21 May, 2024

Now More than Ever, Christian Colleges Matter


by | 1 May, 2024 | 0 comments

By Frank Weller 

We need stronger Restoration Movement colleges, now more than ever. Here are three reasons this is true. 

The Ministry Pipeline 

First, Restoration Movement churches face a looming ministerial crisis, with one in four lead ministers expected to retire by 2030. There are not nearly enough students in the pipeline to fill the number of expected empty pulpits. 

In 2022 Christian Standard reported that Restoration Movement colleges had experienced a decade of decline in the number of ministry graduates. According to the article, “The 482 graduates from the 2019-20 school year are the fewest they’ve produced in any of the past 20 years—down 41 percent from their high-water mark in 2006-07.” 

The same magazine issue stated that 60 percent of the lead ministers in our churches are over the age of 50. The result? Three of every five churches will need to conduct a search for a new lead minister in the next 20 years. 

Churches and parachurch organizations are taking this challenge seriously. Christ In Youth recently launched their Vocational Ministry Project. CIY has formed a coalition of Bible college presidents and church leaders to engage the 30,000 students expected to make commitments to be “kingdom workers” at their conferences over the next 10 years. They want to nurture those young people who are making commitments by partnering with Christian colleges to communicate options for studying vocational ministry. 

“Calling and equipping the next generation of ministry professionals is one of the most pressing needs for the church in our time,” said Sean Martin, CIY’s senior development officer. “Addressing it will require intentionality, innovation, and collaboration among a diverse range of stakeholders.” 

Great Lakes Christian College’s Equipping Kingdom Workers Now initiative is one example of that collaboration. Backed by funding from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, GLCC contacted the 550 students who made commitments to serve in ministry at CIY events last summer and offered them the opportunity to enroll in the college’s seven-week Introduction to Biblical Interpretation online class for less than one-third the normal cost. 

According to Greg Stauffer, GLCC’s vice president of enrollment, “By connecting with students who make kingdom worker commitments soon after they make those pledges, we hope to solidify their decisions and get them into the ministry pipeline before they graduate high school.” Twenty high school students enrolled in the first course offered in this program. 

Our Bible colleges were begun as ministry-training institutions. Partnerships like CIY’s Vocational Ministry Project and GLCC’s Equipping Kingdom Workers Now initiative reflect those roots and demonstrate a commitment to training the next generation of preachers, youth ministers, missionaries, and worship leaders. 

The Educational Alternative to Growing Secularism 

Second, we need strong Restoration Movement colleges because Christian students need institutions of higher education that will foster faith instead of destroying it. 

The growing secularism our grandparents saw gathering on the horizon is now a cultural hurricane. Christians are mocked at public universities and even at many private institutions that were founded in faith.  

Students who leave the nurture of home and church to attend university frequently find their faith under attack. Exploring difficult questions is expected of students who go on to higher education. These days, however, deconstruction of faith has been normalized. Students’ faith is torn down but rarely rebuilt, leading many young believers to feel hopeless and confused.  

We need Christian institutions of higher education where students can ask difficult questions. We need Christ-centered colleges where students can express doubts without being mocked. We need colleges where students can experience community and be discipled by those who have deconstructed, and then reconstructed, a biblical and defensible faith.  

We need colleges that are “awake,” but not “woke.” The contrast between “awake colleges” and “woke colleges” is sharp.  

Woke universities reject objective truth in favor of subjective cultural norms. They whitewash sinful behavior in the name of inclusion.  

Awake colleges, by contrast, understand and engage the culture without capitulating to it. Awake colleges celebrate diversity without fueling division. They focus on education instead of indoctrination. They train students how to think instead of telling them what to think.  

Some church leaders mistake awake colleges for woke colleges. They grieve the loss of the world in which they grew up. They grieve the rejection of values and virtues that even many nonbelievers once shared with the church. In their grief, these church leaders sometimes criticize professors and institutions that encourage students to intentionally engage the post-Christian world. They become suspicious when higher education explores ideas that are contrary to Scripture, even when the purpose is to expose those lies to their students.  

In some instances, that suspicion is well-founded. Mission drift is the Achilles’ heel of higher education. Some institutions have drifted from their biblical and missional roots. But merely engaging culture does not necessarily equal mission drift. We need strong Restoration Movement colleges that prepare students to be in the world but not of the world.  

The Mission in the Marketplace 

The third reason we need strong Christian colleges is to equip the church to take the message of Christ into the marketplace.  

In 2021, Gallup released a study that showed, for the first time in 80 years, most Americans no longer attended church.  

Question: How will the church reach those lost people? Answer: By going to them.  

The college I serve, GLCC, has embraced this missional challenge by adding “marketplace ministry” programs to the vocational ministry programs that have been a staple since our founding nearly 75 years ago. 

We’re not alone in doing so. 

Many Restoration Movement colleges, to the dismay of some in our fellowship of churches, added so-called “secular majors.” Pundits cite such moves as evidence of mission creep. Ironically, some of the loudest complaints come from those who teach within our “priesthood of all believers”. . . from the same people who proclaim, “every member is a minister.”  

At our college, we believe in the priesthood of all believers and that every member is a minister. We prepare graduates to set up outposts of the kingdom of God where they work. Our marketplace ministry students earn a minimum of 24 credit hours in Bible and theology. They are discipled by our faculty. We tell these students, “Any college can teach you how to do business (or communicate, or counsel). We teach you why.” We want our graduates to be the people coworkers go to when they need prayer. We want our graduates to be their workplaces’ ethical and spiritual thermostats. 

Adding Christ-centered programs for students who want to take their faith into the marketplace is not a repeat of past failings when colleges and universities became unmoored from their Christian roots. Rather, it is leaning into the mission to prepare students to be servant leaders in every context: in church, at work, and at home. 

Reversing the Trend 

According to data from the Higher Ed Dive website, 91 private colleges in the United States have closed or merged with another institution since 2016. The list includes Restoration Movement colleges like Crossroads College, Cincinnati Christian University, Nebraska Christian College, Ohio Valley University, and St. Louis Christian College. Johnson University’s Florida campus will close after this spring semester. So, too, will Lincoln Christian University. In our region of Michigan, four faith-based colleges unrelated to the Restoration Movement have announced their closure since January 2023.  

With the number of high school graduates in America expected to plummet in 2025, colleges are facing formidable demographic challenges. While larger universities add amenities like coffee shops in dorms and pet-friendly residences, Restoration Movement colleges struggle to compete for students while keeping down the cost of educating them. 

More Restoration Movement colleges will likely close.  

Some people have suggested that that is as it should be.  

But I disagree. Reaching lost people is too important. Preparing the next generation of servant leaders who devote their lives to vocational and marketplace ministry is too important. 

Strengthening Restoration Movement colleges will happen only when churches and individuals financially resource our schools and encourage their students to prioritize attending Restoration Movement colleges and universities. 

Dr. Frank Weller serves as president of Great Lakes Christian College, Lansing, Michigan. 


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