Articles From the November 1994 Unification News


The Challenge of Effective Campus Work

By Kathy Winings

Student leaders, student club directors, and campus ministers alike face a common challenge. That challenge is to develop and maintain a satisfying and effective community on campus. Especially with today's budget cuts, diminishing resources, and reassessment of maintaining campus facilities, campus ministers across denominational lines are being asked to justify the investment in their programs. The fewer the students who are involved in their ministries and activities, the more challenging this task seems.

While Unification campus ministers may not have to face this particular issue, we do face the ultimate challenge, though, of creating an effective and stable community among our students and friends. What, then, can we do? What is the solution? In talking to students, campus ministers, and others involved in higher education, we discovered a few key points which can serve to guide us in answering these questions.

First, as Brent Waters, chaplain for the University of the Redlands, has suggested, part of our problem may be that we continue to assume that communities and institutions are one and the same. The university is clearly an institution. It has a particular purpose--to provide educational opportunities for its students. Our universities have been asked to fulfill a very pragmatic goal. In that case, they are not overly concerned or designed to create what we have come to recognize as community. Nor should we expect these institutions of higher education to create intentional communities.

However, once the student is finished with his or her courses for the day or week, they begin to focus on their other needs. One of which is a hunger for friendship and association with other students by forming some sort of community. Traditionally, this need for community has been fulfilled by various fraternities, sororities, student clubs, sports, as well as other fields of interest. Through these communities, students are confronted with a panorama of values, ideas and lifestyles which contribute greatly to molding the developing the character and personality of the university student. Hence, as campus ministers seeking to influence this development for God and Christ, we need to better understand the role of community if we are to be successful in attracting students to the community of faith.

What is this thing called "community?" A common understanding of community is that it is a collection of individuals who are bound together by a particular narrative, tradition or purpose which enables them to continue their search for truth. A community is strengthened as its shared memory develops. As Waters has described it, a community is "story formed." But an even more essential component of a community is the sense of clear direction and purpose. A community needs to feel that it is going somewhere. In fact, most associations to which students are attracted provide this exact component.

This is where we believe that campus ministries and their associated religious student clubs can interface. They have the ability and opportunity to provide students with a community experience which supports and nurtures their search for truth. We alone can develop genuine communities through which students can search for truth in an environment of fellow human beings of like heart and mind. Through this community, students can experience a real sense of movement and development, which will motivate them to not only participate in the group, but to be an integral part of the group. But how can one create a truly satisfying community? In the past, many of us thought that if we could offer a diverse array of programs and events, we would be able to create a community of students. However, we are quickly realizing that this may not be the case. What is the problem? A large part of the problem is that many of these programs are just that--a disconnected series and assortment of programs. This will not contribute to creating a satisfying and healthy community of committed individuals.

Just as a teacher must develop short term and long term lesson objectives, I believe that campus ministers should also allow their programs and activities to develop out of some sort of lesson objective. To help us with this process, we might ask ourselves: What is the point of this program? Is it to merely to attract students? Is the program merely a mask which hides an underlying objective of converting students? Or does the program address a legitimate need and does it contribute to creating a stable and healthy campus community? Our answer should indicate whether or not we should sponsor the program.

At the end of a semester or school year, students want to be able to say and feel that as a result of their involvement in a particular club or group, they learned something and they gained something of benefit for their lives. This is not to say that it is wrong to evangelize. But, evangelism by itself is too narrow a goal and does not do much to promote the building of a broad-based community which serves the needs of both the students and the university at large.

If our programs are merely a front for evangelism, students will feel used and deceived, and will probably only continue to avoid religious issues and involvement. If our programs do not speak to their world, and have the objective of building community, we will find fewer and fewer students attending our programs and more and more students looking elsewhere for their spiritual nourishment.

One way to meet this challenge is to develop programs around a consistent theme. Each program or activity could focus on a new aspect of that theme. For instance, one might consider themes such as "Developing a Healthy Life." Each week would then tackle one aspect of this theme in more depth such as: "The Components of a Healthy, Emotional Life," "Social Influences for an Unhealthy Life," etc. Not only would each week focus on a different aspect of the theme, but they could reflect a variety of methods and styles. They might also include bringing in guest speakers, an artistic approach, field trips, group discussions, etc. Students would then be able to participate in the aspects which interest them. As they participate, they would gradually establish relationships and friendships with other like minded students attending these programs, and, as a result of these friendships, they begin to feel that they are a part of a community with a purpose and direction.

This does not preclude offering special programs and events that are not clearly connected to the theme. Often these type of activities provide an interesting diversion. However, the strength of the main program would still be evident and would identify the particular organization and club as a focused, exciting, and dynamic community. The drawback to this kind of ministry is the personal investment involved. It requires one to sit down and take the time to make a plan for the entire term as well as the school year. It requires one to consider profoundly the needs of the students with whom they work and for whom they work. However, in the long run, we believe that this is a far more satisfying approach to campus ministry.

Another means to address this challenge is by providing a vital and fulfilling Sunday service plan. A spiritually rich Sunday service that is designed to feed students and community members alike goes a long way toward building a sense of community. All people--students and professionals alike--look for the opportunity to address the mysteries of god through intentional rituals and worship. It is also healthy for students to be able to worship in a community that is generationally rich and diverse. And, it is healthy for families to worship with the students as well.

How might one create what we would call a student-friendly Sunday worship? Music that is well-chosen is one factor. There are many songbooks that have exciting and inspirational music that is geared for young adults. But, this music is equally stimulating for all age groups. Secondly, again, one should look at their service structure and ask if it has a clear focus and purpose. Third, you may which to consider creating a sermon series based on one theme. In New York, a sermon series was created around the theme: "Stepping Out on the Word of God." The series looked at: Joseph and Reuben, Moses and Joshua, Jesus, religious saints, and a concluding sermon on what this means for each one of us on a daily basis. A fourth component is providing ample time during the service for prayer an personal meditation or quiet time. Just remember that a rich and meaningful Sunday worship time is a vital component of developing and nurturing a community-- especially if it includes students.

Whatever you chose to do for your campus ministry, do not be discouraged if it does not happen overnight. Spiritual work is not for those seeking instant results. It requires time and a certain amount of personal involvement. However, regardless of the time needed to develop a satisfying and healthy campus ministry, it is worth every minute of it!


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