La Sierra University Church says ‘Yes’ to La Sierra’s students
Oct. 7, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker
La Sierra University Church so values its mission to serve La Sierra University’s students it vets potential new hires for their level of interest in supporting the adjacent campus.
“Every time we hire a new pastor we check for that value, because if it doesn’t exist, there’s lots of other churches,” said university church Senior Pastor Chris Oberg. “If college students annoy you, frustrate you or are uninteresting to you, don’t come to work here.”
Oberg took up the position at the university church in 2009 and began working to inspire programs that would serve students’ spiritual, emotional and physical needs. Staff members along with church volunteers, now numbering roughly 500 people, carry out numerous programs aimed at meeting students’ needs and engaging them in church life and community service.
Those efforts have included the Food Friendzy program in which church members invite La Sierra students home for Sabbath lunch; the church’s annual Lunch on the Lawn meal to celebrate the new school year; outreach opportunities between students and home-bound church and community members; and continual church support for students in need with food, clothing and tuition scholarships.
Recently the church is using the language of being a “Yes” church for the campus and community, Oberg said, for instance saying ‘Yes’ to La Sierra students who seek use of the church parking lot for fund raising car washes or desire other collaboration.
Oberg recently spoke about the church and its mission to the university.
Q: What is your vision for the La Sierra University Church and how does ministry to students fit into that vision? Is it a significant part of the overall vision and mission?
A: “That is why I work at this church, because it is a university church. In the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists there are only about 15 churches that serve an Adventist university or college, including our church. We take that seriously. Otherwise we’d be called the La Sierra Community Church.”
“We are at our best with the university and the church together, as a thinking community and a faith community co-existing. …In our minds we are shaping a community in such a way as to share the vision of what Jesus had in mind for community. We’re sort of pushing back on the idea that young adults are the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today with real convictions and questions.”
Q: Why did you start offering the ‘church @ noon’ services?
A: “We looked around and saw few students in church. We asked, ‘where are they?’ We wanted it to be a safe place for them to have difficult conversations. Students have many options, which include not only other area churches—and there are many, as well as outdoor activities or just resting and catching up from the week. Our goal is to be certain that our own campus church be a real option for meeting the needs of our students, faculty and staff.
After focus groups on campus and at the church, we launched church@noon to be certain students had a place on Sabbath where they feel at home, can easily connect and hear relevant conversation. This came at great investment to the members of the church as we completely revamped our morning programming. And we are still adjusting. We have had a warm and grateful response from the campus, and it is energizing to worship at noon with our younger demographic.”
Q: This is the third year the church has provided Lunch on the Lawn at the start of the new school year. How do you feed more than 1,000 people? What other programs do you provide?
“We have a fabulous partnership with the university. The campus makes an incredible commitment [to provide Lunch on the Lawn] and church members also add to the food. We have had plenty of food every year, as if the fishes and loaves are multiplied!
The people at the Community Services Center love to clothe and feed students. They take it as one of their most sacred ministries. The students are not going to go hungry on our watch. Also, the church and university have a matching scholarship fund that doubles the money donated for student tuition.
Our community services program clothes and feeds about 150 families a week, and church teams clean up Pierce Street. La Sierra students can join these activities and earn academic Service Learning credits.
We joined Stuff the Bus, a program sponsored by the city of Riverside, and wanted to connect it with the campus. We’ve been using La Sierra’s Students In Free Enterprise bus (now Enactus) to collect toiletries and deliver them to teen shelters on Sabbath afternoon. Students are involved as volunteers both at the Community Services Center every week, as well as the Stuff the Bus program. Students are also involved in leading Sabbath School for our youngest church members every weekend. We absolutely love the mentoring aspect of having university students lead our children.
We hope the students will see a church community that serves. We hope when they graduate and leave here they will have learned this is what a church is supposed to do in the world.”
Q: What sort of impact or results have you witnessed with the students?
A: “The payoff is watching the students get involved in church and make decisions for Jesus. If students leave our community realizing that faith communities are real centers to impact wholeness in the world, we sense we are making a difference.”
Q: How do you do it all?
A: “There’s been a beautiful working relationship between the university administration and the church. That’s been vital. We have seven pastors, an office team and an incredible group of volunteers who make it all happen. And we trust the Holy Spirit not only leads, but adjusts and enables our vision. Grace leads us all.”
Q: What’s on the horizon in terms of new programs and further interaction with the LSU campus and students?
A: “We’re looking to make new connections for the church through La Sierra’s Spiritual Master Plan. We take seriously the goals of the campus. One of those goals is for students to find a genuine Christian community while they’re here. We are also serious about the local community which surrounds our campus and taking seriously our own zip code.”