I have served in evangelical ministry for 15 years now. Most of that time has been devoted to campus ministry in the typical Evangelical parachurch model. (Even denominational campus ministry typically follows a parachurch approach.)
The idea of parachurch ministry as the word literally means–ministry alongside the church–is a noble idea. The general idea came about as an attempt to help the church reach those segments of society that often get left out. I hope my discussion here relays the respect I have for my forebears in such efforts. I honor those who would try something to make sure that lost and hurting people do not get left out of the church.
The problem is that after over a generation of widespread growth of parachurch ministries it seems evident that it simply doesn’t work. I do not mean to imply that no one has ever been helped or reached or served by such organizations–that would be wrong. However, Jesus said he would build his church, but parachurch ministries tend to build the organization. At some point they end up replacing the church for the people involved, which is not necessarily tragic unless it teaches them to never fit in a church again–which is often what happens. (I cannot count the number of baby boomers I’ve met who told me they attended Campus Crusade, Intervaristy, FCA, etc. while they were in college but have not stepped inside a church since because they never found a place where they fit.)
Take for instance my own experience in campus ministry. No church can replicate the atmosphere of a campus ministry; niche churches try, but is that really the way to make disciples? Do we really want to custom design services around every little subcultural grouping? When we do that we cease to be the church, we deny the very work of Christ which was reconciliation. Whereas the early church described by Justin Martyr was a body where people from groups that once hated each other so much that they would not sit at a fire together to keep warm now eat together, work together, and worship together; we are steadily building a church that is nothing but a religious version of our consumerist society in which freedom of choice in every aspect of life is the rule.
Several years ago we tried to plant a campus church to beat that trend of failing to integrate students into the broader life of the church. Others have done that with some success–though it remains to be seen how much. Ours failed for several reasons that I’ll not delve into here. However, even had it “succeeded,” I am prone to think it would have been but one more instance of the consumer driven church model, one more instance of a church that looks more like Babel and less like Pentecost.
Our next step was to find an established church near the campus so we could do campus ministry “out of the church.” The only problem is that on some level it is still “out of” as in not really part of the larger church body.
Thankfully, God has been faithful to slowly destroy my every attempt to force success out of the church, and I think I finally have been sufficiently crushed so as to listen and learn from the Spirit just what we are supposed to do. How are we to be intentional about ministry to those places like the college campus that the church often fails to touch without segregating the body and working against the work of Christ that unifies and breaks down every dividing wall of race, sex, age, language, class, and culture?
The phrase God has given me as a starting point is “ministry from within.” This happens on three levels that I will explain as the blog continues. This is not something that will happen overnight–we are only just putting it into place, but I hope here to trace our successes and failures as we minister to our campus from within.