A Review of “College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture”

This is a book review I wrote for the Collegiate ChurchLife Network on the book College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture by Stephen Lutz

If you have followed church movement theory in the last decade, you’ve probably read books, blogs and attended conferences that have focused on church that is emergent, organic, simple or missional. Each of these catchwords attempts to challenge Christians to take an honest assessment of what we are doing and see if, perhaps, there is a better way that will engage the culture of those around us. In College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, Stephen Lutz brings that challenge directly onto the college campus and into college ministry. Lutz writes as one college minister speaking to other college ministers. He currently serves with Coalition for Christian Outreach on the campus ofPennStateUniversity.

            Throughout the book, Lutz challenges college ministers to take missional theology and translate it “to the field of college ministry” (15). Lutz accomplishes this goal in a way that is clear and easily transferable to whatever campus context the reader find himself or herself engaged in. The book is broken down into three parts; part one seeks to introduce the reader to what missional identity is; part two contextualizes missional identity onto a college campus and part three looks at how churches and parachurch ministries can find unity in their mission to college campuses and concludes with a forecast of what may come in the future of college ministry. Based on the structure of the book itself, it seems natural to look at each section and conclude with thoughts on how Lutz’s challenge has impacted me in my ministry context.

            Part one of College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture undertakes two main goals. First, Lutz explains the basics of missional theology. Whereas “traditional ministry treats mission or outreach as something we do… “missional” is something we are” (37). The idea of missions as an activity or a program disconnects mission from, not only other aspects of the Christian life, but from life in general. Lutz wants us to see mission as something we are; an identity that shapes our very being. When mission become who we are, only then can we see our campuses for what they are- “the most strategic mission field in the world today” (41). Second, Lutz desires for you and I, as college ministers, to catch a vision for what it means to redeem our campuses for Christ. If our goal is to simply market Jesus, promote our favorite community church or grow our personal ministries then we’ll become competitors for an ever decreasing number of Christian college students. However, if we live to see college students and college campuses redeemed then we begin to see that college ministry is “fundamentally not a place to realize our plans and ambitions but God’s plan. (64). God desires to do great things on college campuses and in college students; we need to make sure we are joining with God and not working against God.

            So, how do we find out if we are joining God to redeem college campuses or working against God? In the second part of the book, Lutz takes missional theology and contextualizes it to the college campus. Through a mix of personal stories and insightful exposition, Lutz argues that college ministry can either attempt to reach a small minority of Christian college students or shift its focus toward engaging the other 80 to 90 percent of the students on campus with the gospel through the missional ideas presented in part one. As college ministers, in order to engage the other 80 to 90 percent of students who are not Christians, it is crucial that we discover who are the people on campus and find ways to interact with them on their terms. It takes great faith and great preparation to lead students to engage fellow students on their terms when often we want to control the conversation. In this section, Lutz gives examples of missional campus ministries that can be adapted to each particular campus setting.

            On many campuses we share ministry with several churches, as well as national and local parachurch organizations. With so many ministries competing for time, space, resources and students, it’s easy to fall into envy, pride or apathy. In the final part of the book, Lutz encourages college ministers to strive for unity of mission between the various ministry organizations on campus because “humble realism allows us to recognize that the mission is too big for any single group to reach the campus alone” (141). Unity does not mean that each ministry cannot maintain its niche on campus but rather it means realizing that the modern college campus is a mirco-global city and while we each have our own part, we also need to work toward the same goal. Lutz concludes the book with a look at a few trends that may require a dramatic re-working of college ministry in the future. Economics, the expansion of online college courses and the rising number of non-traditional students may require college ministry to reexamine the means by which it missionally engages college students.

            College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture succeeds in forcing college ministers to take the ideas presented and adapt them to each specific ministry context. Ideally, that is what a good book should do. Packaging pre-determined answers only causes frustration. I also found myself contemplating ideas that Lutz briefly mentions but have stuck in my mind. I’ll share two of these with you as I conclude the review. First, Lutz mentions the difference between our ministries having a presence on campus versus our ministries blessing the campus. This led me to ask the question, how can we bless the campus? And more specifically, what do I really know about the campus where I serve? So, I have made it a goal and priority to interview the President of Midland College with the purpose being to ask question related to the present state of the college and where it is striving to go in the future. Second, Lutz rightfully reminds us that seeing college students produce fruit is often a long process that involves a number of different people and influences. As our culture become more post-Christian, the starting place for new Christians and non-Christians is farther away from fruitfulness than ever before. Lutz’s conclusion is extremely insightful; “If there are fewer means in our culture to influence people toward the gospel, then our work will begin at an earlier point in the process” (86). Lutz’s point is that instead of interacting with college students fresh out of youth group, we are interacting with students who are infants in Christ, curious of Christ or hostile toward Christ. If we do not know how to engage and grow these students then we will continually miss out of what God wants to do on the college campuses where we serve.

            College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture by Stephen Lutz is an informative and thought-provoking book. If you are encouraged by missional theology or even if you are not, this book should find its way into your library.

© Ryan Vanderland 2011

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