Simply Missional: Christian Colleges and the Mission of God

pews1Well, I wrote a little something on private Christian schools for K -12, and so I figure I should say something about Christian colleges. By way of background, my wife and I graduated from Lipscomb (Church of Christ affiliated college in Nashville) way back in 1975. We both grew up in small congregations in small towns and loved our experience there, and we benefit from it even now 33 years later (has it been that long?)

My two oldest sons attended Harding (Church of Christ school in Arkansas) and did well. My third son (of four) is a sophomore at Auburn, a secular, state college. There he’s active in the student ministry run by the Auburn Church of Christ, which has been a great experience for him. My fourth son is a senior in the local public high school and is pondering his choices.

And so, I’m a fan of our Church of Christ colleges … well, most of them. Some are still consumed with legalism, and I wouldn’t send anyone to any of them.

This post is therefore not a criticism of the colleges. They do good work. Some do great work. Rather, the question is whether, in light of missional theology, our colleges might do even better? I mean, all of us know what a university in America is supposed to do, and so I just figure we should occassionally sit back and wonder whether we are a little too caught up in the university paradigm. In other words, how would our colleges change if they were to become as missional as possible?

Now, there are immediate, severe limitations on just how missional a college can be. After all, people go to college to prepare for a career or grad school. The schools won’t survive at all unless students enrolled in the school of education come out with teacher certificates prepared to teach. Right? The colleges have to be colleges.

Nor can they focus solely on ministry training. We also need Christian pharmacists, doctors, and accountants.

But they can do better, I think.

Let’s get back to basics. If I’m going to send my child to a Christian college, paying upwards of $80,000 for a degree, and if my interests are thoroughly Christian and not secular, what are my priorities?

Well, first, I want my child educated on how to be a great Christian, right? I want him to learn good, solid, Bible-based doctrine. I want him to know missiology — how individuals and churches effectively do mission. And I want him to have solid grounding in ecclesiology — how to be part of a church that is truly a vital part of God’s kingdom.

Also, I want her to have a great personal relationship with God. I’d love for her to be into Bible study, prayer, and, well, just have a deep awareness of God’s presence through the Spirit and her purpose in God’s Kingdom.

Beyond this, I’d want him prepared to serve in God’s Kingdom, to teach, to evangelize, to serve, and to lead. I don’t mean he needs to be a great Bible class teacher. Rather, I’d want him to be able to talk to his friends about Jesus. And I’d want him to see Christian values in all his courses.

In short, I think all Christian college graduates should be prepared either for fulltime ministry or for vocational ministry — that is, service in God’s Kingdom while working in a secular job. 

To some extent, at this age, students can’t be required to do these things. We can make them attend classes on being missional, but we can’t make them be missional. Rather, the school should work hard to (a) make the opportunities available and (b) develop a culture where community service, mission trips, and such are central to life on campus. I mean, I’d gladly trade 100 mandated chapel attendances for 1 volunteer experience at a homeless shelter. 

Part of the plan has to be to have professors with a passion for Jesus, who love their students, and who invite them to participate in their own Christian walks. To the extent the students can spend time with professors or local volunteers or church leaders, they’ll be far better prepared than mere schoolwork can accomplish.

Now I may not be right, but I’m actually more okay with kids being in a holy cocoon while in college than in high school. My kids all attended public high school and all learned to live as Christians in a secular world at that age. They haven’t needed to learn that skill in college. Rather, college has been a time to learn a lot of Bible and build ties with Christians from across the country that will serve them well for years to come. In short, I think some of both is good. And they enjoyed their college cocoon time as a time to grow in Christ —  but in a different way than while in high school or after graduation. 

And so, as I said regarding private K-12 schools, the best solution depends on the child and the options available to him. 

Some of our colleges do in fact attempt much of what I describe, with varying degrees of success. It’s tough for a college to do, particularly as most of our kids come from a church background that is essentially secular — make lots of money, go to church on Sundays, be nice. Therefore, the college has to work hard to develop an ethos or culture of missional living. But once the develop the culture, the upper classmen will pass it along to the younger students. It’ll take root and become the identity of that university for generations.

Now, I’m just kind of thinking out loud. College was a long time ago for me, But here are a few ideas —

* Work to develop a campus life. Don’t allow too many commuters to enroll. You see, commuters bring their culture with them. Residents develop their own culture. The best colleges, I think, have only a few commuters (Score Harding high on this scale).

* Make freshmen live on campus — even if mom and dad live a block away. I’d really prefer that students live on campus three or more years. The campus needs to be a community, not an educational mall.

* Fill chapel with graduates who have become what you want graduates to be. Be sure church planters, vocational ministers, and volunteers in community service come back to visit and talk about their lives in the Kingdom. Share the good news.

* And fill the chapels with missionaries from around the globe. Let these men and women become heroes of the faith (as Pepperdine does wonderfully at its lectureships — just do it before the student body).

* Teach grace. Don’t teach legalism.

* Don’t be legalists. Don’t insist on a bunch of stupid rules that have nothing to do with being Christians. It’s hard to teach grace while acting like a legalist.

* Offer nearly free education for those going into mission work or fulltime ministry. Sacrifice what you have to. Maybe you pay their student loans off over 10 years so long as they remain in the ministry. It just breaks my heart to see kids taking on huge school debt to go into missions or to take a $30,000 youth ministry job.

* Offer internet or extension courses that compete head to head with our odious preaching schools. Give second-career guys the opportunity to learn the gospel affordably and conveniently.

* Work for unity in the Churches of Christ — based on grace. There is nothing more demoralizing to our young people than our bickering and fighting and insistence on tradition over the gospel. Don’t pretend it’s not your problem or not the university’s mission. If you are about God’s mission, it’s your mission, too.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Simply Missional: Christian Colleges and the Mission of God

  1. Alton P. says:

    You mention "odious preaching schools". I have said for some time that I believe the preaching schools have contributed much to the legalism and decline in growth of the Church of Christ.
    The primary goal of college should be to teach one to think for themself. The preaching schools for the most part are indoctrination schools that teach the student to follow the beliefs of the person or persons running the school.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Alton, "odious" was the strongest word I could think of suitable for a G-rated web site. Roget's suggests —

    Definition: So objectionable as to elicit despisal or deserve condemnation.

    Synonyms: abhorrent, abominable, antipathetic, contemptible, despicable, despisable, detestable, disgusting, foul, infamous, loathsome, lousy, low, mean, nasty, nefarious, obnoxious, repugnant, rotten, shabby, vile, wretched

    And, so, yes, "odious" works.

    I wish there were a way to close them all, but the best idea I can come up with is for the universities to out-compete them with a better, truer gospel taught conveniently and at low cost.

    But I'm afraid many of our colleges are too proud of being universities with grad schools to lower themselves to even try to compete. Which makes sense — if you are only concerned about your institution.

    (Harding — God bless them — is actually offering competing programs. To my knowledge, the other universities do not.)

  3. Katherine says:

    Amen, brother!! Very well put. From one who grew up in a Christian high school, then attended a private Christian university in Lubbock, and finished a Master's while working at another Christian university in Abilene…and who as a woman called to do ministry, has racked up thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt working on 2 degrees…who now has been in search of a job for WELL over a year with no avail-watching the debt grow and the opportunities slip away while her alma mater will not even hire her…I heartily Amen this!!

    I love reading your posts (even if I do not always comment)-thank you for your insight and keep up the great work 🙂

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