Core Commitment #11: We partner with churches in campus ministry and equip students, faculty and staff to be active lifelong members in local congregations.
We love the church. Scripture depicts it as Jesus’ bride (2 Cor. 11:2), the physical representation of his presence on earth (Eph. 4:12) and the means through which he will prevail over the forces of evil (Matt. 16:18).
We Partner with Churches in Campus Ministry
Missiologist Ralph Winter has noted that throughout history God has promoted his Kingdom through two basic structures, the church as “modality” and “sodality.”
Put simply, “modality” refers to the permanent structure, the local church. Multi-generational and geographically limited, a congregation puts down its roots and makes a long-term commitment to its community. As theologian Darrell Guder observes: “The parish must always be looked upon as the central and continuing form of the church.”
The second structure, “sodality,” focuses on a specialized aspect of the Lord’s purposes on earth. This “laser vision” may target a particular people group (e.g. Laotians), age group (e.g. high school students) or spiritual discipline (e.g. prayer).
Parachurch ministries like InterVarsity are sodalities—expressions of the local church, but not churches in themselves. “Para” means “along side.” Historical examples of such extensions of church ministry include first century mobile missionary missionary bands and medieval Catholic orders.
In reaction to the Catholic Church, Martin Luther attempted to do without any kind of sodality structures. According to Ralph Winter, this approach had unfortunate results: “In failing to exploit the power of the sodality, the Protestants had no mechanisms for missions for almost 300 years until William Carey.”
As a sodality, InterVarsity works in cooperation, not in competition, with local congregations. Former president John Alexander wisely wrote: “InterVarsity is not a church. It cannot take the place of the church in students’ lives. We are part of the missionary arm of the church.” As such, we partner with particular churches to carry out their—and our—mission to campus.
Exciting current examples of partnership include Park Street Church in Boston and Evanston Presbyterian Church near Chicago. InterVarsity staff are active members of these congregations, serving in a variety of roles. The churches regard campus work as an extension of their outreach, providing not only financial support, but office space as well. As staff worker Paul Sorrentino notes: “The local church and [InterVarsity] have God’s intended, complementary and distinct roles in advancing the work of the Kingdom. . . . They are not competitors but teammates.”
We Equip Students, Faculty and Staff to be Active, Lifelong Members
In my travels, I am excited to meet so many InterVarsity alumni who are serving as clergy, elders and deacons. Local congregations also benefit from InterVarsity graduates who are dedicated in other areas of church ministry: evangelism, inductive Bible studies, missions, leadership development, small groups, discipleship of the mind and ethnic reconciliation. We succeed in our mission wherever such transitions occur. We fail when they do not.
All InterVarsity staff are required to be under the spiritual authority and nurture of a local church. In doing so, we model the importance of being joined with other believers in congregational care. “[Staff] should never come to think of themselves as working simply parallel to and independent of the church,” notes Paul Sorrentino.
Finally, we do not tolerate cynical attitudes towards the church. Rather, we cherish the local body of Christ. As the “modality” structure, it is the bedrock foundation, the long-term foundation for the propagation of the Christian faith. We recognize that while our mission field —the campus—is limited in scope, the church’s mission reaches to the ends of the earth.