Mar 4, 2008

Finding Common Ground

by Stan Barringer

A  student-led ministry called Common Ground meets in the Prayer Chapel for worship, a time of testimonies and Bible study every Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.
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According to founder Ben Forrest, the mission of Common Ground is for people of the same age and station in life to encourage each other in spiritual growth.
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“We are all living this life of a college student,” Forrest said. “It is through this context of relationship that we have one the most powerful forms of spiritual growth. We are all running the race that Paul describes (1 Corinthians 9:24). I can run faster, harder and longer when I have someone pushing and challenging me who is in the same stage of this race, and that is our Common Ground.”
About 30 people come to Common Ground’s weekly meetings. Forrest said that one key difference between Common Ground and other campus ministries is the group’s ability to connect more personally than is possible with a larger service.
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“When I first moved (to Liberty), I felt lost in the crowd. Common Ground is…smaller and more able to connect on a personal level. We want to reach those who want to grow deeper through vulnerability, service, authenticity and discipleship. We want to touch people that get lost in the crowd.”
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Common Ground began meeting in DeMoss Hall three years ago. The classroom setting felt too academic for close fellowship and worship, though, Forrest said. The group relocated to David’s Place, where it met for two years before moving again in January 2008 to the Prayer Chapel.
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Forrest said that no matter where Common Ground’s meetings take place, they are unique.
“Each week is different,” Forrest said. “Students lead the worship, and a student brings the weekly message. Common Ground gives people the opportunity to practice investing their gifts. That is the heart and the passion of the ministry.”
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Forrest graduated from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) in 2005 before coming to Liberty Theological Seminary and earning two masters degrees from Liberty Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a doctorate of education from Liberty University.
Sophomore theater major Kathryn Williams said that Forrest brought the Common Ground idea from his alma mater.
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“He wanted to continue a similar program from another school he attended,” Williams said, referring to Forrest’s undergraduate studies at NNU. “Liberty is a very large school, and Ben wanted to start a ministry that was smaller than a full-campus worship service but larger than a prayer group.”
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Williams, who became involved in Common Ground last semester, said the ministry does not fit a rigid description.
“How do I describe it?” said Williams. “It’s not always a Bible study. It is also a time for people our age to hear about what Christ is doing in their lives.”
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Williams said that she was struck at first by the mellow atmosphere of the meetings.
“The worship is longer than at other services,” Williams said. “It sets the tone for the whole night. It is more subtle at the Prayer Chapel than it was at David’s Place, where we had a large sound system, and it definitely gives a nice beginning to the evening.”
Resident Assistant Jason Smith and prayer leader Scott MacDonald led worship last Thursday with an acoustic guitar and keyboard. Sophomore biblical studies major Ben Shearer shared his testimony and encouraged listeners to examine the direction of their lives. 
Williams said that the speaking portion of Common Ground meetings is not tightly structured.
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“The message is not necessarily one-way,” Williams said. “It is a little more laid back. We listen to what someone else shares, but we also interact from time to time.”
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Newcomers and group regulars mingle at each meeting, Williams said. Several first-time visitors attended last Thursday, including international students from Russia and New Zealand. Forrest greeted each guest with enthusiasm.
“I love Liberty and all of the opportunities here,” Forrest said. “It has been a lot of fun to be involved in the foundation and the growth of Common Ground over the last three years.
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“The Lord has brought this group through an interesting process.”

Contact Stan Barringer at spbarringer@liberty.edu.


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