Reaching the Secular University

Recently I’ve been wondering how seriously evangelical churches have been over the past generation in reaching the secular universities in the United States and the Western world in general. My concern is less about the parachurch organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, but rather with evangelical churches, denominations and church leaders. I’m wondering if there has been a people blindness to the secular universities among some. Here are some questions that I would put to denominational leaders and pastors:

  • How many evangelical churches make the secular universities around them a regular focus in prayer?
  • How many evangelical churches seek to include secular universities as a focus in a church evangelistic program?
  • How many denominational leaders see cities, towns and regions with a secular university in their midst as a strategic place to plant new churches with a substantial emphasis on outreach to the university?
  • How many denominational leaders see the need for church redevelopment in small, ingrown churches which are in proximity to a secular university to include a substantial emphasis on outreach to the university?
  • How many evangelical churches, when seeking a location for new facilities, consider moving their facilities closer to a secular university as giving greater opportunities for ministry and outreach to the university community?
  • How many denominational leaders and pastors see a possibility for satellite churches and campuses adjacent to a secular university to provide outreach and ministry to the university?
  • How many evangelical churches treat the ‘college and career’ group as a simply another post high school youth group with pretty much the same format and curriculum?
  • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university see that something is missing if their congregation is primarily families who have no relation to the university?
  • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university have a staff member with a primary mission as leading outreach and ministry to the secular university?
  • How many pastors of evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university know the leaders of the parachurch ministries such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, encourage them to attend and to be involved in local churches on Sundays, develop relationships with them, seek to minister to them, include them in the church fellowship and treat them as brothers and sisters to show love and support in prayer?
  • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university see outreach and ministry to the faculty and staff of the university as important as ministry to the students?
  • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university seek to sponsor and promote special outreach events with speakers on apologetics and relational issues and quality Christian artists include the secular university in their focus and promotion?

I’m certain that there are many churches, pastors and leaders who can point to efforts that they have made on outreach to the people in the secular university who are their close neighbors. Nevertheless, I do wonder if many pastors, leaders and churches have a significant blind spot in their vision for ministry and outreach if they do not see the secular university which is nearby.

Safe and Unsafe Churches

Characteristics of the Safe Church

Characteristics of the Unsafe Church

Personal information is kept personal and confidential, especially when it is part of a sinful habit or pattern for which a believer is seeking victory.

Personal information is shared inappropriately among others, often in a distorted and angry manner, and any sinful habits are fair game for conversation with uninvolved third parties.

The sins of one’s past are not kept in focus, but are treated with due discretion, as something which has been forgiven by Christ.

The sins of one’s past are shared freely behind one’s back by those who seek to inflate their own reputations at the expense of the reputation of a brother or sister in Christ.

Personal differences are pursued personally and privately, according to the scriptural pattern of correction and reproof (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17).

Personal differences become the subject of increasing escalation as previously uninvolved third parties are involved.

Prayer requests are treated with reverence as requests to God above all for his solution, and are not shared beyond the number of believers necessary to seek him in faith in perservering prayer.

Prayer requests are treated as a way to spread personal news about others while trying to avoid the appearance of gossip.

The teaching and preaching ministry of the church is directed toward feeding the entire flock of God, toward the challenges that are facing the entire church.

The teaching and preaching ministry of the church becomes entangled in correcting the supposed problems of individual believers which are better pursued through personal discussion and correction.

A believer can be trust that no confidences will be broken in the sharing of his or her personal information before other believers through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

Unpleasant surprises occur when confidences are broken or when personal information is shared, often in a distorted and angry manner, in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

Believers do not monitor the attendance, participation and activities of others at the request of others.

Believers spy on and gossip about the attendance, participation and activities of other believers at the request of others.

The leaders of the church are those who meet the scriptural qualifications of leadership.

People who seek power over others and who do not meet the scriptural qualifications for church leadership seek leadership in the church, and others in the church, even those who know their true motives and character, cooperate with their campaigns for personal power.

The will of God in the Word of God under the Lordship of Christ is the ultimate aim and personal satisfaction of the leaders of the church and the believers in the church.

Personal prestige, preferences, grudges and prejudices are the hidden agenda behind much pseudo-spiritual posturing.

Ministry positions are filled according to spiritual gifts, according to the personal and prayerful sense of call and equipment of each believer, yet with reverent corroboration by others in the body of Christ. Each position is approached with the faith that God has

Recruitment for positions is by social pressure and guilt trips for anyone who may seem to be available, and a refusal upon the basis of no sense of call means simply more pressure. Immediate acceptance of the responsibility is expected, with no allowance for someone to pray about the responsibility before accepting it.

The entire body of Christ ministers to the needs of all believers in the body of Christ, and they are there for each other in the major crises of life with care, comfort and prayer.

Some believers are neglected in normal ministries of the body of Christ even in the major crises of life, and the reasons are generally that someone does not like them, or that someone disagrees with some choice that they made in the past which is blamed for their present crises.

Loving Honesty and Mercy: There is an atmosphere of loving honesty and humble realization that past sins are forgiven through Christ. Sins are covered by the blood of Christ and the love of believers in Christ.

There is an atmosphere of undue suspicion of others and proud secrecy about past sins. Sins are covered by human deceit.

Christlikeness: Conformity to the will of God in the Word of God and to the character of Christ is the mark of spiritual safety and maturity.

External Legalism:Conformity to a series of external rules and regulations is the mark of spiritual safety and maturity — until you break one even inadvertently.

Evangelical Churchianity

The most deadly, least recognized, most prevalent and most subtle counterfeit of Christian discipleship has been at work for decades deadening churches, sapping missionary and evangelistic vision, and deluding many into lukewarm Christian lives. This counterfeit is evangelical churchianity.

Evangelical churchianity is more often a counterfeit lifestyle than wrongly held doctrines. It is where someone who has orthodox doctrinal beliefs and genuine saving faith in Christ nevertheless places his or her devotion in religious association, conformity and ambition. This manifests itself in certain attitudes and actions which deviate from the New Testament portrayal of the life of following Christ.

Evangelicals have rightly recognized a form of churchianity in churches which do not clearly adhere to Biblical authority and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But churchianity infiltrates doctrinally evangelical churches also, through shallow conversions, false professions of faith, backsliding, Biblical ignorance, and treating the life of discipleship as church attendance and association. While it is the religion of those who want church association without true spiritual life in Christ, the nominally but not spiritually Christian, it can also become the the real religion of a church that is nominally evangelical.

Christianity: New Testament Discipleship

Churchianity: Human Centered Religious Association
Emphasizes Jesus Christ as the one to be trusted, loved and obeyed.

Centered on the church as a social group and human organization

Emphasizes the Bible as the authority for faith and practice.

Follows an often unwritten set of human rules and traditions.

The church is a fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ united by their common faith in Christ.

The church is an earthly social gathering united by social compatibility and conformity.

The mission of the church is worldwide evangelization.

Maintenance of the status quo for personal comfort and prestige is the real agenda.

All people are made in the image of God and are to be treated with the self sacrificial love of Christ.

Anyone can be treated according to the personal likes, dislikes, prejudices, insecurities and expectations of those in control.

The qualifications for leadership are from the Bible and the model for leadership is the servanthood example of Jesus Christ.

The qualifications for leadership are social standing and the model of leadership is the social climber.

Fostering Discipleship Rather Than Churchianity:

  • Clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation by his grace through faith in him alone.
  • Clearly teach and model the Bible as God’s Word and the true basis for our faith and deeds.
  • Clearly teach the nature of the church as the church of Jesus Christ, and his sovereign Lordship over all the church.
  • Clearly live as if the church itself were a fellowship supernaturally created and sustained by God through the Holy Spirit.

Church Detox Installment 5: Rebuild and Recharge Praying Together

Generally, when believers pray together, they pray in a large meeting, a small group of a dozen or so or in smaller groups of two to three. Over the years I’ve led a number of prayer meetings and expressed myself to God aloud before others many times. There are some times, though, when I’ve sensed that there are some members of the body of Christ who could use some constructive guidance on praying with others. Here are some ways, though, that a person can avoid being discourteous in the matter of praying together:

  • Understand the purpose of praying together.

    It is not to gather as many believers as possible to pray about something, since God has promised to answer prayer where only two believers are in agreement. Very often, I’ve seen greater answers to prayer where only several are gathered in agreement and trust in God than when some well meaning believers are frantically trying to get as many people as possible to pray for their concerns. The number of believers joined together in prayer most certainly does not put any additional pressure on God if their hearts are not in accord with his will and their prayers are coming more from human anxiety than trust in his love and goodness and seeking his will.

  • Pray to be heard by God and not those around you.

    Address your prayers to God for praise for aspects of God’s character which you truly adore, for thanks for things for which you are truly grateful and for requests on which you really want God’s answers. Corporate prayer is not a time to give announcements or testimonies or to slip the others in the group some concerns you would like them to think about under the guise of praying to God.

  • Remember that God knows all the details already.

    Give no more than a summary of details when expressing praise, thanks or making a request of God. God knows all the details already, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to know only enough so that they can agree to your prayer before God without misgivings.

  • Pray for one request at a time.

    In the larger groups, spend less time in praying aloud, and generally stick to only one item in your request. You won’t give the impression of monopolizing the prayer time either intentionally or unintentionally if you pray aloud several times for several requests when there are openings rather than one long prayer for several requests.

  • Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and close the meeting.

    Allow others openings to pray, and avoid any rush to start to pray immediately when someone else is finished. A slight pause between people praying is normal, and it’s not ‘dead air’ that someone has to rush to fill. In fact, in those pauses I’ve often felt God speaking to me to pray, and what came from me after taking the time to pause and concentrate on God was a greater blessing and expression of faith than if I had rushed immediately to speak. If a little while passes when no one is praying aloud, and you sense that others are getting fidgety, it’s normally acceptable to close in some way, with a quiet ‘Amen,’ or a short summary prayer. Since it would seem that the Holy Spirit is no longer prompting anyone to pray, it can be pretty much safely concluded that he has called the meeting to an end in this case.

  • Pray in a way which expresses a reverence and trust from the heart.

    It’s generally better to pray more slowly and in a soft spoken manner if that expresses a thoughtful and reverent faith and personal approach to God than in a rush of words or an attempt at eloquence. While some subjects may elicit passionate prayer, most will not. Deep feeling and burdens in prayer may call forth unintentional eloquence before God (see Genesis 17, and Abraham interceding with God for Sodom and Gomorrah), but generally an attempt to sound eloquent as a show before man is not something which is impressive to God.

  • Allow yourself to be a part of God’s answer.

    Sometimes someone may share something for which one of the group might have resources in which he or she could be part of the answer to the prayer, that could be pursued after the meeting. It’s generally best to pray silently during the meeting and request guidance as to whether God would have you to help. Then, if you sense his ‘yes,’ ask quietly after the meeting whether your help would be welcome. If the person sharing the request refuses your help, respect that refusal. After all, that person was requesting God’s answer, and wasn’t intending to give anyone else an opening to interfere or impose their answers instead of God’s answers.

  • Gently suggest counseling if you suspect that is needed.

    If there is a problem which is shared which might call for counseling, a quiet inquiry after the meeting as to whether the person who shared that concern is receiving counseling is appropriate. If not, it could be suggested, but it would be inappropriate to be too insistent. Rather, make it a matter of prayer yourself that that person would see his or her need of the scriptural wisdom of fellow believers in the body of Christ, if God agrees that there is a need there.

  • Keep prayer requests within the circle of those who are there and praying.

    Keep requests for prayer within the group, especially if it deals with matters which are personal or should be kept confidential, such as problems within a family. Generally avoid taking prayer requests from one prayer meeting and sharing them in another prayer meeting, unless the entire matter is also known to and a real concern of the others in the next prayer meeting. This will help to avoid the tendency among believers to ‘share prayer requests’ simply as a form of sanctified gossip.

  • Respect what others pray for and the way that they may pray.

    Do not attempt to amend, correct or contradict someone else’s prayers before God. Answered prayer is promised to agreement among believers. If you are uncomfortable with what someone is asking, ask yourself whether you could see Jesus requesting that very same thing from the Father. If you are uncomfortable with the style of someone’s praying, you may need to ask yourself what it is that makes you uncomfortable. If it seems like that person is praying with genuine trust in God, it may well be something within your own heart that needs some dealing before God

  • Take the burdens from others and lift them to God.

    When others reveal the depths of their hearts and often their pain, there can sometimes be too great a sympathy with them, so that we take on their pain and their burdens, instead of lifting them to God. The difference is this: is the burden left with God when prayer is concluded?

The times that we pray together are a special time that we can be the body of Christ together. They can be a time where our lips can be the lips of Jesus to express the prayers that he would pray for our brothers and sisters if he were in our place. So with that reverent understanding of our responsibility let us take care to conduct ourselves courteously, compassionately and reverently in our times of prayer together.