The Health of the Christian Community on Your Campus

    I was in the middle of getting ready for a trip to Russia in 1999 when my wife insisted I see my physician and have a thorough check-up.  It was pretty routine but one of the things assessed indicated I might have a serious problem.  Months later after the trip I retested and found out the problem hadn’t fixed itself and my life was on the line.  It turns out those check-ups and tests saved my life and 15 years later I’m glad I overcame my natural fears about hearing “bad news” and took the time to find out what was going on so I could do something about it.

    It reminds me of the line in the movie, The Princess Bride, where one of the characters reminded a swamped Prince Humperdinck to take things easy because, “...if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”  Christians are asked to take stock of their own spiritual lives and make adjustments and the same could be said about the need for Christians in academe to assess the health of the Christian community on their campus.  Frankly, this is all about God’s desire for all of us to flourish spiritually with Him.  However, what that looks like and how it comes about isn’t always that simple and a cookie-cutter approach never seems to work well in the longer run.

    Holding everything else that makes for spiritual flourishing constant--and that’s a lot to hold constant--one of the important factors in that mix is the health of the community in which we abide.  That’s because a great deal of our spiritual lives turns on the quality of our relationships--with God, ourselves and others.  Unfortunately in some cases the Christian community’s health on some campuses seems to be on life support.  

    The secular community within many universities is much more organized and forms a greater influence on the lives of individual Christians than their own spiritual community does.  This  shouldn’t be and yet there are reasons for this.  But our focus is examining the current health of the Christian community on our campus and thinking about ways to improve it.  

    A slightly more favorable Christian community starts to develop when serious networking begins to take place.  This usually means somebody takes the time to locate and keep track of who the Christians are that identify themselves as such on campus.  For instance, they know some other Christian faculty from their church or have providentially run across them over the years.  At some point many of these networks turn into a monthly social get-together where fellowship and lively discussions take place.  That’s better than no network and no fellowship, but seems far from an ideal situation.

    If gifted leadership emerges from these gatherings--typically somebody has the vision for community impact, has the respect of her colleagues, and can gather a solid group--even more growth can take place.  In these situations the leader, or even better a leadership team, begins to think about having regular organized, well-publicized meetings of Christian faculty.  For this to take place the organization level has to exceed just a reminder email to come join the fun.  It typically involves planning for a semester, getting meeting rooms on campus (best) or nearby off-campus.  So that a maximum number of folks can make it, the meeting usually occurs at a breakfast or a lunch.  

    Momentum can take place if the planners involved think strategically about who to schedule to lead and/or speak at the meetings.  They need to reliably start on time and end on time and allow people to leave when the need to do so.  The quality of the first meetings are important for this, because even in the Christian community you have only one chance to make a good first impression.  

    Eventually, if this regular meeting “gets off the ground,” the leadership can think about ways for the Christian community to have a positive influence on the larger community.  For instance, they can discuss ways those involved can volunteer to see social justice issues advanced.  They can discuss ways to bring in outside speakers who are qualified and have a good reputation with the larger academic community.  

    Through this process of growth and synergy the community will begin to take on the capacity to influence the quality of its member’s lives with greater and greater effectiveness.  Its leadership will have the opportunity to grow in God’s grace and develop many significant virtues.  Some of those opportunities and the virtues gained will be obvious.  For others, not unlike Job, the opportunities and virtues identified and developed will be more subtle but have even greater substance as far as God is concerned.

    We have seen campus situations where the Christian community has reached these levels of quality and impact and...beyond.  The good news is our calling is under His grace and we leave the results to Him, even when we do our best to fulfill what He calls us to do.  We do our 100%, He does His 100% and His 100% is more important than ours.

What Can You Do About This?

    That depends.  It depends if you’re interested enough to care about the things of God and can legitimately stand in the gap.  By “legitimately” we mean qualified, motivated and have the skills to take responsibility without undermining other responsibilities you have: to the Lord, to your job, to your family and so on.  These do come ahead of this sort of leadership, but people who care can do it if they get help and get organized and pursue better and better leadership abilities.  You may or may not be able to take it all the way to the highest levels of effectiveness on campus, but perhaps God would have you stand in the gap until that leadership emerges who can.

    So, what is it like on your campus?  What sort of level of community do you see happening?  Are you willing to network?  Are you willing to form a team of leadership?  What sort of virtues do you wish to grow in and what sort of tasks and leadership would be suitable for you to move ahead?  Maybe get some advice about yourself from your pastor or people who know you and you can trust.  

    Will there be some sacrifices?  You should probably expect that and probably expect not everyone will see what you do as important.  Can you live with that?  Are the goal and the benefits of getting on track toward the goal worth it to you?  Can you keep things on track even if you’re criticized?  

    If you can say yes to these things you may be the person(s) that God is calling to make a positive difference on your campus this year.  And if He is calling you to that, then expect Him to provide in surprising ways exactly what you need.  

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