“Many churches and ministries still operate as if their neighbors are familiar with the Bible and are in basic agreement with a Christian worldview and ethic. But this is increasingly and emphatically, not the case” (22). In his new book, College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, Stephen Lutz , who serves as a campus minister on the Penn State University campus, identifies a shift to a “post-Christian” culture that requires a fresh look at the mission of many ministries on and around college campuses. He goes so far as to identify the campus as the most strategic mission field today. While his observations are applied to ministry on the college and university campus, the book could be utilized to revitalize ministry in other contexts as well.
Lutz maintains that the shift to a “post-Christian culture” requires a responding shift in ministry focus, from traditional to missional. “Traditional ministry treats mission or outreach as something we do, while ‘missional’ is something we are: mission shifts from an activity to our identity. We are the people of God, on God’s mission… As God’s gospel-transformed and sent people, we orient everything we do to God’s mission, which is to reconcile and restore God’s fallen creation to himself through his son Jesus Christ” (37).
One of the most significant tools Lutz presents is the four quadrants for cultural engagement, a cultural distance/openness spectrum, which can assist in developing strategies to reach many unreached people groups on campus, and encourages a shift from “works-based discipleship to gospel-centered discipleship.” The goal again is to disciple students who will reach and disciple others. “Gospel-centered discipleship is about living into our identity as accepted, adopted sons and daughters of God, and following Jesus by the strength and power he provides…Gospel-centered discipleship is about celebrating and growing into our acceptance while works-centered discipleship is the ill-fated, soul-sucking, burnout-inducing attempt to earn God’s approval” (105 - 106).
Lutz names the four quadrants of cultural engagement as: the accomodationalist, the redepmptive/ transformationalist, the extractional, and the fundamentalist. An accomodationalist is a person who is in and of the culture, his message to the unbeliever would be, "Come to us. We are just like you.” A redemptive transformationalist is a person who is in but not of the culture. This person presents a holy counterculture, she might say, “We’ll go with you.” An extractional person develops his own subculture and would be considered not in but of the culture. He might say, “Come to us.” This group represents the failure of much of the North American evangelical church, which established a strong Christian subculture that limited the ability to engage the larger culture. Finally, a fundamentalist might claim to be against the culture and maintain a stance that says, “Go away.” This group takes an oppositional and negative approach to the culture, and often defines its own “goodness” based on the things they don’t do.
Lutz challenges campus ministers and college students to consider themselves in the second quadrant, to redemptively engage the campus community. “College should be approached with the mindset that every Christian is called and sent to the world, just as Jesus was sent into the world. When students and ministers approach college through an in/not of faithful engagement posture, we are joining God in his mission, which is to restore God’s peace or shalom to a fallen creation through his son Jesus Christ” (62).
Another significant component of Lutz’ work is the “cultural distance/openness spectrum,” that could be used when considering various ways to reach out to campus with students who range from Christians who are seeking growth in their faith to students who are actively involved in beliefs or faiths that are openly opposed to Christianity. The majority of students are somewhere between those two groups; however, most ministry efforts are focused on the end of the spectrum of students who are currently believers. This spectrum is an important consideration when gaging the “missional success” of efforts to reach various elements of the campus community. “As ministers embedded in a rapidly shifting cultural campus context here in North America, we have to remember that most people are not right on the doorstep of belief” (85). Consideration will need to be given to ministry strategies designed to reach out to the majority of students who are farther away from that doorstep.
“As we move further into a post-Christian society, it becomes less likely that an unchurched non-Christian will enter a local church in search for God.”
Lutz also discusses several ways that local churches and parachurch organizations can engage the campus, and he provides this word of caution. “As we move further into a post-Christian society, it becomes less likely that an unchurched non-Christian will enter a local church in search for God” (151). He challenges college students and campus ministers alike to prayerfully embrace their being sent by God to the campus for his purposes. He quotes passages from Jeremiah 29 to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city (or campus)…to pray to the LORD for it.” (v. 7, NIV) And Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
“Students often treat their campuses as rest stops on the highway to the rest of their lives. It is essential to emphasize that life does not begin later but now. When students are given a Jeremiah 29 vision for campus and community renewal, we find they are uniquely equipped before and after graduation, to reach their global campus and/or city with the gospel” (163).
While Lutz’ focus is developing missional ministries on college campuses, his discussion of leading ministries, developing leaders and reaching diverse communities could be applied in many local churches. This book resonates with many other recent calls for missional strategies to make Christlike disciples. He also proposes that the campus should play a significant role in developing new missional strategies that reach beyond the campus setting.
I would consider this book a must read for anyone interested in reaching young adults in the campus context; however, it will be challenging for anyone involved in ministry.
“It is my conviction that campus ministry must again become an incubator for reaching our post-Christian world. It ought to serve as a laboratory for ministry, experimenting in how to reach an ever-shifting culture with the eternal gospel. Campus ministry is uniquely positioned to shape the future because we work with those who are the future” (170). Lutz presents a challenging and compelling framework to refocus campus outreach and discipleship efforts as a missional work. I would consider this book a must read for anyone interested in reaching young adults in the campus context; however, it will be challenging for anyone involved in ministry.
DAVID KYNCL is director of Nazarene Secular Campus Mission