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?