Back in 1997 campus ministers at the University of Texas met to talk about what it meant to work together to see the University of Texas transformed by the gospel. We, Campus Renewal Ministries, had been asking them to consider praying together weekly but the college pastors were reluctant to do this because they had some negative experiences with united efforts in the past. When we met to discuss their concerns and consider our future, three specific questions were raised and addressed.
Over the next few weeks write about each of the questions raised 14 years ago. I believe they will be helpful, because they are the same questions being raised about campus ministry unity today.
Will we all look alike?
The college pastors were concerned that working together would cause them to sacrifice their ministry philosophy or ministry focus.
If one ministry, for instance, focused on reaching athletes and the “united movement” wanted to spend a lot of time and energy reaching the dorms, would that ministry have to sacrifice its focus or passion for the sake of the whole? Or what is one ministry focused a lot of time and energy creating an awesome worship experience where students were reached with the gospel and the “united movement” wanted to coordinate evangelism on campus, would that ministry have to reallocate its ministry focus for the sake of the whole?
Unity and Individuality
We realized this question revealed a major misconception in what we were trying to accomplish. We never wanted a unity that sacrificed our individuality. We wanted a unity that maximized our diversity, allowing each member in the Body of Christ to function as and individual part, but in relation to the whole.
A few years after this meeting, campus ministers at UT read a book together called City Reaching. The following paragraph perfectly described how we hoped to see the Body of Christ work together.
Imagine if the Body of Christ could unite around common information so that all are making decisions from the same set of facts. Each component has the same picture of the details, distinctions and distribution of the peoples and problems of the city. All having the same picture of the Body of Christ, its descriptions, distribution, size and status. All seeing what is collectively being done and collectively what needs to be done. Each one determining the part they will play in reaching the whole (City Reaching, pp. 64, 65).
Unity does not mean that we all look alike or do the exact same things. Rather, it means that we are in relationship with one another so that we know who is doing what/where and we find ways to partner based on where we have similarities. A campus-reaching movement actually creates multiple partnerships as a part of an overall partnership.
The Body of Christ
The fear was that we would all end up looking a like. Fourteen years after this initial conversation, the exact opposite has happened. Ministries are more unique than ever before. The difference is that they now know their role in the whole movement. Their focus has narrowed and their impact is maximized.
I like to say that at the University of Texas the ministry that thought they were a hand in the Body of Christ now knows what finger they are and knows the other fingers. As the hand, they now work together well, and connect often with the arm too. The Body of Christ does work together, but as each part does its own part.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the misssonal community movement at the University of Texas.