Before serving as director of Areopagus, I served as a pastoral intern in Illinois, and before that, as a staff member with a parachurch campus ministry. And sometimes, I'm asked: Why Areopagus? Why a traditional, denominational ministry that is so closely connected to a single church (Trinity CRC)? Some of my reasons are well articulated in an article entitled, "Descriptions of Traditional and Contemporary Campus Ministries," by Tony W. Cawthon and Camilla Jones in the Spring 2004 edition of The College of Student Affairs Journal:
1. These ministries provide a theological, doctrinal basis of understanding from one denomination's perspective. These ministries can (and should) take on the doctrinal ideals of the denomination they represent. This provides a level of confidence regarding the positions taken by, and content taught, by the ministry, and allows students the opportunity to explore in depth what his or her denomination truly believes. For Areopagus, that means providing students with spaces for better understanding the Three Forms of Unity, wrestling with their implications for our lives, and seeing the way a reformed world and life view relates to their spiritual, academic, and vocational pursuits. To be sure, Areopagus is thoroughly reformed in all that we teach and do.
2. These ministries provide interaction with a local church, with multiple age groups as one community. The combination of individualism and the desire for comfort have led to the segmentation of age groups in local churches, and caused many campus ministries to isolate students from the church, creating pseudo-church environs made up entirely of their peers. We do not believe this is healthy for students or the church. Rather denominational ministries like Areopagus strongly encourage students to appreciate, and engage in, the life of the local church and the diversity found therein. Our ministry wants to see the church flourish, and we believe that takes place through vibrant, intergenerational worship and discipleship.
3. Smaller Settings--possibly providing for an intimate time of reflection. Often these ministries have fewer members that parachurch/interdenominational organizations. This can be advantageous to students in developing close, interpersonal relationships with other group members and the leadership. Not only this, but it creates an environment of trust, openness, and honesty that may be more difficult to create in other groups. Smaller settings also allow for materials to be tailored to the needs, struggles, and academic level of the students involved rather than following a rigid course.
4. Theologically-educated leadership. Though not always the case, denominational ministries are often staffed by ordained leaders, or at the very least, leaders who have received some level of formal theological training in a seminary context. This provides students access to men and women who have rigorously studied the biblical texts, the theology of the denomination, and practical aspects of ministry. Additionally, because of these credentials, denominational ministers are oftentimes slightly older, and more mature, than staff with parachurch ministries who have just graduated (like myself when I joined staff with such a parachurch) from university themselves.
Without disparaging other campus ministries, these are a few of the reasons why I serve a traditional, denominational ministry. I am always excited, and encouraged, at the ways God is at work in the various ministries at our university. Yet, I am most excited for the work I have the privilege of doing with Areopagus, and the opportunities we afford students at Iowa State University. Opportunities that, generally, only come with denominational ministries.
Cawthon and Jones' article is an interesting, informative (if dated) read and can be found here.