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May 11, 2012

Are you a big, fat liar?

This month I wrote an article for Branching Out, the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association periodical, entitled, “That’s Not My Job.” It was an encouragement for the chaplains at our PCUSA-related institutions to help the church realize that Presbyterian student ministry on a Presbyterian-related campus is not the chaplain’s job. Here’s an excerpt and an explanation:


When we hear the words “That’s not my job” it’s usually in a customer service type of situation.  We need some assistance or guidance and the sullen, disengaged person that could help us, is choosing not to. They are passing the buck; forwarding our call to someone who might actually dare to go the extra mile and improve the situation. Or, at the very least, offer some condolence on not being able to do so. However, there are other situations in which the response, “That’s not my job” is important, appropriate and even necessary. For instance: the receptionist at the doctor’s office being asked to perform surgery, the chef at a five-star restaurant being asked to catch a diseased rat, or the chaplain at a PCUSA-related school being asked to do Presbyterian student ministry.


It’s not the chaplain’s job to do Presbyterian ministry on our PCUSA-related campuses; nor is it their job to do Lutheran, Muslim or Baha’i ministry either. The call of chaplain encompasses all of these and more, but none of them specifically. Chaplains are employed by an institution to facilitate and assist in a myriad of ceremonies, celebrations, committees, ministries and (of course) various other duties as assigned. We can all come up with a list a mile long that is full of tasks that don’t involve a particular ministry to Presbyterian students. Yet, I meet people all the time that have no clue. And they are usually incredulous when they realize that, “We don’t have a ‘Presbyterian Ministry’ at this Presbyterian school?” And they can’t believe that, “The chaplain isn’t making it a top priority?”


It was my suggestions that the chaplains help nearby churches better understand the campus culture and the students needs, so the congregation can better reach and love those students on that campus. It can be a beautiful compliment to a ministry, a means of building mutual support and a way to help the congregation to say, “Presbyterian student ministry? That’s our job!” For those campuses with committed congregations nearby it is a boon for both parties. However, many of our related schools and other campuses have potential congregational partners in ministry languishing right next to campus unsure of what to do or how to do it. It is after all, the call to the church as a whole to disciple young people. It should no longer be thought of as an out-of-sight, out-of-mind ministry relegated to an unknown chaplain or campus pastor.


Several years ago, John Richardson, then a vice-president at Montreat, wrote an article entitled, “I’m a Big, Fat Liar.” It made the rounds in some circles, but was not nearly widely enough circulated, in my opinion. Here’s an expert from that article:


Here's a little trivia question for you: What is the one sacramental promise that we make as members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

Answer: At each baptism the church is asked to promise to help guide, raise, and nurture the child (or adult) in the ways of the Church of Jesus Christ.

In all the many baptisms I have witnessed I have never seen a person sitting in the congregation not raise his or her hand and commit to the spiritual development of the child. And yet, every time we send our children off to college at age 18, we make liars out of the entire Church. As a Church we are asked to make one sacramental promise; we have not been faithful to this promise. At a time when our young people most need the guidance, influence, and nurture of the Church, the PC(USA) is largely absent. We have no national Campus Ministry program, no guidance, no leadership, no plan, and no vision to even address this issue. As an active and supportive member of the PC(USA), that makes me a big fat liar.

This is not about numbers. This is not about being successful. This is about being faithful, and as a church we have not been faithful to the one sacramental promise we make to each and every young person in our denomination.

The single greatest mission field facing the PC(USA) in this next century is the college campus. If we, as a Church, are faithful to the one sacramental promise that we make, if we really are good stewards of that which God has given us, then one day we might begin to see the PC(USA) transformed into all that God has ever hoped and called for her to be.


That last paragraph I couldn’t agree with more! As most of you are aware, there is a new plan for collegiate ministry in the PCUSA going to be unveiled at the 220th General Assembly (2012) in Pittsburgh. The new plan is heavy on the congregationally connected philosophy of collegiate ministry. This is in hopes that at some point we start to get it! John article was written four years ago and not a lot has changed. And although we do have a new vision and direction, will churches get on board? Will people start to “see” college ministry. Will the church start to reach, love and teach college students? Or will we continue to be big, fat liars saying, “That’s not my job.”



If you would like to read John Richardson’s article in full, you can find it here: