Collegiate Ministry at Early Colleges

 

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In 2003 a new form of education was born with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  It was called Early College, and would help accelerate a high-school student’s ability to begin college work.  The first Early College was in North Carolina at Guildford College.  Today, there are 113 early college programs in North Carolina, with many others scattered around the country.  For churches and ministries doing collegiate work, the Early College concept presents unique challenges and opportunities for ministry:  high-school students on a college campus, administered by a high-school system.

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Why You Should Read The Benedict Option

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Rod Dreher is not an academic.  He has no Ph.D. and does not teach at a university.  Yet, he is able to take complex concepts of philosophy, sociology, history, etc. and explain them in ways that most people can grasp.  He is also not a priest, pastor, or leader of a parachurch organization.  Yet he writes and speaks as a layman with true spiritual depth.  He shares his own struggles, faith, faults, and victories with a transparency and sincerity that we can resonate with.  You would actually like to sit down with him and talk about life.  And this is one of the great things about The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, it is not coming from an academic or denominational leader:  it is coming from the ground up.  And for the Benedict Option to work, that is exactly what is needed to get it going.

Of course, the success of the Benedict Option is also due to its timing.  Though Rod alluded to the Benedict Option ten years ago in his book Crunchy Cons, I don’t know if most Christians would have been ready.  Anyone who read Lesslie Newbingin 40 years ago, or Missional Church almost 20 years go will know the diagnosis of the decline of Christianity in the United States, but during these ten years since Rod mentioned the need for a new Benedict, so much has happened.  The Millennial generation has shifted to the left on social norms and politics, marginal issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights have become new norms, businesses have become arbiters of family values, sports is a tool for cultural enforcement, and what was once considered out-of-control political correctness on our campuses is now ubiquitous.  I don’t need an academic to explain it to me, I see it everyday.

But there are other forces at work too. Technology like the internet and cell phones have brought us amazing amounts of information, but the ability to literally spend our whole lives on pointless trivia.  The “authentic self” that philosopher Charles Taylor wrote of in his masterpiece The Secular Age, reached its apogee in Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner.  Bruce Jenner, a Cold War hero to us in Generation X, became a cause celeb to Generation Z as Caitlyn Jenner.  Transpose that Wheaties picture of Bruce in 1976, winner of the Olympic decathlon and “world’s greatest athlete” with Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, and you see trajectory of where we are headed as a nation.

As Christians we did not want to believe the academics.  Developing as a nation under the canopy of our country as a “city on a hill” from John Winthrop’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity, we always told ourselves we could “go back” to ideal times.  Revivals did help, and many truly believed that with the right focus on the right segments of society, we could still transform the culture.   But we finally find ourselves “strangers in a strange land” to steal a line from Robert Heinlein.  Continue reading

Dealing with the new Dark Age: The Benedict Option.

benedict-optionIf you are not familiar with Rod Dreher or his writing, you may not know what the Benedict Option (a.k.a the Ben Op) is.  Rod’s book will be out on March 14th so you do not have long to find out if you want to read it.  In the meantime he has written numerous posts at the American Conservative.  Perhaps his fullest sketch of the Ben Op was at Southern Seminary during the school’s Gheens lectures.  To see his first lecture on The New Dark Age click here.

However, if you don’t have time to listen, I will try to outline a few basics about Rod’s thesis.

  1.  The west is going through a new Dark Ages which will bring challenges to the American church.  This new Dark Ages will last a long time. There will not be a quick fix and it will most likely bring different forms of marginalization and economic persecution to the Church.
  2. The goal of Christians during the this Dark Age should be less about propping up American Imperium and more about building an Ark to survive the flood waters that are going to sweep over the country.
  3. In order to reemerge at some distant point with the Gospel, the Church will have to spend more time educating and disciplining its members in a new more Christ-centered community.  These communities will need to be somewhat removed from culture, but not removed geographically.
  4. All orthodox Christians, whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox, will need to find common cause, while drawing upon strength in their own traditions to build these communities.
  5. It’s called the Benedict Option after St. Benedict who founded a monastic order at the end of Roman empire.  This order over the next few centuries protected and nurtured the Gospel during the Dark Ages for the West at a later date.

This is the Benedict option in a nutshell.   Continue reading

What Season is the American church in today?

FallWe often hear about a post-Christian America and what that means for the church today.  I think we can get bogged down in definitions, and at times even struggle for a way to explain it.  Sometimes a graphic or image can help make things more clear.  For describing the situation, I really like what Tim Keller says in his book  Center Church.  In that book he uses the concepts of seasons to explain where we are today.  Here are the seasons and what they mean in the relationship of culture and church.

Winter describes a church that is not only in a hostile relationship to a pre-Christian culture but is gaining little traction; is seeing little distinctive, vital Christian life and community; and is seeing no evangelistic fruit.  In many cultures today, the church is embattled and spiritually weak.

Spring is a situation in which the church is embattled, even persecuted by a pre-Christian culture, but it is growing (e.g. as in China).

Summer is what Niebuhr described as an “allied church,” where the church is highly regarded by the public and where we find so many Christians in the center of cultural production that Christians feel at home in the culture.

Autumn is where we find ourselves in the West today, becoming increasingly marginalized in a post-Christian culture and looking for new ways to both strengthen our distinctiveness and reach out winsomely.

According to Keller we are in the Autumn period in the West, though various regions can be a different levels within a season, or perhaps in another season.  Keller’s point in the book is that we can use different methods of engagement depending on the season.  According to Keller it would seem the Relevance and Countercultural positions (the other two are Two Kingdoms and Transformationist) would be the best for an Autumn period.  Of course, one may have theological or other objections to these two positions.  Regardless of where one lands on what position to use, I think that Keller’s imagery is a good one, and a great starting place to think about how the church responds to a culture that is “increasingly marginalized.”

 

 

Raising Support in Six Months

I am always excited and amazed when I sit down to do a podcast with someone.  This month, however, I was truly inspired when I sat down with Scott Kilby who is on staff at BCM of the High Country in Boone, NC.  His story of how God lead him to go into collegiate ministry, and how he raised his support in just six months is a testament to God and how what seems like the impossible can happen.  I hope you will spend a few minutes to hear his story and see what God can do to bring workers to the harvest.  Here is the link for the No Campus Left podcast.

The Benedict Option comes to Southern Seminary

I have been looking forward to reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for almost a year now.  Though the book is set to come out in March, Rod laid out a large part of the book in several talks given at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this week.  If you know nothing about Rod, or his thesis to be laid out in his book, these talks will help you get the big picture.  If you want to preorder the book, you will get a copy on March 14th or so.  If you don’t know what this is about, here is an excerpt from the Amazon blurb:

In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life. 

The link is down now while the talks are being edited.  When they are edited, I will post the link again.

 

There is so much here to process.  Hope you listen, read, and talk to someone about it.

Steps to Cross-Cultural Servanthood

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We know that Jesus came to serve and not be served.  His example sets a high standard for us to follow.  We all should be servants in some way.   But let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, we often are commanding servants, well-meaning but blind servants, or perhaps befuddled servants.  This is especially true in cross-cultural situations.  Often the way we serve is geared to our own culture and may not be appropriate in another culture.  The way we help might be confusing or frustrating to those we are trying to help.  According to a study cited by Dr.  Duane Elmer, 76% of missionaries are of a “duty bound” personality type.  This means they are interested in getting things done and transmitting communication.  They are not that good at receiving information or being sensitive to their hearers.  Think about that.  Those who have the drive to get something done, are often the least likely to listen to those they are trying to help.

Thankfully, Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood helps us layout stepping-stones to create a path to appropriate servanthood.  Though written for those who are going to be living in another culture, I have used his steps to help train volunteers here in the U.S. working with international students.  I think your training and ministry experience will be greatly improved by walking his path.

So what are the stepping-stones that lay out a path to culturally appropriate servanthood?   Dr. Elmer lists six overall steps:  openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, and serving.

Here is his layout of the steps.

Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.

Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person.

Trust is the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.

Learning is the ability to glean relevant information about, from, and with other people.

Understanding is the ability to see patterns of behavior and values that reveal the integrity of a people.

Serving is the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and that they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives.

Each definition includes the word “ability.”  An ability, according to Dr. Elmer, is “something we can do, do better and even master.”  And that’s good because we all need to to improve, especially when we are in a cross-cultural ministry.

Each one of these steps has much to offer us in improving our ability to serve cross-culturally, but I only have space to focus on the first two which are needed to begin the journey.

When I was heading up a ministry focused on ministering to international students one of my major frustrations was finding volunteers (both students and non-students) who were “open” to spending time with international students.  Many people were good at making meals, giving money, or verbally supporting what I was doing.  But it was often hard to get people to actually get in the trenches, so to speak, and do the hard work of cross-cultural relationships.  But after reading Dr. Elmer’s chapter on “Openness,” I understand that many people, even while wanting to serve, are not able to be effective due to a limited ability to be open.

According to Dr. Elmer, several skills are needed to be open.  These skills are:  suspending judgment, tolerance for ambiguity, thinking gray, and positive attribution.  To sum these skills up, perhaps we should say that we need more cultural mental “margin” in how we think about others.  Perhaps things will not make sense in the beginning, but with time we will come to see the patterns that do make sense in the lives of others.  By not writing someone off early in the relationship due to miscommunication, unexpected behavior, or prejudice, we remain open for more understanding and those long-expected “aha” moments.  Being open to those who are not like us is the gate to cross-cultural servanthood.

What I like about the chapter on “acceptance” is how he describes obstacles that prevent us from accepting others.  He lists five:  language, impatience, ethnocentrism, category width, and dogmatism.  Each of these obstacles have impact on our ministry to people from other cultures, but one that really interested me was “category width.”  Narrow category width people don’t have as many categories for classifying experiences.  Thus when they experience something that seems culturally “different” they may just place it in the “wrong” category.  This person, this situation, this behavior is “wrong,” so I need to move on.    For those with “wide category width” they are able to create new categories for “cultural differences.” You can see how having “narrow category width” sets up conflict between missionaries/servants and those they wish to help.

So how does Dr. Elmer’s steps help us become better servants?  Discovering, learning about, and processing these obstacles is a great training exercise to improve one’s ability to be a better servant.  Reading through the list of steps and then asking yourself or team questions about how they relate to your ministry will bring out issues you most likely have not thought about.

  • Do you care if your team is building trust with those you are serving?  Or do you “serve” from a position of power?
  • Do you want to learn from those whom you serve?  Or do you just want to teach them?
  • Do you see integrity and value in the culture of those you minister to, or do you just want to change them?
  • Is your serving affirming their dignity and empowering them to live God-glorifying lives?

I could go on and on with the questions, but I think you are getting an idea of how you will be challenged yet encouraged by reading Dr. Elmer’s book.  Doing cross-cultural ministry can be an exciting, spiritually rewarding ministry.  It can also be a frustrating and draining ministry.  But the good news about working with young student volunteers is that you can begin bringing up these issues and improving skills before natural tendencies that make cross-cultural ministry difficult get deeply ingrained in them.  Start laying out your steps for this very important journey.