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from the Boosters Ministry
Why the Church Should Care About the College Campus --Part 2:
In part one of this series, we looked at the important role college has in influencing culture for good or bad, how the first universities were profoundly affected by their intimate connection with the church, and how that connection has been severed. In part 2, we’ll explore how church-led prayer movements positively impacted the campus and society, where we dropped the ball, and why I believe there is a biblical mandate to pick it up again.
Praying Moms, the Campus, and an Evangelist
When American evangelist D.L. Moody preached at Cambridge to an antagonistic group of young college students, he was so distraught at their lack of attention that out of desperation he called on an army of 300 moms to pray. He said that their prayers literally “turned the tide” and that the previously unreceptive college men listened and responded to his message. This soon led to revival, out of which came “the Cambridge Seven,” a group of young men who changed world missions. Moody then brought his meetings to America which spawned more student conferences and missions movements. For over 25 years, Moody sought the help and support during evangelistic campaigns of sometimes up to 1,500 praying moms.
America's First Collegiate Prayer Movement
Throughout American history, our colleges have benefited from the transformative power of intense seasons of spiritual awakening and revival. The Second Great Awakening (1790-1845) produced our most powerful student revivals and the prayer movement that sustained them. Renewed monthly Concerts of Prayer in the mid 1780s were greatly responsible. For half a century America experienced genuine revival in one part of our nation or another.
The Church Steps in and Steps Up
Seeing the impact of these revivals, church leaders decided to apply the proven principles of the Concert of Prayer movement to the needs of college students. By 1815, the Concert of Prayer for Colleges had become a regular feature on at least four campuses. By 1823, almost every major denomination and university in America had embraced the practice of a concerted day of prayer for colleges. They prayed specifically “for special supplication that God would pour His Spirit upon our Colleges and Seminaries.” God answered mightily: in 1824 and 1825, revivals in five different colleges; in 1826-- six colleges; in 1831-- nineteen; in 1835, eighteen were reported. The universities of the time were transformed culturally and morally. Ministers were actually encouraging parents to send their children to college as a place to be safe and soundly converted. Can you imagine? Now our students go to college and are de-converted!
These students, inspired by the Holy Spirit, were about to launch into critical positions of influence in society transferring campus transformation into social change—that could happen again in our time. It’s worth noting that the prayer movements of the time were led by students, not preachers. The students were called “the contagious carriers of the prayer virus." (When I visited multiple college campuses this fall with the National Day of Prayer Task Force Bus Tour for Education, we saw something similar--student led prayer movements that were authentic, organic, and transformational. And much more effective when student initiated rather than pastor/adult initiated.)
All this momentum led to the Universal Day of Prayer for Students (1904-5). That concept was re-started six years ago and is now the Collegiate Day of Prayer.
In more recent history, we see college students responsible for the Jesus movement of the 70s and many little-known movements of the twenty-first century. Interestingly, college revival historian J. Edwin Orr notes that all of these revivals were preceded by prayer. And furthermore, “It is utterly impossible to divorce the story of student awakenings from the course of missions in countries overseas. From the beginning, one of the most immediate and dramatic effects of college revivals has been the recruitment of personnel for the work of Christ abroad.”
Here are a few examples of the influence of college students on movements and thereby the culture: the Holy Club at Oxford which altered Western and global history through John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield; the Wesleyan movement which emphasized practical service and affected lasting change in society from Wesley to Wilberforce to the abolition of slavery; the Haystack Prayer Meeting and Samuel Mills; and more recently we see Intervarsity, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, YWAM, the Jesus movement, and in the early 2000s--Love OSU, CRM, 24-7 prayer, Campus Church Networks, Burning Heart Ministries, and more.
So what happened?
Where did we go wrong? What changed?
When Princeton split into a separate university and seminary it tore serious studies about God apart from those about the rest of life. This new normal ushered in the sacred/secular divide on campus—one we have yet to mend. College was no longer for development of faith; seminary was. There was now a separation between holy/worldly and heart/head. The Enlightenment put a wedge between natural and supernatural (scientism today plays this out). "Saving souls" and "saving minds" were now at odds.
Some say things actually got worse after first Great Awakening because--"many influential Christian leaders were not at the forefront of reshaping public opinion as it related to significant "social sins" of the day." The church today could learn a lesson from this and prepare to step in and not let history repeat itself.
Even with the Jesus Movement, many churches were unwilling to embrace the uniqueness of the movement, and many within the movement were unwilling to embrace the churches. As a result, the Jesus Movement did not become the nationwide awakening that many hoped it would be. Dion Elmore, PR Director for the NDPTF, noted on our bus tour that the older generation needs to support the new generation in their ministry endeavors, giving them tools but not necessarily dictating how to use them lest we force new wine in old wine skins. And we know how that turns out.
What About Now?
Here we find ourselves in the twenty-first century, and we see overwhelming research and personal testimony showing that the majority of our Christian youth walk away from the faith once in college. We’ll delve into this a little more in the next sessions, but in following that college church connection, we need to be honest and see we are part of our own undoing. The church corporate--and we parents--have contributed to the problem of the youth exodus; we have perpetuated the sacred/secular split; we’ve let culture transform the church rather than helping the church transform culture.
So why do kids walk away? Ask the students. They’ll tell you: Church doesn’t deal with uncomfortable topics, doesn’t teach on intellectual integrity between science and faith, is unfriendly to doubt, and untrained Sunday School teachers can’t answer tough questions. With a 32-to-1 ratio of hours of secular influences (school day plus media usage) to hours of Christian influence for the average child in a typical week, what is a parent, what is the church, to do? I believe the Bible weighs in clearly on that.
A Biblical Mandate:
I Corinthians 12: 21-26--"The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
I believe biblically we have a responsibility for our college students whether they are home or away, whether they are ours or the ones living in our town going to the local university. Our "weaker parts" could be considered our college students. Because they are suffering, so are we. But if we will honor them (in two key ways I'll talk about in subsequent blogs), we will all be able to rejoice together. And the church could use some rejoicing.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series have been an attempt to make readers aware of the college-church connection and the importance of it from a historical and biblical perspective. In my next parts of the series, we’ll look at the affects the university has on the culture and some of the astounding statistics behind the current situation we find ourselves in. UPDATE: See Part 3 here.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details