Christian universities feeling the pinch as Churches of Christ shrink
Since today’s college freshmen were infants, roughly 1,200 Churches of…
HENDERSON, Tenn. — We need to be asking, “What environment do we want our children to live in while at college?”
If you have a young, tender plant at a critical stage of growth, do you want a greenhouse or a desert? What if about half survive in the desert, but 90 percent in the greenhouse? Where would you place your plant? At Freed-Hardeman University, we want to provide an environment that nurtures and expands the whole person.
The reason it matters to Freed-Hardeman to recruit students who are members of the Lord’s church is because we love the church and want to see these young people grow into strong, faithful Christian adults who love the Lord and his church. Ironically, this is also the reason we love to see students come who are not members of the Church of Christ. It gives us opportunity to see hearts turn toward God. Just this past week, we witnessed one believer baptized into Christ on Thursday and another on Friday.
There is great value in the majority of students being members of the Lord’s church. The value of maintaining a campus with a great majority of students and all faculty and staff being members of the church is that their values naturally become the environment of campus. Even though this might not be as crucial to mature adults. We know that between the ages of 18-22, the churches of Christ lose the majority of our young people if they do not attend a Christian college. I am not proud of that or even suggesting it should be this way. But it is.
So when parents talk about expenses, I would encourage them to also weigh value. We offer what the state will not fund; we offer Christ and an environment that his high calling creates. The state will not fund it, but thankfully Christians give toward it and pay the extra every year.
Consider the environment. What if one enters a Christian campus where the majority believe the Bible is inerrant, Jesus is Lord, the church is important, love is unconditional and grace is amazing? What environment would you expect? The state will not fund this environment. One makes a mistake believing the power of a Christian campus is solely what is taught in the classroom.
As important as that is, the real power of creating a Christian environment that embraces the Lord’s church is to have a majority of people on campus who sincerely embrace the Lord’s church. Our students’ impact for Christ is immeasurable. They are in the dorms, classrooms, social clubs, intramurals, athletics, honors, etc. They bring Christ into every aspect of Freed-Hardeman.
This is not to take away from the importance of Christian faculty and staff. I am simply answering the questions to why we are so concerned in maintaining a strong presence of students who are members of the Lord’s church when we recruit.
Simply put, we want an environment which creates a “greenhouse” where the teenage freshmen can enter expecting to deepen their faith, expand their mind and mature their relationships so that when they graduate they have a deeper love for Lord, his church and others. We desperately want our graduates to love the Lord, his church and others.
Is recruiting a challenge? Attend any higher education conference to see if one person says otherwise. I haven’t talked with anyone yet in Christian or non-Christian higher education that disagrees with this.
This is not a “Church of Christ”-related challenge. This is the challenge of higher education. The narrower focus is to ask what is our mission as a university and will our recruiting honor this mission?
I measure success based on growing the whole person more than growing the enrollment. Will the graduate earn the academic success to secure the professional school or career to provide for a family and have to give to those in need? Will he or she graduate with social maturity to be a blessing in relationships? Will he genuinely love the Lord and his church?
All these grow the whole person — mind, body, soul and relationships. That type of growth thrives in a certain environment. The Lord called it “my church.”
FHU isn’t the church, but we want this place to be full of students who are his church because that creates a wonderful environment to learn, grow, serve, worship and become all that God has planned.
I pray for the success of Christian education, realizing so much is at stake. Young people are one of our most valuable resources on earth. I love them and want to spend an eternity with them in heaven.
DAVID SHANNON is president of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.
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