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