Panel strives to breathe new life into flagging campus ministries

First it eliminated its national office for
that ministry in 2009 in a budget-cutting move,
then it restored that office when directed to do so
by the General Assembly in 2010.
Now a Collegiate Ministries Task Force is
drafting for the 2012 General Assembly a strategy
for reaching young adults on college campuses —
recognizing that such work is both difficult and
vital for a denomination that can’t assume young
people will return to the church once they marry
and have children.
Presbyterian collegiate ministries have “languished
on the vine due to staffing changes, organizational
issues, financial issues,” said Adrian
McMullen, the PC(USA)’s associate for collegiate
ministries. “For a lot of reasons, we’re behind the
game.”
That also comes at a time when many young
adults have loosened their ties to organized religion.
The category of “no religious affiliation” is
growing: More than a quarter of the millennial
generation — those born after 1981 — say they
have no religious ties, according to a report by
the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life called
“Religion Among the Millennials.”
Those working in college ministry also see
other trends. Among them:
- A decline in the ecumenical college ministries
into which some Presbyterians had poured
their energy — a trend that on some campuses
leaves no backup in the form of a distinctly
Presbyterian ministry.
- Difficulty in finding funds for collegiate ministry
from the mid-councils, many of which
are short of money and are pulling back from
programmatic work.
- The success on many campuses of evangelical
parachurch ministry groups such as
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or Campus
Crusade for Christ (which will be known as
Cru starting in 2012).
Jerry Beavers, a college chaplain for 22 years at
Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio,
and now a collegiate ministries consultant, spoke
at last summer’s Big Tent event in Indianapolis
about ministry for “emerging adults.” The term
refers to those from their late teens into their 20s,
whose lives often are a swirl of school and changes
in jobs, relationships and geography, rather than a
process of settling down with one partner and one
job in one place.
The overture that the General Assembly
approved in 2010 to re-establish an office of
Collegiate Ministries came from the Synod of
Lakes and Prairies. It was initiated by a group
of college chaplains “who were feeling like the
denomination didn’t value or support them,”
said Beavers, who is active in the Presbyterian
Association for Collegiate and Higher Education
Ministry. “They were feeling isolated.”
While some give college ministries little
thought, others contend it can be an important
aspect of evangelism.
Beavers wrote in a blog post for the association
in April 2011 that the PC(USA) has “high regard
in the abstract and low regard in the tangible for
collegiate ministry.”
He also wrote: “When will we take seriously
the notion that ministry on campus to college
students is a missionary endeavor? When will
we start treating campus ministers and chaplains
as missionaries and colleges as a mission field?
Campus Ministry is not just an older youth group,
able to provide nursery workers, Sunday school
teachers, and perhaps a choir member. Campus
Ministry is a missionary outreach to a different
culture.”
Beavers contends that too often people think
of collegiate ministries as “youth group goes to
college.”
Instead, he said in an interview, it’s a chance to
help young adults find their way through important
life transitions.
“This generation doesn’t expect the company
is going to take care of them,” Beavers said. “The
average change in jobs is seven times between 20
and 29. They’re going to move every year and a
half or two.”

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