Liberty University is the premier liberal arts Christian school in the United States academically, socially and especially spiritually. As Dr. Jerry Falwell always said, “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better,” and Liberty has shown that it is willing to push towards excellence, from Division I sports, to a renovated dining hall, to a goal of 25,000 on-campus students. Liberty’s excellence branches out to two types of students: the resident student and the commuter.
While both types of students can easily access most of Liberty’s many benefits, such as sports, campus church, academics or recreational resources, a great difference lies between the on-campus and off-campus student when it comes to discipleship. The commuter experiences a different level of accountability than the resident student does, and the need to reach off-campus students is one that “many have identified as the greatest student need at Liberty,” according to Dr. Charles Hughes of Commuter Care.
Two factors contribute to this difference: first, how the Office of Student Care reaches out to the commuters, and second, how the commuters in turn take a hold of and use the resources Liberty offers.
The first part of a commuter student enjoying the same spiritual benefits of Liberty involves the Office of Student Care, or more specifically, the Office of Student Leadership (OSL), which has set up a system to minister to students. If a student has ever heard the OSL’s pastor, Dwayne Carson, describe the student leadership structure on campus, he or she will be familiar with these words: “The Office of Student Leadership wants to see that every student is ministered to by another student.” Following that is a four-part plan where every student is loved, prayed for daily, prayed with weekly and given the chance to be personally discipled.
According to the OSL, a 5:1 student leadership ratio exists for on-campus students. Every resident student has a prayer leader, two spiritual life directors and two resident assistants watching out for him or her throughout the year. Beyond this level of accountability, small groups are also easily accessed through Tuesday night prayer groups.
For the off-campus student, the Campus Pastor’s Office has tried to emulate this by providing commuter care groups to provide accountability and encouragement. Recently, commuter care groups have grown and received more attention, but commuter students often choose to serve in local churches and throughout the body of Christ off-campus instead. As several commuters have noted, it is not necessary to use Liberty’s systems to have spiritual growth.
“The day has come and gone when the more than 4,000 students who invade the campus daily by automobile cannot be given the opportunity to be prayed for daily, contacted weekly and regularly involved in discipleship groups,” Dr. Hughes said.
Hughes said, “Commuters travel at their own speed, speak their own language and pursue their own customized plan for higher education, which often omits any needed emphasis on the Lord.”
This may not be true of all off-campus students. Commuter care groups are a great resource for reaching the commuters, but they do not provide the same spiritual support as the system of discipleship on-campus. Students move off-campus because of the many advantages in areas like finances and comfort, but they should not have to sacrifice the spiritual advantages.
While Liberty has reached out to the commuters, many have not responded to the spiritual resources the school offers. Of the 4,000 commuter students attending Liberty, approximately 200 attend commuter care goups. These students did choose to attend Liberty, and with all of Liberty’s strengths comes the distinction of a Christian university. Just as Liberty wants to provide students with a superior education, it also wants to provide students with top-notch resources spiritually, but it’s up to students on or off campus to take full advantage of these benefits. While students may be finding their spiritual nourishment elsewhere, they should be accessing the resources Liberty has offered them as part of their education.
One of the great things about Liberty is that it provides a transition from the home to adult life. Whereas many Christian schools provide a plethora of rules (some reasonable, some not), Liberty provides rules with specific reasons and in a relatively small quantity. Leadership could control every area of students’ lives, but instead Liberty has chosen to set up an effective transition system where students can learn and grow with a little bit of freedom before heading out into the world and having to handle everything on their own.
Resident students have found hidden blessings in the accountability provided on campus, even when when such measures were not appreciated. Though the commuters have choices where to spend their time, they should not neglect the resources easily in reach from the school they chose to attend.
An obvious difference exists between the spiritual ministry enjoyed by the on-campus and off-campus student. If Liberty wants to minister to every student, it needs to offer the same level of excellence across the board in spiritual matters as other areas by appealing to the commuter student just as much as the resident student. The commuter student, however, needs to in turn take advantage of everything Liberty is offering to gain their full education – academically, socially . . . and spiritually.
Contact Jen Slothower at firstname.lastname@example.org.