Why University Abbey? A Ministry Helping Those Who Are Busy Serving the 99
There was a time… a long time… when I was incensed toward pastors for the overall lack of intellectual discipleship that occurs in most churches.
It was a natural response to years of consistent experiences, frankly.
How many times have I privately gone to pastors with my difficult questions only to be exhorted, even admonished, to “stop thinking and just have child-like faith” or some other similar sentiment?
How many people do I have who are former Christians largely because the culture of their local churches–starting with the pastor–downplayed, dismissed, and denigrated the life of the mind as being antithetical to faith?
To this day I don’t absolve pastors of their responsibilities in this.
At the same time (not “But”), I’ve increasingly come to accept a difficult reality.
The way most churches are culturally formed, and the way they institutionally function, inhibits pastors from doing this sort of work even if they wanted to.
In most churches the pastor is the CEO-in-chief.
If they’ve got a number of people on staff, it’s like the CEO and the board of directors.
They’re the top-down executives who oversee programs premised upon the business model.
And boy oh boy are there programs: Bible study, small group, prayer group, youth group, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, college ministry, children’s ministry, senior adult ministry, counseling ministry, sports ministry, pro-life ministry, VBS, Sunday School, worship team, daycare team, food pantry team, gardening team, missions team, after-school tutoring team, building committee, evangelism committee, racial reconciliation committee…
Within that context, and the resulting ministry paradigm, most pastors simply don’t have the time.
They don’t have 30 hours to study up a topic in order to help the 19-year-old whippersnapper like my former self.
They can’t put down everything to help the girl who walks in the door and says she’s struggling to maintain her christian faith amidst its Ancient Near Eastern backdrop with other (at times) eerily similar religions like Zoroastrianism.
Unless the pastor studied such things as an undergrad or in seminary, (s)he often feels not only woefully ill-equipped but actually restricted from helping that person.
Moreover, they aren’t able to invest time every single week in the agnostic, the depth of whose questions far exceeds the scope of every easy-to-use apologetic curriculum.
They can’t spend countless hours leisurely hanging out with the entrenched atheist who needs to, if you’re forgive the reappropriation, “taste and see” that intelligent life exists in the Church.
They don’t have the room in their schedules to spend daily time with the Christian who has been tragically neglected or battered by the Body of Christ, whose faith is barely and improbably holding on for dear life.
As much as they would love to, they simply can’t stay up late having life-changing conversations with the Christian whose life and faith is doing quite well but is desirous of going “further up” and “further in,” as Lewis put it.
Put another way, the practical needs of the 99 sheep prevent most pastors from spending an inordinate amount of time helping the 1.
I get that now.
Yet my question becomes this: Where does that 1 go for help?
Answer: No one comes right out and says this, but there’s an implicit expectation that such intellectual, psychological, and spiritual wrestling should be done largely in isolation.
After all, it’s your responsibility to figure it out on your own if you don’t fit the mold.
This creates loneliness and vulnerability among some of those who could be our best minds and most gifted leaders.
Magnifying the problem, there’s another implicit cultural expectation they’re up against.
It insists one must leave the academy when pursuing matters of devout faith and leave the local church context when pursuing matters of rigorous learning.
In either setting the corresponding academic or spiritual focus is to take priority.
One is supposed to major in one and minor in the other.
But where do those few go who are desperate for, who truly need, community that helps them wrestle through the integration of devout faith and rigorous learning?
Where can they go for equal and simultaneous excellence in faith and learning?
Where can they be shown how to live out the cognitive fullness of the Greatest Commandment?
In other words, who is inspiring, teaching, and modeling for them how to love the Lord and their neighbor fully with their minds in unison with their hearts, souls, and strength?
This is the question and the perspective driving the University Abbey ministry I’m developing.
It’s not a church.
It’s not in competition with local churches.
Instead it’s trying to meet a practical need that most local churches simply aren’t equipped to do.
That’s not a criticism, but an honest acknowledgement of reality.
My hope is that University Abbey be a faithful presence in helping build God’s Kingdom.
My expectation is that it make Berean-like disciples who tangibly help local churches.
My intention is that it serve the overwhelmed and under-resourced pastors I described above.
Sorry for my years of frustration and anger, brothers and sisters.
From my heart, mind, and spirit, I ask your forgiveness.
I didn’t understand.
So far as I’m able, I got your back now.
University Abbey is a parachurch organization; literally, for the church. We’re an interdisciplinary and multi-traditional liturgical, discussion community. We exist to encourage the integration of faith and learning at and near campuses of higher education. We focus on grad students, but certainly welcome undergrads, faculty, staff, alumni, and others from the community who have this unmet need.
University Abbey values truth, beauty, and goodness. Consequently, we tend to place a strong emphasis on the life of the mind, study of Scripture, liturgical prayer, church history and tradition, aestheticism, christian ecumenism, social justice, racial reconciliation, gender equality, the arts, and the philosophy of faithful presence. We also support community service, but usually through existing programs in churches or other faith-based organizations.
University Abbey is starting on the campus of Baylor University. As a 501(c)(3), University Abbey is partnering with Dr. Burt Burleson and the chaplain’s office. Our vision and prayer is that other chapters will one day crop up across the country, and that they’ll be a blessing to you and your churches. With Baylor being the world’s sole (implicitly) evangelical research university, I can think of no better place to begin.