Campus News

Bethel College undergoing campus-wide REFOCUS

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spiritualatmosphere “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” –Ephesians 5:22-23 Bethel College is a Christian campus and seeks to exemplify the “fruits of the Spirit” listed above. To help engage in this area, the administration conducts a Spiritual Life Survey to determine the spiritual climate of campus each year. This year the responses sparked more than just a chapel announcement. This Monday, student life resident director Michael Yoder took the chapel stage to introduce Bethel’s new chapel series, “Refocus,” which will span an entire month and focus on four major aspects of campus spiritual life: faith, prayer, Scripture and community. “Last year, you guys filled out a Spiritual Survey,” he said, speaking to the Bethel student body gathered at chapel, “It was kind of a litmus test for where you guys are at as Bethel students. And through that process, we found a lot of things about where you guys say you are.” Yoder gave a few of the statistics the administration learned about the spiritual health of students through this survey. According to the survey, while most people agree that prayer is important, a good number of beginning Christians do not feel that God notices them. Many students also believe that they do not see the hand of God helping them directly. Students expressed a desire to talk about faith and hear stories and key phrases regarding faith. When asked about spiritual practices, a majority of students indicated that they do not read their Bibles regularly. Many students also admitted that they do not regularly reflect on the effect of Scripture on their lives. Many students admitted that they do not pray or give thanks regularly. Lastly, the survey showed that Bethel students’ experiences of peace, patience, faithfulness, hope and humility were low. Bethel College’s slogan is “Spirited Connections.” Those connections are, most obviously, between students, faculty and staff, but there’s another dimension that usually is covered in chapel, connecting to God. So with this focus, the response to the survey looks to be more than just a down period. But the main question is, why did Bethel students give such apparently dismal answers? Yoder, in a later interview with The Beacon, actually cited the bridge of the Twenty One Pilots song “Screen,” which repeats “we’re broken people.” Yoder mentioned Tony Chaney, who also spoke in chapel Wednesday, who is one of Yoder’s spiritual mentors. Yoder said that as Chaney has been going through chemo in addition to leading almost 1,500 students spiritually, he’s doubting the truths in his faith that he’s known his whole life. “It’s because when we really peel back layers, there’s doubt there,” said Yoder, “and we have to address that, and we have to wrestle with that, and that’s where your faith comes in…These doubts, these fears, they’re not bad, they’re good.” The Beacon also talked with Dr. Dennis Engbrecht, associate professor of history, who had seen the findings of the survey before they were actually made public knowledge. When asked what he thought of the reasons for the survey's answers, Engbrecht said that part of it may be because students’ parents are less consistent in their church attendance than the previous generation. In other words, many parents “church hop” instead of consistently attend one church. “I think that’s unsettling to children and to young people,” said Engbrecht, “because in order to get established in a church and have a good, consistent understanding of Christian values, it takes time.” Engbrecht also said that he feels there’s a general tendency in culture today to not trust authority, and the church represents an authority figure to young people. “Probably the biggest thing is that we’re becoming more and more postmodern and post-Christian in America on the whole,” said Engbrecht. “We imitate Europe in its transition to postmodernism, those are the things that kind of concern me.” As for why he feels that America is moving toward a postmodern mentality, Engbrecht cites signs of belief and universalism. “I see a generation that is more diverse in…their religious thinking, and I don’t mean that in a positive way,” said Engbrecht, “I see that as more universalist, and in an attempt to be ‘tolerant’…they’ve applied the same principles of ethnic tolerance to spiritual tolerance and religious tolerance.” Engbrecht clarified this comment a bit by saying, “we’re called to…embrace individuals of different ethnic background…and we should embrace people of different religious backgrounds, but in a way of sharing the truth of Christ, that’s the embracing manner, instead of ‘well, as long as you believe, that’s okay.’” Engbrecht cited a survey he conducted among his students, asking them what they felt the purpose of life was. The most common answer was to be happy and surround yourself with happy people. “It’s both shallow and it’s going to end in a great sense of disillusionment,” he concluded. Another question to ask is, was this surprising at all to those who conducted the survey? “I wouldn’t say (I was) surprised,” said Yoder, “…There were some that made me sad, and that’s just because, in general…I mean, we’re broken people, right? And so when I hear things like…Bethel has a low experience of peace, patience, faithfulness, self-control (and) hope, that’s sad. And it’s brokenness, and it’s real, though. So it’s sad, but it’s also just the reality we live in.” Yoder did say that this is not just a Bethel concept, and that he feels that a poll taken of a state school would get even worse results, not because there’s no hope at those schools, but there is definitely less. Engbrecht also commented on the findings of the survey. “I wish I could say that there were findings that surprised me, but there weren’t,” said Engbrecht, “and I say that based on the fact that I’m teaching Exploring the Christian Faith here, and the interaction with students seemed to affirm everything that they discovered.” Engbrecht said that he has a “great variety” of interaction with students. When asked if any findings concerned him, Engbrecht responded, “I think generally speaking, the doubting doesn’t concern me, or the expression of doubt, because one can’t be a doubter unless they’re a believer…so that one doesn’t concern me. If I’m not mistaken, there was something in the survey that reflected on Biblical knowledge, I can’t remember the question or how it was asked, but that probably concerns me as much as anything, is that there are as many students lacking in understanding, or even in knowledge of Scripture that have come out of the church.” Yoder did not express concern, but instead hope about the findings. “I don’t find this concerning at all,” he said. “Not even in the least bit. To me, it’s kind of funny, and it’s ironic. I find hope in this. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing you have one.” Yoder said that this current chapel series is the next step in resolving the problem the survey uncovered. So finally, aside from this month-long chapel series, what needs to be done about this? What changes need to be seen on campus? “I would love to see the Holy Spirit poured out across campus,” said Engbrecht. “I would love for us to be known as people of prayer and people of authentic agape love. And there is a lot of agape love and there are some great prayer warriors on this campus, and the Holy Spirit is moving…so my desire is not (from) a void of those things, it’s just a desire for a preponderance of (God’s) spirit.” “For anything, I don’t like to paint a broad brushstroke," said Yoder. “For the whole campus, I think that comes down to the individual…so for the individual, I would say, I would love when students get together for Bible studies. It’s not fluff.” Yoder said that his ideal Bible study does study Scripture, but also involves talking about struggles and doubts individuals may have. Yoder also expressed a desire to begin holding people accountable, a word he described as “ugly and messy” but ultimately important for Christians seeking to live better lives as they claim to follow Jesus. Yoder also expressed a desire for vulnerability and brokenness coming together. “That’s what the church is…it’s the vulnerability and brokenness coming together around that table,” said Yoder, referring to his message on Monday. Yoder said that students need to sit around that “table” with people who don’t look, talk or act like them; in other words, get out into the community. So how will this happen? What are faculty doing to make these changes happen? “Just meeting with students,” said Yoder, “one-on-one conversations, whether that’s in the dorms, whether that’s sitting down (and) mentoring, having coffee, asking questions. That’s the biggest thing.” Yoder said that while he is a “questions guy,” he feels that the fewer answers he can give directly to students, the better. “This is how I see Jesus do it, too,” he said, “and I’m not comparing myself to Jesus…but when Jesus was always asked question A or question B…a lot of times He said, ‘well I think there’s answer C.’ And so if we can ask questions to people, people will come to a conclusion I think they didn’t even know existed.” Yoder said that the biggest thing he’s doing is helping conversations start. “I like to engage students, engage the body, and even staff and faculty,” said Yoder. “Asking good questions, and questions that haven’t been asked before. And hopefully that will start conversation.” Engbrecht said that his main influence is in his classrooms. “In my classes, I attempt to be very overt,” he said, “it doesn’t matter if I’m teaching world regional geography or exploring the Christian faith or racial and cultural minorities. I try to be very overt in pointing to Christ. I think all of our faculty do, but I’ve tried to be even…more intentional, because there are more students who are coming to Bethel, and I thank God for those, who are not following Christ, or who have yet to fully realize Christ’s love for them.” Engbrecht said that while he’s always focused on this, he’s focusing even more on it this year. He also said he seeks to disciple and pray with students as well as spend time alone interceding. He also tries to spend time with other faculty in prayer, and is a part of a prayer group that meets Friday mornings in the log chapel on campus. “I’m expecting to see God do something very unusual,” he concluded.
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