FULFILLING THE CHRISTIAN MANDATE FOR SERVICE
BRUCE G. LONGSTROTH
If service represents an integral part of the Gospel message then service must be manifested throughout the lives of Christian individuals and Christian institutions--including the Christian college. To embody the essence of the Gospel as an earthly demonstration of the redemptive power of the Christian experience summarizes the nature and mission of the Christian liberal arts college.
Consider the evangelical Christian's understanding of the Gospel and its relationship to the mission of the Christian college. Historically an integrated view of the Gospel was held which gave credibility to the interdependent importance of "Christian witness" and "Christian works." During the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century the issue of a "social gospel" arose, causing many evangelical Christians to stress the verbal witness as the essence of evangelicalism and the Gospel. Popular Christian reading suggests that in recent years there has been a resurgence of the view that service and witness are two sides of the same coin; with service defined as a behavioral demonstration of the Gospel. Each may be viewed not only as legitimate components of Christianity as understood by evangelicals, but as biblical mandates. A study of scriptural principles suggests that service must exist in the Christian life--not as a means to something greater, but as an end expression of one's Christianity. While most accept that this applies to each of us as individuals, it is apparent that it equally pertains to the Christian institution.
In community contacts faculty members of Christian liberal arts colleges frequently encounter criticism about the role of the college in the surrounding community. Less frequently, criticisms arise from students concerning similar issues within the campus community. Constituent criticisms seem best captured by words such as "self-serving," "uncaring," "money-hungry," and "dehumanizing." Although these are admittedly limited attempts to describe the criticism intended, such descriptions do represent a persistent image of the "institution" which is contrary to Christian college intentions and worthy of further exploration. These criticisms suggest that the institution's impact upon its students and community exhibits something quite different from and greater than expected: a perceived value inconsistency. The value expectations of these critics with regard to Christian colleges center, in fact, on service and contribution.
Service as a primary value stance immediately strikes against values that seem to be prevalent in many Christian organizations, including Christian colleges. Competing values center around cost-benefit ratios, return-on-investment considerations, management by objectives, accountability, and a host of other values lumped under the rubric of "good business procedures." Organizational value conflicts result. Admittedly these value tensions become increasingly apparent in times of shrinking material resources. It is always imperative, however, that the Christian college consistently consider and keep in the forefront of decision-making its primary value assumptions. These primary value assumptions are normally summarized in the stated college objectives.
It behooves any responsible college board, administration, and faculty continually to watchguard policies and procedures to assure their loyalty to the primary values adopted through the mission statement of the college, and to state positively the importance of these primary values. Watchguarding does not mean that good business procedures are thrown out in an irresponsible, unstewardly manner, but they are cast in the tempering context of the primary values for witness and service.It is hard to see the possibilities for a more significant social and spiritual contribution while concentrating on the financial and management problems which have become part of each institution's continuing plight. Survival is high on the daily priorities; it is presumed that competition for students and donations is a legitimate and inescapable part of the institution's agenda. Getting the act together--if it means significant cooperation and collaborative public visibility--has two strikes against it from the outset; pragmatic competitiveness and traditionalized anxiety of doctrinal compromise.
Whatever case can be made for the legitimacy of these two inhibitions, it pales in the light of the Gospel. The resources and talents concentrated in Christian higher education simply must be displayed more effectively; the Gospel demands it. (Ted Ward, Faculty Dialogue, Fall, 1984, No. 1, pp. 1-2)
A view of the Christian college based upon the value assumption that "service" represents an imperative in a college's full demonstration of the Gospel will be developed with accompanying examples. Using this view, a Christian college may be seen as a responsible, contributing member of its local community which includes a variety of needs, organizations, and persuasions. This view of community includes concepts and values such as mutual caring, support, interdependence, and honest motivations. (The mutual give-and-take of any successful human relationship could be used as an illustration.) Deterioration or strengthening of relationships can result depending on the participants' perspectives and perceptions of genuineness or exploitation within the relationship.
Motivations for "institutional service" within our communities may be summarized in two ways: 1) pragmatically recognizing that we need each other, and 2) viewing service as an integral part of the Gospel--a necessary extension of the mission of the Christian college. Primary values of witness and service become the guiding lights when the inevitable crunch of competing values arises.
Note again that the values represented by good business procedures will not always lose in such an encounter. The value of stewardship is valid. The point remains, however, that value conflicts must always be seen and resolved within the context of mission. This faithful obedience to our understanding of the Gospel may result in the Lord's blessing but, even if not, must be followed in faithfulness to mission. (We must be careful not to view this potential blessing as our motivation for service.)
Just what are the resources at the disposal of a Christian college which might be used as service instrumentalities in its communities? These can be divided into four categories: 1) expertise and personnel; 2) educational or persuasive influence; 3) facilities and equipment; and 4) monetary resources.
In order for these resources clearly to be used in service there must be an overt decision to apply them in this direction as opposed to an alternative legitimate use such as additional personnel, improved facilities, or higher salaries. In other words, it needs to cost the institution something! Persons holding this "cost" position will continue to criticize an institution that points to active individuals, makes available empty seats in a classroom thereby allowing access for selected individuals, and other similar institutional responses. The contention is that these are isolated examples of service for purposes with ulterior motives such as influence, donations, or public relations, which don't "cost" anything. Arguments to the contrary seem unable to persuade. Calls persist for overt, pervasive, institutional commitment to service outside the narrow interests of the college.
As examples of the value conflicts are suggested here, one must keep in mind that the tension between them can never fully be resolved. This tension constitutes a healthy struggle which forces critical value choices--choices that tend to remind us of our human condition and limitedness. Nevertheless, the growing Christian individual and institution constantly seeks for better integration and balance of value tensions. Particular individuals or departments of a college (the business or development offices, for example) will come to mind as primary implementers of the controlling values, but they may equally be viewed as reflections of the dominant values within the institution. Responsibility rests with the college administration, board, and faculty to integrate and balance tension between competing values and to set the dominant value tone.
Consider again briefly the four resource areas; expertise and personnel, educational or persuasive influence, facilities and equipment, and monetary resources; as well as the respective service potential in each of these areas which might be released within a community by an involved Christian college.
1) A college represents a major collection of leadership persons and expertise. Encouraging active community service as a part of employment exemplifies a commitment to service that costs. Such a commitment would result in being able to ask how one is serving the community rather than asking for justification or defense as to the "job-relatedness" of outside activities. Community service criteria would be a standard part of employee evaluation and would be construed more broadly than "church service" which critics view as merely another aspect of the same organization/institution. A serious question of implementation arises here and thoughtful consideration must be given to ways of encouraging community service as a normal part of faculty job descriptions without "requiring" it. Absence of this encouragement, intentional or not, suggests low importance.
2) Serving the local community through a college's ability to commit resources to consideration of issues with ethical, moral, and public policy implications that demand research and dialog can further the search for truth. Colleges can serve their communities through the presentation of objective analyses of differing views concerning issues related to the community. Examples include current social, economic, and political issues such as views of war, the role of women, balancing the federal budget, and school budget issues. Controversy inherent in such issues can be viewed as a cost, but may better be viewed as contributing to the tasks confronting Christians and non-Christians alike in their individual and collective searches for Truth. Too many times the issues considered on Christian college campuses are narrowly particularistic and unrelated to the general community public.
3) Facilities and equipment in colleges often represent a major potential resource for the community. Examples of a service commitment that costs the institution something include access to meeting rooms, audio-visual equipment, athletic facilities, and libraries for the general public at little or no fee. Resulting inconveniences and fiscal costs must be viewed in the context of mission and the primary values of witness and service.
4) Christian liberal arts colleges represent concentrations of large sums of money and may be one of the larger such entities in a community. Even though Christian colleges are charitable organizations, they may be rightly expected to be contributing members of the community. Can this contributing role truly be expressed without the cost of giving money in support of community needs? To the jaundiced outsider the giving of money symbolizes the essence of the institution and its constituency. To the Christian and the wealthy, money may not represent the most important resource at one's disposal; nevertheless, colleges must understand the symbolism inherent in statements such as "putting your money where your mouth is," and "giving 'till it hurts." To many persons monetary giving represents true demonstration of commitment, support, and the ultimate cost.
Integration of differing values represented by these examples proves complex and worrisome. The business manager's questions of "Who is going to pay for service?" and "What are you going to cut in order to do this?" ring loud and clear on many Christian college campuses. When such questions arise, Christian colleges must return to three major considerations:
1) What is the mission of the college? The mission of the Christian college must teach and embody the essence of the Gospel as an earthly demonstration of the redemptive power of the Christian experience.
2) What are the primary values which guide decisions and actions on a day-to-day basis? For the Christian college the historic duality of Christian witness and Christian works manifested through service summarizes the primary values.
3) Does a particular decision conform with answers to mission and values? The Christian college witness continues through balancing the value tensions while exhibiting an overall behavioral expression of service within the local community.
Christian colleges must maintain a clear understanding of the Gospel and convey it to constituency, students, and local communities. Such clarity and behavior will provide actual answers to persisting misconceptions of Christianity and Christian colleges. The following four assumptions are suggested as foundational:
1) The Gospel mandates a service commitment for the individual Christian. Service is an expression that is neither optional nor devious, but a necessary outgrowth of the Christian experience.
2) A Christian institution receives a similar Gospel service mandate. Christian institutions contain a nonoptional responsibility for service, independent from individual expressions, which results in an enlarged community impact.
3) Service by Christian institutions must be overtly demonstrated in internal and external communities. Service opportunities must be easily seen by all and clearly reflect overriding importance on the campus and in the community.
4) The mission of a Christian college includes the mandate for service as a primary value. The extent to which a Christian college teaches and maintains an overt and pervasive commitment to service reflects its loyalty to its mission: AN EARTHLY DEMONSTRATION OF THE REDEMPTIVE POWER OF THE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE THROUGH SERVICE!