to jump start the process of finding a new church home; and 3) we are in the process of creating a prayer network of local churches.

    On top of that, at the majority of our large group gatherings we remind students that, “we’re glad your hear, but remember – we are not the local church – so be sure to find a local church to plug into.”

    Looking forward to future posts in this series.

  2. Please forgive me but my brain does not work this way. When I try to wrap my mind around the idea of the “local church” I become confused and frustrated at all of the unwritten rules and regulations of what makes up that institution. I cannot find anywhere in Scripture where we have a list of required regulations of a establishment called the “local church”. All I read is that the Church is a body of believers who are declaring and proclaiming the Kingdom of God on earth.

    I find it very problematic that campus ministers feel it necessary to encourage their students/members to have a divided mindset when it comes to their community of faith. I compare this division with asking a husband to have more than one wife. When looked at this way we would call it sin and completely unhealthy and irresponsible.

    Guy :: I love the things you write but I have to challenge you. There is an epidemic that has taken over the American church culture…it is the “church shopping epidemic”. If I don’t like this or that about my church than I move on. Why would you encourage this type of environment with a “one stop church shopping experience”?

    Another thing :: what does it mean to be a member/actively involved in a church? To serve? tithe? small groups? regular attendance? How can a person do those things at two places? If a student is giving all her time to a campus ministry church community what do they have left to give to another place? At this point they are only attending…therefore they are only consuming a product that is offered from the stage? Is this what we want to teach college students? Do we want to encourage something they find so easy to live out…being a consumer?

    I’m sorry for this rant but I could not stand by and remain silent. Maybe I’m just a new age of college minister but I consider what we do the Church. College students are the Church and a church just as much as the 62 year old elder at the church on main street. We are all the Church and I hope and pray that we teach college students that they are in fact that very thing on their campus in their world.

  3. Justin,

    Thanks for speaking up! I appreciate your push-back. I hear what you are saying and I don’t disagree with you – in theory… but my struggle the past 5 years at this campus has been trying to get students to “make the jump” from where they are to where I want them to be. Therefore, we’ve been learning to meet our students where they are at.

    Therefore, I stand behind our Church Fair, because I also believe that students involvement in a local church is just as important as being involved in our ministries… the Church Fair is simply meant to serve as an opportunity for students to meet local pastors, hear about each church and ways that they can both feast and serve, as well as talk with current students who already attend. For better or worse, greater Nashville has hundreds of churches and our students could honestly spend all four years while they’re with us church hopping – without ever attending the same church twice. This “fair” is meant to “speed up” the process of finding a new church home. Justin, my heart’s desire it to see students plug into one place and make it home… even after the “newness” wears off, or challenges arise, or conviction leads to a desire to flee. The consumeristic nature of our culture of gross… and I rage against it just like you. But our attempts at calling students to a radically different way of life have not been well-received (thus far), so we’re trying to discern how far back ‘down the road’ we need to go in order to connect with students and nudge them in the ‘right’ directions.

    Here at BU (a Christian University) we see ourselves as a missional branch of the Church onto the campus. We provide some very contextualized experiences and opportunities that are very convenient to our students. Be we also recognize that we do not offer many things that are found in the local church (generational and socio-economical diversity just to name two) that we believe students need. Add to that our belief that it’s good for students to get off campus and be around people who don’t live where they do and do what they do. We also realize that when students graduate in a few years that they will leave our ministries – and we want them to be in love with God’s Church – and not just our ministry.

    Things might be different, and look different, on your campus… but these are some of the things we are doing here at BU in order reach as many as possible. Does that make sense? I know it may not be your approach (or a popular approach… or too popular a approach)… but that’s where we find ourselves right now.

    I hope you don’t here me discounting what ‘we’ do… I believe to be incredibly significant. But I also hope you here someone who wants to be a part of the solution, and not further the problem, when it comes to our cultures (and our students) current love-to-hate the Church attitude.

    What do you think Justin? Others? I do appreciate the chance to think critically with others about what we are collectively attempting to do on campuses across the world.

  4. Justin…

    Here are four thoughts/responses:

    1. In speaking of the “church at its best”, I agree it is a proclaiming and performing community.
    To me, a church on campus is a legitimate performance & proclamation community; though I am not sure it is the IDEAL community.

    2. I always want us to speak the same to the university that we do to our students. Does the university consider us a student organization or a church on campus? For some administrations, this would be an issue, for others not. It is possible for some orgs to get stuck playing whichever card is most beneficial without being COMPLETELY transparent to the university. It is another form of bait and switch, and can undermine or prophetic voice if we are not careful.

    3. I somewhat disagree with your assessment of a biblical defense of “local church”. Where we agree, I think, is that the “church universal” is always manifest in the “church local”, whatever the make-up of that community. And by the “church local”, I do not mean unwritten institutionally authoritative communities ruling by tradition & obligations. Nor would that be, as I prefaced, the “church at its best”. But, I think maybe where we diverge is why that is important. I think the power of the gospel as “good news” and the summation of the law to “love God” & “love your neighbor” is powerful in its proximity. The question becomes not whether we will “serve” or neighbor (that maintains a sense of our privilege, but that will we BE neighbors, equals with those we don’t always see as our equal. The academy is a relatively homogeneous environment in which we teach being a neighbor, and doesn’t afford us much opportunity to BE on equal footing with those not like us. There is deep discipleship there, I think.

    4. Finally, the homogeneous campus church runs the same risk of perpetuating a consumer mentality that you speak of in the institutional version of the local church At it’s worst, I have definitely seen a “critical view” of the elderly, tradition, & willingness to sacrifice of my preferences (one of the marks of becoming more like Jesus…humbling ourselves to the point of a servant and to not look out for our own needs, but also to those around us).

    5. OK, last thought!

    The danger/critique of a student “hiding out” in the local church is legit. Happens far too often, and I have this conversation often with church leaders, where a local church is just happy to have volunteers & numbers without really considering A) the unique discipleship of students or B) preparing those students for their unique mission on their campus.

    But, if we dream of “the church at its best”, wouldn’t we value both?

    There something beautiful in the older women teaching the younger women, and the elder’s offering a life worthy of respect, something about discipleship in difficult relationships, about what it means to be a neighbor that the church (local by relationships rather than organization) provides a unique place to participate.

    But, Justin, I agree….if we simply hold students captive to attendance & busy-work…we are not re-engaging them in the mission of Jesus or the way of Jesus.

  5. […] to have a positive relationship with a locally connected community of Christ followers.  In the first post, I posited that the generational diversity of a local church is a tutor to selflessness.  And last […]

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