By Jennifer Johnson
Several of the colleges and universities affiliated with our movement understand the need to reach their own cities while preparing students for an urban future. Here’s what one of them is doing.
OZARK CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
At first glance, Ozark seems an unlikely place to study urban ministry.
“Most of our students come from small-to-medium-size towns,” says Mike Ackerman, professor of church planting and New Testament. “Some of them have never even been to a large city. But we need to care about cities because the world is moving to cities.”
Previous study opportunities included a partnership with the Orchard Group, a New York City-based organization that plants Christian churches in major cities in the United States and around the world. For several years, Ozark students and faculty participated in the Orchard Institute, which held classes in New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago.
Today Ozark’s Exegeting the City course regularly focuses on New York, and this fall students in the class will visit Los Angeles and attend the Exponential Conference in Southern California.
“Although the class is open to everyone, most of the students who take it are pursuing majors in Biblical Justice or Church Planting,” Ackerman says. “It’s required for the church planting emphasis.”
However, because so many of Ozark’s students come from a more rural background, the class is valuable experientially as well as educationally.
“Some knee-jerk reactions are predictable,” Ackerman says. “They can’t comprehend spending $2,000 a month for an apartment, or they don’t think the people are friendly. Others fall in love with the environment and decide they want to do an internship or go on staff with an urban church. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to gain a larger perspective.”
In fact, the exposure to the city can even challenge the students’ theology.
“They have to grapple with empathy,” Ackerman says. “It’s easy to stereotype city dwellers, especially when the culture of the city is so foreign to you. Gordon Venturella [vice president of university advancement at Lincoln Christian University] always said that we tend to have a broken heart for the ‘down and outers,’ but not the ‘up and outers.’ This experience challenges students to feel empathy for all lost people, even those they might be intimidated by.”
Jennifer Johnson, a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor, is a freelance editor and writer living outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.