I realize this article may be controversial. I do not write it in order to start an argument, but in hopes that it creates a much-needed discussion about how campus ministries should/could work together.
At The University of Texas and in the city of Austin, I have personally witnessed “agreement” that is much more meaningful and effective than what is laid out in the Chicago Agreement. The agreement I have witnessed at UT and in Austin is what I believe we need.
I mean no disrespect to the 17 campus ministries and 31 college pastors who wrote the Chicago Agreement in 2010. I know they did so with the utmost sincerity and integrity. I readily admit that I do not know all that was discussed when the agreement was made and know it is ridiculously difficult to succinctly put on paper eight points of agreement. I am confident that the Chicago Agreement has served a great purpose. I actually agree with it entirely, but it is what they left out of the agreement and how it is being used that troubles me and has led me to write this.
Reason 1: The Chicago Agreement Promotes the Absence of Conflict, Not Biblical Unity
The footnote of the Agreement states that it is a “practical means of settling conflicts.” The subtitle to the Agreement is “Unity in Mission.” True Biblical unity in mission is way more than the mere absence of conflict, yet the Chicago Agreement reads like a document with lowest common denominator pledges of what we will not do to not offend one another or “steal” each other’s students.
I absolutely agree with the statements that “we are all part of Christ’s body” and the campus is not “our exclusive field,” but the agreement does not say anything about what we will do with these truths but only what we will not do with these truths.
It appears that the Agreement’s aim is to merely deal with conflict and set parameters of how we will not “compete” with one another rather than wrestle with the more difficult and (I believe) more Biblical command to function as one Body of Christ for the sake of the great commandment and great commission.
When Jesus prayed for unity (John 17), did He merely mean the absence of conflict? I doubt it. I know that my wife, Brenda, does not want me to rest on “spiritual truths” about our oneness in Christ in marriage by settling for the mere absence of conflict. She wants me to practice our oneness.
What I find more compelling than the Chicago Agreement is the number of pastors at the University of Texas who have agreed to pray together almost every week, to meet monthly for planning, to share resources, and to even connect students across ministry lines based on where they share common mission. No such agreements are made in the Chicago Agreement.
What I find more compelling than the Chicago Agreement is the number of pastors in Austin who have agreed to meet monthly for several hours of prayer and planning, to take two annual retreats together, to sacrificially give financially to the united movement in Austin, and to give more than 5 hours a week to work not directly related to benefitting their own church. Now that’s a more Biblical agreement. No such agreements are made in the Chicago Agreement.
Only Used in Conflict
Here is the fact, at least as I have seen it: The Chicago Agreement is only used when conflict arises. My experience and those of other Campus Renewal staff is that the Chicago Agreement is only cited and referenced when there is a conflict. When two ministries are “competing” for the same students or when a new ministry is getting started on campus, that’s when pastors call me in to talk about the Chicago Agreement.
I was not at the meeting where the Agreement was written. Maybe conflict was exactly why it was formed. If so, that’s how it is being used – to settle conflict. In my opinion, that is insufficient and doesn’t work because you cannot handle conflict void of relationship.
Reason 2: The Chicago Agreement Presumes Relationships
The Chicago Agreement places a very low bar on relationships with one another. It says “we seek to establish relationships and build bridges,” but in the same point says “When establishing new ministries on campuses, we will take initiative to communicate with the leadership of different groups.”
In other words (as I read it and have seen it practiced), the “relationship” suggested is limited to just “letting you know we are here”. I think we need much more relationship than knowing each others’ names and knowing we’re on the same campus.
Thinking Well and Valuing
The forth point of the Agreement states that we will “speak well” of one another. I find this to be completely insufficient. Wouldn’t it be better if we would think well of one another? This has long been the aim of Campus Renewal’s vision – to move us from tolerating one another, to accepting one another, to valuing one another.
The Chicago Agreement seems to be content with merely tolerating one another. The aim is to avoid sins of commission by speaking ill of one another rather than to pursue Biblical unity and sins of omission by thinking ill of one another.
How different would our campuses be if ministry leaders actually knew each other well and grew to value one another?
Here is the fact, at least as I have seen it: The Chicago Agreement is only used by college pastors who are not in relationship with one another. Those who look to this Agreement have rarely, if ever, met together prior to discussing the Agreement or after discussing the Agreement. The Agreement is the reason for meeting and, sadly, these leaders are content with that.
At the University of Texas, where many ministry leaders have been praying and working together for years, the difficult conversations and conflict still occur. However, when they do, they are between pastors who have been praying together for years. The difficult conversations are between people who have long-term relationships full of genuine love, value for one another, and deep trust because they have been meeting together weekly for years to pray.
Truth be told: Conversations like these rarely happen with those who have been in relationships with one another and have been praying together weekly. When they do, they are quick and easy. The ministries that rest solely on the Chicago Agreement as their commitment to “unity” are usually the ministries in conflict with one another, who are not committed to praying together weekly and taking time to build relationships with others. That has been the experience of Campus Renewal staff around the country.
We Need A Better Agreement
We really need a better agreement. I believe a more robust national Agreement would be good and helpful. What’s more important, however, is for local campus ministry leaders (in relationship with one another) to discern their own Agreement.
The agreement cannot be merely about how to deal with conflict. It needs to be an agreement about how to work together and even share student leaders and resources. It must be an agreement that requires us to meet together in prayer, relationship-building, and planning.
I have much more to say on the Chicago Agreement, but these are the two most important reasons for consideration. I hope you will humbly do so and reply with any questions or concerns you may have about my comments. Let us reconsider what we “agree upon”.
I find Paul’s command one of the most perplexing in scripture.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I Corinthians 1:10
Clearly, we must find agreement, and I believe we need agreement on the highest common denominator (collaboration on His command and His commission) rather than the lowest common denominator (the absence of conflict).
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the 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 missional community movement at the University of Texas.