Missional Community: Chemistry
One of the relatively new buzzwords in American Christendom is “missional community.” It is one’s sphere of daily influence. For academicians, it is often their department. The MC ‘movement’ seeks to help believers recognize the people around them everyday as their mission field, and to approach those circles as an embedded missionary.
Just as a missionary to a remote African village seeks to become part of the community first, to learn the language and customs, then integrate the Gospel into it, so should each of us. The advantage we have is that we are already part of that community. We are tied by threads of commonality, whether it is by vocation, hobby, family status, neighborhood, carpool, or whatever binds our various circles together.
Most of us academicians spend most of our waking hours in our departments or institutes, and we are part of that community. It is logical therefore, to view that as our assigned mission field. Reaching Campus is a great resource for learning more about MC’s, particularly in the campus environment. It is mostly geared towards students, but we don’t have our advanced degrees because we are unable to translate ideas to a new field.
One challenge for faculty in this age is reaching out to students—both undergrad and grad. People unfortunately are very quick to look for impropriety in innocence, especially if Christianity is involved. Thus, was my pleasure and relief magnified when a campus minister sent an undergrad chemistry major to me.
“Joe” is a junior, I believe, and he has the vision for a missional community in our department. Because he came to me, I am very free to work with him. As he is an undergrad, he has the freedom to reach out to undergrad, grad and faculty as he sees fit. I can support and advise him, discipling him and others he brings into our community.
We have plans to pray together regularly, including prayerwalking our building. This is always the first step. Prayer is the foundation for all outreach. If the Lord isn’t the team leader and scout, preparing the way for the work, it will be much harder with less fruit borne. It is foolish to plan to reach out to people without first asking the Lord to reach out first, to prepare hearts to hear and receive the good news of Christ. We must rely on Him to direct us to the ones with whom He already works.
He will place people on our minds and in our paths. He created humans to be social, to have community, and He will provide others to join in the work, either as new or newly-discovered and/or newly motivated believers. As the existing Christians in the community come together, pray together, and work together, opportunities will begin to pop up with increasing frequency to share.
Especially in academia, barriers and opposition will arise, and there may be risks involved. Part of living as Christ’s ambassadorial missions to hostile lands involves the risk of attack. Christ warns of this and tells us to be wise in what we do—be innocent as doves, yet as wise as serpents. To me, this means think—be strategic. Don’t hide from risk or trouble, neither seek it out unnecessarily.
Is it better for me to be the one behind the curtain supporting students as they move out in faith or to be a host and home base for their activities and even participating? It truly depends on the environment of my department and my rank. Frankly, unless and until one has tenure, it is wise to strongly, prayerfully consider taking a more clandestine role, until the security of tenure is reached.
Although the work of the Gospel seems more important than our other work (and in many ways it is), the platform we have as priests in the secular academic order is sufficiently strategic that we shouldn’t recklessly risk it. Moses was quietly in Pharoah’s court for 40 years before setting out to save Israel. Jesus waited until He was fully adult, even to 30, to begin the public phase of His ministry. It is Biblical to wait until the time and season are ripe.
By the same principle, our scholarship, teaching and service are not performed for the university’s sake, but that of the Lord. Therefore, to shortchange that to share the Gospel is problematic. All of our work must be with excellence for then no one can accuse us of shirking our duties for ‘religious activity.’
I am thrilled to be joined by this student today and it is already encouraging my prayer for my department, which has flagged. We are not meant to minister alone. Pray for others to come alongside you. Perhaps the Lord will use you to transform your department or maybe even your field.