Breaking Out of Cultural Christianity
Navigators Campus Ministry at Kansas State University
What does being Christian mean? Is there more than the attending Sunday Service, participating in youth groups, and occasionally studying the Bible?
The Navigators puts the purpose of a Christian simply: Know Christ and make Him known.
Early April, the Navigators College Ministry at Kansas State University (KSU) hosted the 3rd annual Laborers’ Conference in Manhattan, Kansas, with the theme, “What it means to Labour for the Kingdom of God for a Lifetime?” The 154 leaders attending from KSU and other Kansas and Nebraska Universities were challenged by main speaker Tom Yeakley, former of Navigators U.S. Collegiate Ministry, to live with God’s Word in the centre of their lives and transform the lives of others by living with a sacrificial heart.
"The primary focus was building the framework of evangelism and establishing the foundation of workers working with God," said Joel Johnson, Campus Director for Navigators College Ministry at KSU.
Yeakley painted the framework of ministry and then illustrated what a life as God’s labourer looked like, according to Joel, who has led KSU Navigators alongside his wife Jennifer for five years. The ability to minister to other people lies in the dependence the minister places on God by praying for others specifically and intentionally, Yeakley explained during his series of messages at the conference. He then finalised his points by urging the leaders to have a dedicated and focused life.
"The opening statement from Tom Yeakley discussed Matthew 28:18-20, which is the Great Comission, but another word for commission is a commandment. Tom stressed that this verse was not a suggestion; it was a commandment and the only question we had to ask ourselves was in what capacity am I called to go and tell others about Christ," said Kyle Baack, a KSU Navigator leader who attended the conference. "The rest of the weekend was discussing the opportunities around us and how we needed to take advantage of them now in order to not only spread the Kingdom of Christ but to strengthen our faith to better prepare us for what God has in store for our future."
Joel observed that many Christian students who had decided to go into ministry needed to first break out of their cultural Christianity.
"The paradigm of Christianity is very morality-based and community-based as opposed to following Christ, conforming to his image and living for his glory and Kingdom," he said, noting that many Christian college students have built their Christian lives around a "youth-group model."
"In the Christian subculture, there’s still a self-centred attitude," said Joel. "It’s been about them and morality and maintaining themselves."
How can Christians growing up in an enclosed environment become involved in ministry, one may ask.
We do it "not by methodology or ministrial philosophy but by going back to the Scripture and allowing them to speak the word of God," explained Joel, quoting 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He said by getting students into the Scriptures, they will see the heart of Christ, life of Christ, the passion of Christ. After seeing those values, they will want to influence and minister to people.
"If you are in Scripture, it’s really hard to miss that [point]," he said.
Joel himself can testify that the Scripture does inspire life changes. Joel became a Christian at the age of 19 after knowing Christ through a campus ministry called Campus Outreach.
The Johnsons practice with their students what they preach. After returning from the leaders’ conference on April 2-3, KSU students had the opportunity to join in any one of the numerous meetings held by KSU Navigators weekly: Freshman Connection meetings on Tuesday nights, Nav Nights on Thursday nights, and Student Leader Training on Sunday nights. Joshua Team also met on Sunday nights between March 7 and April 11.
To top the schedule off, the couple is often invited to speak at sorority and fraternity houses. Topics they cover, such as "Searching for True Love" - part of a 6-week Investigative Bible Studies they recently finished with a sorority and fraternity - examined the difference between fulfilling one’s need of love through the way society dictates versus the way the Lord teaches them, tell them he wants to be the ultimate lover of their souls.
Joel sees many advantages the college campus offers Christians in breaking out of their cultural Christianity and really becoming more than just believers but followers of Christ.
“The dynamic of the university setting and of the bigger picture of following God is sometimes not seen very clearly when we are just in our youth groups,” he said. Christians are so immersed in the world when they come to college such as living in a dormitory with many non-believers that are quick to root themselves with an identity. He added, “The college campus is a hot or cold environment. It’s difficult to be lukewarm.”
Christians also more actively engaged in their faith during their college years because eighteen year-olds are at a stage of independence that allows them to take hold of their faith, according to Joel.
As a result, as they couple those circumstances with the Word while in college, Joel has noticed many college Christians have grown past only looking at their self-interests to finding out ways to have an influence for Christ through their future in ministry or any profession.
When asked how Christian students should respond to sensitive issues such as homosexuality or politics presented to them through the campus culture, Joel answered using the example shown through Jesus’ life.
"Jesus found a way to be full of grace and truth," said Joel. His life "transcended a general context and a political context."
Therefore, Christians can "engage in truth and in culture" by living such good lives among the pagans that they may see their good deeds and glorify God, he quoted from 1 Peter 2:11-12.
Both Joel and Jen who felt the call to enter college ministry while they were still college students know college will change the cultural lifestyle of many.
"The collegiate ministry continues to be a strategic and necessary place to do ministry. People are going to be shaped in one way or another," said Joel.