Friday, June 14, 2013

CAMPUS MINISTRY AND FACULTY: COLLEAGUES OR COMPETITORS?

A few years ago the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities held a conference on Whidbey Island, Washington for its campus ministers. Part of the discussion centered around what kind of relationship the campus pastors would, ideally, like to have with the faculty and what they hoped for in their relationship with faculty. They developed the following wish-list.

Campus Ministers’ Twenty Wishes for Faculty:

That faculty would fully realize how much they influence students.

That someone would help prepare faculty for their spiritual formation role on campus.

That faculty would not see spiritual formation as the responsibility of campus ministry alone.

That faculty would have more confidence in their spiritual formation role with students.

That faculty would recognize their pastoral role and be more open to being coached in it.

That faculty had more time for mentoring students.

That faculty would seek to reach students at more than just an intellectual level.

That faculty would be more informed about where students are developmentally.

That more faculty would incorporate “mission” or “service” components into their courses.

That more faculty would talk about how their discipline relates to service in the world beyond graduation.

That faculty would take more time to reflect on their discipline theologically.

That faculty would be advocates for and examples of integrating faith and academics in the classroom.

That faculty would only hire colleagues who support the spiritual formation role of the Christian university.

That faculty would be intentional about their own spiritual formation and share some of their practice with students.

That faculty would give more positive feedback to campus ministry, not just negative.

That faculty would collaborate more on programs with campus ministry.

That faculty would have more “good faith” toward the co-curricular side of the university.

That faculty and campus ministers could show more mutual respect and understanding toward each other’s role on campus.

That faculty would support the role of worship in spiritual formation.

That faculty would support, attend, and appreciate chapel.

There was a prevailing sense that there is too much separation between the life of the mind (seen as the faculty’s role) and the life of the spirit (seen as campus ministry’s role). This division, though not absolute on any campus, has negative consequences, such as students choosing one as their primary focus and discounting or minimizing the other. Thus, an alumnus of a CCCU college told the campus minister, “I really don’t know what I believe anymore. When I was here, I just embraced the learning and left Christ out of it." [Of course, the opposite is also common: the Christian college becomes a four-year extension of Christian camps, concerts, and discipleship programs, with no serious engagement with the university’s academic and vocational (in the sense of finding one’s calling) mission.]

The late Dallas Willard describes what is supposed to happen in Christian higher education as “to bring students to the place at which they walk routinely and easily walk in the character and power of Jesus Christ.”[as quoted in Kenneth O. Gangel, “Education for Renovation,” Christian Education Journal 2:1 (Spring 2005), 154. While one might question whether anyone ever walks “routinely and easily” according to the character of and power of Jesus, the goal is still a laudable one. And clearly the alumnus cited above did not come anywhere close to it. She was able to graduate with almost no integration of her academic course work and her faith.

This is as much the responsibility of the faculty at a Christian university as it is the campus ministry staff. Given the immense influence faculty members have with students, they may in fact be the primary conveyors of the Christian worldview integration on campus. Yet it is evident that many do not take up this role with any seriousness. Faculty and campus pastors can work together in a common enterprise of spiritual formation and Christian worldview development.

Christian college faculty members in all departments and disciplines can equip themselves more adequately for their role by becoming familiar with basic works in theology and spiritual formation. At some Christian colleges first-year faculty have the opportunity to study and discuss aspects of basic Christianity, what the Bible teaches, and how to help student beyond the classroom. This provides a basis for teaching their disciplines from an more informed Christian perspective. Some schools also use the works of Parker Palmer on the importance of teaching.

Such an approach to faculty development should help create a sense of common mission with campus ministry staff, though recognizing their different emphases, venues, and practices. It is vitally important, especially on smaller campuses, for faculty and campus pastors to trust and respect one another, allowing for diversity of gifts, callings, and personalities.

From a faculty standpoint, there is also a wish-list for campus ministers.

Faculty wish:

That more campus ministers understood that the life of the mind can itself be spiritually formative.

That they knew that there are disciplines and virtues learned only through rigorous academic study and research.

That campus pastors realized that one’s faith may grow as much through wrestling with the questions, problems, and doubts that arise in the classroom as through singing “worship” songs in chapel.

That campus pastors took a more active role in underlining the importance of classroom work in the student’s formation.

That more campus pastors valued the life of the mind as a way of loving God.

That the teaching/preaching that occurs in chapel, especially by guest ministers, be more theologically and biblically credible.

That chapel speakers would refrain from disparaging academics.

That chapel times would appeal less to the experiential and emotional aspects of the student’s personality. That chapel programs would draw on a wider and more balanced range of Christian worship resources and actually teach worship.

That campus ministry staff sought active input from and cooperation with faculty members in programming for chapel and the residence halls.

Perhaps if there were less emphasis on “chapel” as the primary focus of spiritual formation, the relationship between faculty and campus ministers could be positively jump-started. The chapel experience, whether required or voluntary, preaching-oriented or music-centered, cannot carry the formational weight that it is often burdened with.

Finally, could Christian college and university presidents, provosts, and deans play a more active role in encouraging a new dialogue of their faculties with campus ministry staffs? It could well lead to a more mutually cooperative and supportive relationship that would properly position worldview shaping and spiritual formation as the shared responsibility of faculty and pastors on our campuses.

Thomas F. Johnson, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies (ret.), George Fox University

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