Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Missions-Minded Students and Christian Colleges

Last week, I interviewed the couple who leads Kaleo, a ministry that hosts short-term missions groups in Dallas and New Orleans. Their first group of students came from non-Christian universities, and some were new Christians. Later in the week, I talked with the director of communication in the Home Office of American Missionary Fellowship (the umbrella organization for Kaleo and my main client as a freelance writer/editor). During our discussion, she mentioned that many of the college students who are interested in missions work do not attend Christian schools.

This mission-mindedness on campuses with no Christian affiliation (or whose Christian affiliation is little more than a nod to the college’s founders) does not surprise me. After all, students at these universities are living on a mission field, while Christian college students are immersed in the Christian subculture. At Christian colleges, students who have not chosen to follow Christ are already exposed to the teaching of the Bible and tend to keep their doubts to themselves. When surrounded by like-minded professors and peers, evangelical students in Christian colleges may have difficulty finding someone to evangelize.

I greatly value the biblical instruction I received at a Christian college, and I do see the need for missionaries to have theological training. But I wonder whether Christian colleges have a tendency to shelter their students from the world a bit too much. I remember feeling disappointed to discover that my graduate school, which I chose partly because of its motto, “Christian leadership to change the world,” was full of students who seemed to be hiding from the world. (A telling incident was when a stranger at the student-housing shuttle stop told my roommate, who was working out her own beliefs, “As a Christian, you should not be wearing that Calvin Klein t-shirt.”)

When surrounded by others who share their beliefs, Christian-college students can easily miss the needs and issues faced by people outside the Christian community. In the words of an old Petra song, they begin “looking through rose-colored stained-glass windows, never allowing the world to come in – seeing no evil and feeling no pain, making the light as it comes from within so dim.”

What’s the solution? Maybe Christian colleges should encourage all students to take a short-term missions trip during their time of study by offering credit for it. At the same time, Christian colleges and churches could work together to offer students from non-Christian colleges theological training to prepare them for missions work without forcing them to prolong their education.

Future missionaries need solid theological training and a deep love for people who are not following Christ. As the church, we should use every opportunity to develop both of these characteristics in our people.

3 comments:

  1. Four of our five kids have graduated from three excellent Christian colleges: in Virginia, Illinois, and Oregon. We agree with your observations regarding the need for these students to serve on a mission. Serving as summer missionaries with AMF was a major part of their training, resulting in 2 of our 5 becoming career foreign missionaries.

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  2. Interesting thoughts, although at GCC there were a lot of groups who did short-term missions trips (Habitat for Humanity-though that's more service oriented than evangelism, Clown's for Christ Tour-most performances were in churches, but there were some opportunities that were more evangelistic: we went to a jail once, another time we were in inner city Philly working with non-churched kids...).

    One factor that popped into my head immediately is that tuition cost is such an issue that some kids are prohibited from missions work. I always wanted to do a summer missions trip, but I couldn't afford to not work. I worked 2 jobs (office temp work & waitressing) every summer to cover the tuition and books that loans didn't cover, and two jobs between semesters too. I would have received more scholarships/grants if I had attended a state school, and that might have provided more opportunity to consider missions.

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  3. Good thoughts Shannon. As a graduate of a private Christian college, I can relate to a bit of your experience. Also as a believer of mission work (short-term, long-term, and whatever other terms ;-), I like the suggestion. Similar to EEEEmommy, there would have be to considerations for summer jobs (which is a source of concern and stress for majority of college students).

    My hope is that Christians schools would examine this from an institutional level. Meaning it's not enough for the youth ministry department to offer a couple of mission trips, education department offer a inner city opps and the music department go on tour. This is not to undermine the goodness and purpose of any of these trips for they are all important and beneficial on a number of levels. My concern is that they only a small percentage of students to take advantage of them. Examining it as an institution for each major/department's program of study would be a bold and legitimate move for any Christian college interested in the mission of the Kingdom. Frankly, to me this is not that extreme of a suggestion given the many study abroad accredited programs, online classes, and various other satellite and intensive options that are now available.

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Thanks for your comments! Agree or disagree, but please comment respectfully.