October 24, 2005, 5:06 am
Filed under: uncategorized

While reading through The Shaping of Things to Come, among other things, I’ve latched on to the idea that the church needs to become less attractional and more incarnational if it is to have a helpful impact on the world. The days of tightly produced musical and drama programs, slick advertising campaigns, and sermon series that supposedly address what real people are dealing with are coming to the end of their effectiveness. Instead, we ought to incarnate (Greek = “enflesh”)the life and work of Christ in our lives. Figure out what that looks like within our local contexts, whether they be urban, suburban, rural, cross-cultural, foreign, etc.

In my own ministry arena – on the college campus, I’ve been seeing the reality of this scenario. Being new to this, I think I’ve got a little bit of objectivity, but here’s what I’ve witnessed. On the campus where I work, the bigger organizations are the ones that give grab bags full of books, CDs, bumper stickers, and toothbrushes away during welcome week activities. They’re the ones with rock bands and light shows during their weekly worship services. In some cases, they’re the ones in which students are encouraged to conduct dorm room Bible studies. The smaller campus clubs put up tables in the student union, with banners saying who they are, with a whiteboard that has some profound quote about life on it, asking students to write their comments on it.

Coming into this environment, I knew that some things were going to need to change. And after a few months, I’m more convinced than ever. I’ll fully admit to having played the attractional game here. Nice banner printed, good looking flyers, food/water giveaways during move-in and welcome week, parties, big plans. At this point, it’s not working. We’re only four or five weeks in to the first quarter of the year, and I’m already about to shut down our current plans and just quit trying. Instead, I want to ask our staff and the few students we do have, “What does it look like to be incarnational right here?” Does it mean joining other campus clubs that are focusing on good issues like an environmental group and integrating our mission with theirs? Does it mean changing our gathering times and places to be more fluid with the life of a college student?

I’m not just looking for another way of trying to meet peoples’ needs. And, the reality of our situation is that the majority of the people on campus are middle class white kids. So basically, it’s not too terribly far off from church planting in suburbia. Meeting their “needs” may just be another way of selling out to consumerism.

Back to the book mentioned above, the answer would seem to be working on the social networks our students are already in. Strengthening them, and adding purpose/mission to them, and being available when people begin to get caught up in those nets – sort of the way a first century Palestinian fisherman would. Still way more questions than answers around here.


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