Thursday, December 08, 2011

Remedial Programming

Two books from this fall. You Lost Me and Lost in Transition, bluntly set out some broad areas which congregations have failed to address. Many of the Emerging Adults we see on campus have not been adequately prepared for college by their faith communities.  So as a service to our students and to the Gospel (and to the Church), at least some of our attention should be on how we could be addressing these issues. Consider these a Check List for Remedial Christianity.

1. Equipping students to thoughtfully evaluate culture. Perhaps a quarter of the church-going teens arrive at college feeling that churches seem overprotective and that Christianity demonizes the culture outside the church. How can we help them see that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and infusing culture? Can they watch a movie or hear a song and sense the underlying theology?   This goes hand-in-hand with some basic biblical literacy. Students have learned some of the stories, but they have never learned how the stories fit together.

2. De-mystifying Science. Thirty percent feel that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in.  Can we help them integrate science with faith in a sophisticated way? Can we foster conversations with scientists and students? Can we find ways to connect with science majors especially?

3. Addressing sexuality and meaning. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental. How can we have programs and conversations about a holistic and realistic ethic of emotional and physical intimacy? How can we be at least as specific about emotional relationships as the culture is about physical ones?

4. Nurturing Interfaith Literacy. Thirty percent report that they think churches are afraid of other faiths. They have grown up with tolerance and acceptance, but at the cost of ignoring real differences. Can we find ways to have them overhear substantive and respectful interfaith dialogue? Can we help them teach them how to listen without fear and to identify and acknowledge differences without the need for forces and premature closure?

5. Critiquing the Consumer Mentality and Lifestyle. The dark side of consumerism is reflected in alcohol and physical intimacy as well as career choices. Where can they get information and specific help in evaluating their economic choices?

The last two major areas are ones which most Presbyterian chaplaincies already have strong histories. How can we make them more accessible to our students?

6. Raising up and celebrating doubts. While some congregations like to think that they were open to doubts, the students felt as if the church treated their doubts as trivial.
7. Nurturing the broader and deeper notion of call. A quarter of the students who were involved as teens in church say that that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests.”  Can we find ways to have students who are thinking about careers be in real conversations with older adults who are in those careers? Can we develop venues for students to talk about call without initially scaring them off with “religious” talk?

I hope you find ways to talk with congregational leaders about what topics they need to be covering, and to consider remedial Christianity as a recurring topic for your campus programming.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: Lost in Transition

Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Christian Smith, with Kari Christofferson, Hilary Davisdon, and Patricia Snell Herzog. Oxford University Press, New York. 2011

This is a disturbing book. On one hand, there is not much inside which a competent chaplain (or campus minister) hasn’t seen or had to pastorally address. It was written after Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition. The researchers found that there was much more than the religious lives of this cohort that needed to be illuminated. Lost in Transition was the result. The “dark side “in the title refers to both the darker side of emerging adult behaviors, but also that this is the underrepresented and publicized side in the media.

This book differs from his previous reports of the National Study of Youth and Religion. It espouses the “sociological Imagination,” which attempts to understand individual experiences and larger cultural trends by explaining each in terms of the other. As opposed to the other books, there is only one graph and few quantitative results. Transcribed comments from the interviewed emerging adults are used extensively.  The book primarily uses data from the 230 in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 with the same group which has been followed since 2003 and interviewed in depth three times. The next round will be conducted in 2013 when they are 24-29. Thus this book concentrates on the younger (18-23) portion of emerging adults, and the ages in which we are primarily engaged.

The chapter titles succinctly convey aspects of the emerging adults’ experience.

Morality Adrift. Smith found widespread (60%) moral individualism and a sizable minority (30%) of moral relativists. Thirty-four percent did not know what makes anything morally right or wrong, and many had no tools and little experience in talking about how they knew what was right or wrong. This generation has grown up in an educational environment being taught tolerance and multi-cultural awareness while any serious discussion of differences or standards has been avoided.  “American emerging adults are a people deprived, a generation that has been failed, when it comes to moral formation.” (p.69)

Captive to Consumerism. An underlying goal for many was “whatever wakes you happy.” Sixty-five percent responded that “buying gives me pleasure”, and 54% “would be happier if they could buy more things.”  Most (over 90%) interviewees were uncritical towards mass consumerism.  Smith frames our culture’s unquestioning consumerism as addictive behavior. This addictive behavior will also play out in intoxication and sexual relations.

Intoxication’s “Fake Feeling of Happiness.” Smith tries to understand why mood altering drugs are so pervasive and important to emerging adults. Twenty-seven percent are non-users, 25% occasional users, 22% partiers, 21% recovering partiers, and 8% addicts. Emerging adults describe alcohol as a way to alleviate boredom, and to give them novelty and excitement. The older adults have reared this generation in a culture which advertises that good times require alcohol and that college is a time to cut loose and party.

The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation
.  “A lot, though not all, of emerging adults today are confused, hurting, and sometimes ashamed because of their sexual experiences played out in a culture that told them to simply go for it and feel good.….not far beneath the surface appearance of happy, liberated emerging adult sexual adventure and pleasure lies a world of hurt, insecurity, confusion, inequality, shame, and regret.” (p.193)

Civic and Political Disengagement. Smith and his researchers found 69% of their responders to be apolitical, 27% marginally political, and only 4 % with genuine interest and substantive knowledge. “ …whatever any popular cultural or political observers have had to say about the political interests of young adults, we – without joy – can set the record straight here: almost all emerging adults today are either apathetic, uninformed, distrustful, disempowered, or, at most only marginally interested when it comes to politics and public life. Both that fact itself and the reasons for it speak poorly of the condition of our larger culture and society.”(p.225) The interview results this area have been the most surprising to adults with whom I have shared these findings.

It should be clear by now that in Lost in Transition, Smith has shifted from reporter into full Prophet mode.  Some of this is a result of using the “sociological imagination” methodology. Some of this is spill- over from his other recent book, What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up.

Emerging Adults are reaping what the older adults have sown. In the Conclusion, Smith, with appropriate academic qualifications, includes some prophetic suggestions. These won’t be easy, he says, because they require cultural change. He doesn’t think that macro level social changes can be made before lower level changes are made. He addresses mid-level changes to politicians, alcohol and tobacco industries, secondary schools, and higher education.  Then he addresses micro-level social changes to parents, families, neighborhoods religious congregations, and voluntary associations.
“Colleges and universities could…play a more proactive role in promoting and enforcing more responsible, healthy, and respectful lifestyles among their students.” (p.240)

Chapters in this book could be good discussion starters with student affairs professionals.  They could also provide ideas for programs, series, and Bible studies.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Best Books for Reading Over Christmas Break

Christmas Break is a good time to do some reading for nurture and stimulation. A few good books have been published this fall which would be particularly useful. Perhaps one of these would be a good way to spend some of your book allowance*.
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church...and Rethinking Faith. David Kinnaman, The Barna Group, Baker Books.  Emerging adults who are not involved in church, but who were active when they were 15, were surveyed. This should be required reading for every pastor, youth group leader, or college minister.

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds. Chuck Bomar. Youth Specialties. Written to help parents, grandparents, and church leaders understand this generation.
Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Christian Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson and Patricia Snell Herzog. Oxford University Press. Smith and company look at the data which Souls in Transition pulled out for religion, and find that the culture of consumerism Emerging Adults have grown up in has repercussions in college behaviors.

College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture. Stephen Lutz. The House Studio. Challenges evangelical campus ministries to be more missional, and along the way provides an introductory workbook for college ministers.

* Every collegiate ministry board or supervisory committee needs to be reminded that those doing ministry in an academic environment need to have continuing education, including some funds for professional books. (Even if those funds are meager and symbolic.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds is the latest book from college ministry leader and thinker Chuck Bomar . It is an easy read. Bomar is able to clearly synthesize data and combine it with an obvious passion and love for emerging adults to make a handbook for parents, grandparents, ministry leaders, and others who want to better understand 18-25 year olds.

He provides insights into some characteristics of this generation while highlighting some generational differences as well as common ground. He calls the 18-25 year olds the “Generation Higher Ed.” This new stage of life, which has never existed before, developed as the percentage of Americans having some college education exploded (from 9% in 1950 to 76% in 2209) and the length of time to complete a bachelor’s degree lengthened to six years for approximately 57% of them.
Bomar builds on the identity stage development of James Marcia and forms his own five stage search for identity stage. This is perhaps the weakest part of the book. For his stages, Bomar says that Generation Higher Ed is always in multiple stages, shifting within each day. These are perhaps more illustrative of different ways emerging adults make meaning, rather than a stage.

There are appendices with practical notes for church leaders and for parents. These are broad brush thoughts, short on specifics. A better source for specifics might be in his College Ministry from Scratch.

The necessity for intergenerational relationships is a foundational concept for Bomar’s vision of ministry. In this volume he uses healthy relations to build bridges between the generations, and says that these relationships must be done with humility. For the older participant That includes listening, suspending judgment, and developing a reciprocal relationship. This means that the older adult also needs to ask of the younger, “How am I doing?”, “Where, in my life, do you see areas for growth?”, etc. Bomar acknowledges that this could be scary, but it takes the notion of relationships seriously.Such “learning with humility” may even strengthen your faith.

This is a good book to share with someone who needs to better understand college age people, but who would not be ready for the study required to read Jeffrey Arnett or Christian Smith. It is orientated toward the parent or ministry leader wanting to better understand the 18-25 year-olds in their life.

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds. Church Bomar. Zondervan (Youth Specialties). Grand Rapids, MI. 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Lost Me

David Kinnaman is President of the Barna Group research company . His 2007 book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ... And Why It Matters, was written to describe how emerging adults who are outside the church, think about Christians and Christianity. That was a useful book in thinking about how others on campus view campus ministry groups.

Now Kinnamen has followed that up with You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith, a book which describes what Christian emerging adults think about the church and Christianity. The book is a result of a five-year project incorporating eight national studies, and was recently published by Baker Books.

It is a sobering, but helpful assessment. Sobering because he makes his case from data, and the results are not good. Helpful because not only are the areas which cause Christians to drop out or wander away are described, but also because some over-arching ideas about how the current church needs to change in order to respond to this generation are given.

The last section of the book puts this into practice by giving 50 ideas to connect written by 50 different responders, including well-known evangelical Francis Chan, Collegiate Ministry author and blogger Chuck Bomar, Kenda Creasy Dean from Princeton Seminary, and recent college grads.

The book’s website includes two study guides; one for leaders/ pastors and one for parents/ grandparents.

Kinnaman sees the current generation attitudes heavily influenced by their elder’s attitudes and Christian education hits and misses. In many ways, this means that college ministry to these Mosiacs starts with a disadvantage. (The Barna Group has been referring to Millennials /emerging adults  as “Mosaics”, because of their mosaic approach to life, and the spectrum of attitudes and characteristics they exhibit.) It does, however, point to some areas which would be helpful for campus ministry programming: Creating a safe space for doubting and challenging their faith; clearly addressing scientific culture and methodology; honestly addressing sexuality and sexual issues (and not just GLBTQ issues); and addressing the exclusiveness and openness of Christianity.

Read this book. Encourage any youth minister or Christian Educator you know who is good to read it. It’s that important.


You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith
. David Kinnaman . Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 201.1

The Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church” is a short article giving the highlights of the project’s findings.

The book’s website has a downloadable chapter and additional articles, as well as the study guides mentioned above.

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ... And Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Sixth Week Sabbatical

The beginning of the school year has a couple of collegiate ministry markers.
Three Days - First year students will have initially sorted the cohort they will associate with. (Will it be campus ministry -orientated?)
Two Weeks - the rhythm of the semester for most students has been settled. (If Tuesday night hasn't been set aside for your campus fellowship meeting, chances are they won't be coming.)
Six Weeks - Student and faculty have been going full speed and need a (fall or spring) break. The trajectory of student academic involvement has been set, and unless there is significant impetus to change, will continue as currently developed.

College ministers have been going full speed probably since two weeks before the First Years arrived. So the sixth week mark is time for a Sabbath, and not just a  day off. (Many college ministers don't take a day off for the first six weeks!)

It's time for collegiate ministers to take two days off as a mini-sabbatical. Planning or conducting a fall break retreat or service project does not count!!! A two day get-a-way for rest and replenishment.

Your students will thank you for it!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Validated Ministry?

I know a Teaching Elder who pastors a worshiping community of 50. This community has an outreach which connects with another 100. Some of these participate in the community's worship, education, or service each week. The community routinely witnesses to the world and shares the Gospel with an intensity which is the envy of the Presbytery's Evangelism Committee. Or would be the envy if the Evangelism Committee recognized their existence.

But this worshiping community is not recognized by their presbytery. Their Teaching Elder is not recognized as a Pastor by the Presbytery. In fact, she has to fill out forms so that the Presbytery can VALIDATE her ministrations for the next year. The Presbytery annually reviews the administration of the worshiping communities they call "local congregations", while they ignore the active, faithful, worshiping community on campus.

This current generation of college students is much more interested in koinonia and experiencing the grandeur and Grace of God than in denominational posturing. This generation is more interested in doing than joining, so traditional notions of church membership don't seem appealing.

Is it too much to hope that the Presbyteries will see that they have some responsibility as well as investment in students within the bounds of the Presbytery as adult members who no longer worship with their congregations of origin?

The recent idea of the denomination starting "1001 new worshiping communities in the next ten years" is a start, because it recognizes that "church" (white clapboard, steeple, and well-scrubbed Waltons) is not reflective of this century, and "worshiping communities" are really what the denomination wants to encourage and grow.

So how about encouraging the formation of new and the supporting of existing worshiping communities on our campuses?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Locus of College Chaplaincy

In my last entry, I wrote about Chaplains being in a unique position because their ministry had two foci. They don't belong solely to either The Church or The Academy, but occupy an overlapping area, as this Venn diagram illustrates.

Besides CHURCH and ACADEMY, this area could also illustrate the Chaplain's area between  SPECIFIC DENOMINATION and MULTIFAITH, PASTOR and MISSIONARY, FACULTY and ADMINISTRATION.

Fish or fowl, Athens or Jerusalem, this area is inhabited by few on campus. No wonder that chaplains feel lonely and need communities of chaplains for koinonia and support!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How Chaplains and Campus Ministers Differ from Congregational Pastors

Much of the difference in ministry between chaplains and campus ministers and the ministry of congregations  can be explained by the locus of their ministries.

Let us label the focus or ground of congregations as "The Church." I am using The Church as a descriptive axis mundi, and that it is comprised of the faith community, the Gospel message, the Christian faith and tradition, denominations, as well as specific worshiping communities.The Church sends members out into the culture with the expectation that they will bring new people into the Christian faith or The Church. The Church encounters The Culture, and changes its vocabulary and approach in order that as the Gospel message is sent out, it might connect with the Culture and help new people to come into The Church. The those persons reach out to The Culture in service and in hopes of bringing new people into The Church.

"The Academy" is the descriptive axis mundi of higher education institutions, the academic life, and the intellectual life of the liberal arts.  The Academy encounters the Culture, and changes its vocabulary and approach in order that new persons may be brought into the Academy, and then sent out to transform The Culture and to bring new persons into the The Academy.

So there are two different institutional areas which have similarities in their life-cycle. I recognize that this sounds a little theoretical and convoluted, but it will help in understanding chaplains and campus ministers.

The Church sees The Academy as just one part of The Culture. It has no privileged position.  Churches may see college campuses as specific places where potential converts / new members/ attendees reside. Their outreach to them is similar to outreach to a nearby housing project or retirement community. What goes on inside The Academy is not of particular interest, except as it impacts the evangelism/ mission / outreach of The Church. For example, a congregation with a college ministry is not interested in residence hall regulations or college class policies, but only in the students. As the students' lives are impacted, or as the lives of congregants who are college employes are impacted, the congregation is interested. But otherwise, The Academy is just a segment of The Culture.

In a like way, The Academy sees The Church as just one part of the culture. Church-related colleges may see The Church as a source of students and development funds, but church politics and pronouncements have little impact within The Academy.  The Academy is interested in retaining its students, so it may make some accommodation for limited student involvement with The Church.

Chaplains live and work out of both The Church and The Academy. Life within The Academy is not part of The Culture, it is one of the two centers out of which ministry occurs. The chaplain is interested and involved in campus politics and policies. They don't come on campus to do ministry, they are on campus doing ministry. The image of church ministers is off campus, coming onto the campus to encounter students to lead them off campus. The image of chaplains is on campus, moving through the campus, to lead students both more deeply into The Academy as well as more deeply into The Church.

Para-church organizations illustrate this distinction. For example, I have attended many CRU meetings, a few staff meetings, and have known a number of staff members over the years. ( Since July 22, Campus Crusade of Christ is now CRU, having taken just ten years to be forced to realize that their vocabulary -  "crusade" -  needed to be changed.) In all of those meetings, the focus was on personal commitment to Jesus Christ. I never heard one talk on why commitment to Jesus would mean being a better student, or why education could make one a better Christian, or that loving commuter students might translate into supporting their request for adequate on-campus storage and study space. I did hear encouragement to embrace the behavior of The Church - no drinking, swearing, or sex- but never to embrace the behavior of The Academy. The para-church lives and works out of The Church.

Chaplains have difficulty in talking with The Church about their work. That they have relationships with non-Christians in which they are encouraging, for example, Hindus to be better Hindus and not encouraging them to become Christians, the Chaplains are speaking out of their position within The Academy. When they encourage students to go to seminary or to connect with a local worshiping community whose worship style and hospitableness might seem more appealing, the chaplains are speaking out of their position within The Church.

Depending on the campus ministries and the campus ministers, they may be located primarily within The Church, and spend varying time within The Academy. Congregationally based college ministries almost always operate with The Church.

How does this resonate with your experience?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Role of Collegiate Ministers

A colleague and I were discussing roles of collegiate ministers in the lives of students. One metaphor meaningful to her was the African tribal elder who can point out to younger travelers the signs, footprints, and stories of the animals and plants that have left their mark in the veld around them. These signs point to a larger, richer world.

That reminded me of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and two places which correspond to collegiate ministry; the House of The Interpreter and the shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. During his journey, Christian comes to the House of The Interpreter. There he sees images with the Interpreter which help him understand his journey. Christian then leaves the Interpreter's House and continues on his way. Eventually he comes to the Delectable Mountains. There they meet the shepherds Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, and are given a "perspective glass" so that they can see the Celestial City from the top of Mount Clear.

In both of these encounters, Christian is shown images and helped to understand how they make sense and direction for his journey of faith. During the college years, when most students encounter critical thinking along with the greater diversity of of the world, collegiate ministers help them interpret the images and experiences they are encountering through the lens of Christ. The students are assisted in their meaning-making and reframing of their personal stories in light of their educational banquet at college. In college they are shown the signs which point to a larger, richer world. Collegiate ministry helps interpret them.

This is evangelism, the sharing of the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. It is not quite the same sharing that Evangelist does during Pilgrim's Progress. Evangelist directs Christian to the "Wicket Gate," where the straight and narrow highway begins.

There are some college ministries which have as their primary goal the making of Christian converts, getting students on the King's Highway. For Presbyterian ministers in Validated Ministries (such as campus ministers and chaplains) the encouragement and discipleship of students is possible, but their baptism and profession of faith must occur within a congregation. Because of our Presbyterian emphasis on "loving God with our minds,"  the primary service we do for the Church is in interpretation and encouraging students while we encounter them on their journey.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Leading Edge

At the recent Big Tent event, I realized the next step in Collegiate Ministry as R&D. We are also the leading edge. The leading edge is that part of a wing or sail which first comes in contact with the wind. By extension, it is used to describe the vanguard of an organization.

The P.C. (U.S.A.) is just beginning to realize that the emerging adult generation differs from their predecessors in that their disassociation from the church is more significant and lasting. There is currently a little hand wringing and little action.  If only the denomination could think to use the experience and expertise of the Academy and its ministers.

In the late 1990s, colleges realized that different strategies were necessary to recruit, teach, and retain the Millennial Generation. That generation expected more choices and individual accommodation (think self-designed majors, learning centers, residences instead of dorms). They valued authenticity over dogma. They were also more team orientated. They liked to explore choices, but were reluctant to make commitments.

Colleges and college ministries revised their methods of contacting, welcoming, and encouraging students. Would it dawn on the church's leadership to ask for help from those who have been living in this new, millennial, reality for over a decade and have had some success?  (Frequent feedback, voice, and input are also characteristics of these emerging adults.)

A Few Resources from the Academy
Emerging Adults: Learning and Development
Millennials Go To College, an executive summary
A Resource on Emerging Adults from Minnesota State University's Counseling Center

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Church's R and D

Collegiate Ministry often acts as the Research and Development Department of the Church. Before an issue blossoms into denominational awareness – and usually a concern because it is newness and change – it took root on campuses and college ministries addressed it. So there is a history of ways to address issues which denominations have available to them. Unfortunately, because collegiate ministry usually doesn’t get much attention, this history is ignored.

A recent Christian Century article discuss a recent trend of church membership. It seems that a growing number of folks don’t want to “join” a congregation, or to have “membership” in it.  Campus ministries have seen this for fifteen years. Students would come to events, participate, and even have leadership, but wouldn’t be “members” of the group. Sometimes you’d ask someone to step up to some leadership position and they would be reluctant to do that. Then they would reveal for the first time that they were Roman Catholic or Jewish or agnostic and assume that would somehow make them unfit. Or some student would say that they were a member of your fellowship group when they had only attended a time or two. Many campus ministries know their impact is wider and deeper than the numbers which denominations and governing boards seem to love.

How can we in collegiate ministry help the church see that our emphasis on hospitality, mirroring God's gracious hospitality, welcomes and allows seekers to find their home in Jesus?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Job Requirements

Today I received a job description for a Program Coordinator of Spiritual Life / Chaplain which contained a paragraph of "Typical Physical Demands." They included, " Requires sitting, standing, bending, and reaching."

I flashed on the perceptiveness of the HR person who unknowingly filled out this institutional standard form.

College ministry requires sitting:  sitting with students in their joys and sorrows, sitting with faculty and staff, sitting through long official functions and dinners, and sitting in prayer and reflection.

College ministry requires standing: standing for something, taking stands, standing around.

College ministry requires bending. Oh yeah. If you can't be flexible, you won't last long in this profession.

And  reaching. College ministry includes the  prophetic dimension, calling students, administration, and the institution itself to aim higher and deeper.

There was more.

"Requires normal range of hearing and vision."  The HR person got this section very wrong. College Ministry requires abnormal hearing and vision in order to pick up the flutterings of the Spirit. To be able to hear what is really being said and what actions really mean.

What is your real job description?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Substitute for a Chaplain?

A disturbing trend in PC(USA) –related colleges and universities has been to replace  a chaplain with  a coordinator of religious activities or a confederation of local pastors. While the ostensible reason for this is stated in financial terms, I believe that the underlying reasons are more philosophical.

The stated thought-process goes like this: (1) our student body is too diverse and a chaplain couldn’t minister to them; (2) we are a serious academic institution and therefore have no need of religious superstition; and (3) we are more tolerant than earlier generations of administrators and faculty, the position of chaplain is no longer necessary.

Since we need to cut expenses, the functions of the chaplain can be easily assumed by  (A) an existing staff person do religious programming and (B) local clergy give prayers or chapel services when needed.

Let me reflect on each of those statements.
 (1) “The student body is too religiously diverse for a chaplain from one tradition.” This concern usually comes from a generation where student bodies were more homogenous, and white protestant Christianity was the norm. Most higher education institutions today are religiously diverse. Flagship Ivy League universities maintain a chaplain and a staff to address multifaith concerns. The smaller the enrollment, the more concentrated those multifaith activities become in the person and office of a lone chaplain. For smaller institutions, a trend has been to acknowledge the increasing religious diversity of students by combining titles in the same position. Some PC(U.S.A.) examples are  “Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life”,  “Chaplain and Director of Interfaith Campus Ministries”, and “Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life”.

The particularity of a chaplain’s religious tradition is a necessary  asset on a diverse campus. The chaplain is not a local, denominational pastor. The chaplain’s congregation is primarily non-religious, anti-religious, and Whatever. The chaplain serves the institution in helping the entire student body in its individual members’ spiritual journey. That means that the Presbyterian chaplain is also the voice on campus encouraging the Baptists, Buddhists, Wiccans, as well as the Atheists. (Not in the skill-set of most local parish clergy) The Presbyterian characteristics of hospitality, humility, and Otherness of God provide a good foundation for chaplains. 
A student life staff member with responsibility for religious organizations cannot provide this. Nor can local clergy.

(2) “Religion has no place in the academic enterprise.” This comment is sometimes heard from faculty fearful of the anti-intellectualism of their stereotyped Christianity. Presbyterians are the ones who take to heart the commandment to “worship God with all your mind.” The prevalence of this thinking (residual Enlightenment rationalism) on PC(U.S.A.) church-related institutions is an indication that we have done a poor job of communicating our Presbyterian academic ethos to new hires.

The chaplain embodies the unity of academic study and religious faith on campus.  Many chaplains have some academic involvement and teach courses. Thirty five percent have advanced degrees and almost thirty percent have faculty rank. Chaplains are immersed in the academic culture. This environment of rigorous critical thinking subject to public critique colors the way chaplains do their job. Sermons, workshops, and classes given by chaplains – in general – tend to have a higher academic rigor than those given other clergy.

(3) “We are tolerant.” This remark indicates the confusion between toleration and hospitality. Toleration is a post-modern virtue, and allows for passive non-involvement with The Other. Hospitality is a biblical virtue which actively welcomes and involves The Other.

The chaplain nurtures the spiritual dimension of the institution. This nurture is accomplished directly through public worship and communication, and privately, in pastoral conversations with presidents, trustees, faculty, staff, and students. This spiritual nurture of students increasingly encompasses alumni.  Most mission statements speak of educating “the whole person.” The Chaplain is the person on campus who continually raises the “whole person” issue.

The unique position of the chaplain allows her or him to be aware of the institution’s telos in a deep and special way. Only the college’s president shares this vantage point. The Chaplain sees the institution as a community, and recognizes in a deep, spiritual way how the individual parts of the community are connected.

(A) “An existing staff person can coordinate religious activities.” This may be true, but a healthy institution needs more than programming.  A program coordinator is focused on present student need and is reactionary in its responsiveness.  A chaplain is focused on the entire institution and is prophetic and visionary, as well as responsive to current student needs.
The chaplain acts as an identifiable focal point for the Transcendent on campus. This is broader and deeper than program coordination. This is a conduit for all areas of the institution to address the spiritual life of students. Recent scholarship confirms that attentiveness to the spiritual dimension of students result in better retention, grades, satisfaction. Those students also become more active alumni. Rev. Donna Schaper calls the “the transcendent role of chaplains.”

(B) “Local clergy can do the chaplain’s job.” Local clergy have gifts and callings appropriate to the local church. While students and faculty need a local worshipping community, there are … Congregations are self-selecting around theological and sociological foci. A campus community is incredibly more diverse in every aspect. Ministering in this diversity requires skills different from those needed in a traditional congregation in a local setting. 

The chaplain is the institution’s tangible connection to the denomination. Over a quarter  of PC(USA) chaplains act as the church relations officer. In the three types of church-relatedness used by the denomination since 1994, a specific chaplaincy is one of the marks of two of them. Only “historically” related colleges omit mention of chaplains. The Synod of the Covenant ‘s standard covenant with a college has a “funded chaplaincy” as one of the ways the institution shows its church-relatedness. Even when additional personnel are designated as Church Relations Officers, the denomination frequently uses the chaplains as connecting points.

I am well aware that the characterizations I have made do not describe every institution, chaplain, or chaplain substitute, and that institutions have vibrant programs. Nonetheless, an institution with a designated and supported chaplain has a better chance of developing those characteristics which define a church-related college or university. The position the institutional position of Chaplain is more helpful to a church-related institution than a Coordinator of Religious Programs.  

Suggested Readings
Astin, Alexander W. et al. Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can EnhanceStudent’s Inner Lives. Jossey-Bass. 2010
Mohr, Jim. “To Be a Chaplain”, in Branching Out: The Journal of the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association, Spring 2011.
PC(U.S.A.) General Assembly “On Being Faithful: The Continuing Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Higher Education” Adopted by the 206th General Assembly (1994)
Schachter, Ron. “The Changing Chaplaincy: The role of religious leaders oncampus as the spiritual needs of students evolve.” In University Business (, October 2008
Schaper, Donna. “The Transcendent Role of Chaplains”, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 12, 2004