Sent to Campus

Is Faith an Excursus?

An excursus can be defined as an incidental digression from the main topic under discussion or from the main story in a narrative. For many on university campuses, faith is understood as an unnecessary digression, an appendix, or even a distraction from education and scholarly research. Faith belongs in the church, scholarship belongs in the classroom. Or, so the argument goes. As a result, many Christian students feel they need to check their faith at the door.

And it seems that many Christian leaders feel the same way.

Are We Part of the Problem? 

David Kinnaman’s research in the book You Lost Me reveals the church’s apathetic attitude the church has toward education. When 18- to 29-year-olds with a Christian background were asked if they experienced any of the following through their church, here’s what they said . . .


11% received helpful input from a pastor or church worker about their education
4% received a scholarship for college through church
4% learned about schools or colleges they might want to attend through their church


We can highlight this apathetic posture by flipping the percentages to show what those who have a Christian background have not experienced in church. 


89% have not received helpful input from a pastor or church worker about their education
96% have not received a scholarship for college through church
96% have not learned about schools or colleges they might want to attend through their church


These statistics reveal that we are not gathering and renewing to send students to college. There is a clear disconnect between the church’s mission and education, between faith and intellectual life. This disconnect does not exist because of an attack on the faith from the secular intelligentsia of academia. The disconnect exists because the church has all to happily backed away from investing in the intellectual life of its members.

We see the church as a place to lick our wounds and survive. The church, however, should be a place to send and thrive.

“Essentially,” argues Kinnaman, “we make little effort to help disciples connect the dots between their vocation—whether in medicine, journalism, city planning, music, sales, computer programming, or any other—and their faith.” If the years spent in college are training for the rest of life, then we are training people to keep their faith and work separate for the rest of their lives. This may explain why roughly 87% of those surveyed in the same research responded that they had not learned how the Bible applied to their field or area of interest.

This isn’t a matter of adding another ministry program, this is a matter of reframing basic discipleship in terms of God’s sending.

Reframing the Conversation

Novum is seeking to reframe the conversation through Excursus. We believe that the biblical story is not a digression from the main story, but it is the central narrative that makes sense of all other subplots. We believe that a starting place of faith can be the fount from which humanity innovates and re-imagines the world for good. We believe that students do not have to choose between their faith and their intellectual life. We believe that their faith can enhance their intellectual experience and that their intellectual experience can grow their relationship with God. We believe the church can send students to thrive, not just to survive .

In campus ministries

Campus ministries must see their calling as discipling students within their academic discipline. I first discovered this great divide between faith and intellectual life while doing campus ministry. I met students with amazing minds and tremendous love for the subjects they studied. Some of these same students also had a great love for Jesus. The problem? Nobody was talking about how these two loves came together. Nobody talked about how God designed these two great loves to come together for their good and his glory. What if campus ministries shaped their weekly gatherings, small groups, and one-on-one discipleship around the reality that only 11% of their students who had a church background had ever had a helpful conversation with a pastor or church worker about their education? What if campus ministries shaped their gatherings not as the end goal, but with the purpose of renewing and sending students out to campus? What if they allowed for innovative thinking and risk taking to articulate the gospel in terms of their major subject? I think we could change the conversation.

In local churches

Local churches need to discuss the implications of God sending students to schools. Local churches are the main place where God gathers his people together to renew us for the mission he has designed for us. If the purpose of church leadership is designed to “equip the saints for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11–16), then churches need to be equipping the saints for where God is sending them on mission. For a good portion of our lives, and nearly all our growing up years, this place is school. What if churches regularly provided spaces for open discussions led by students of different fields on how faith forms intellectual pursuit and how their intellectual pursuits form their faith? What if we more regularly explicitly discussed how God delighted in our school work? What if churches decided to grant scholarships to students the same way that they would fund students who needed money to go on a missions trip?

We can reframe the conversation on campus and join God in his mission to make all things new, including the university.



Mark Catlin