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Posts Tagged ‘campus ministry’

Campus ministries are perhaps the most undervalued area of kingdom work in spite of having the greatest potential for kingdom growth.

In the last week, Sherrylee and I have visited three different campus ministries. In a normal year, Let’s Start Talking will work directly with 15-20 different campuses. In our history we have probably worked with as many as fifty different campus works.

Here’s what you find on almost every campus that offers such great potential for the kingdom:

  • Thousands of impressionable people searching for who they are and what they want to become.
  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign people who are eager to learn everything they can about American culture, including Christianity.
  • A whole community with a lot of discretionary time. (I know they don’t think so, but going to class 15 hours a week  in addition to preparations rarely comes up to the 40 hour work week, and they usually do not have family obligations.)
  • A whole community in a learning and experiencing mode.
  • A whole community in the age of challenging the values they received from home.

To me, all of the above describe a great mission field! If all of the above is true, then why is campus ministry such a neglected area of ministry?

One reason for neglect is that campus ministry is poorly defined! We aren’t sure what we are supposed to be doing—or what the best approach would be! Is the purpose of campus ministry

  • the protection of Christian students who might find their faith attacked by higher learning?
  •  outreach to Christian students who don’t attend your church?
  •  outreach to foreign students?
  • in-depth Bible study for the nurturing of believing students?
  • provision of a Christian environment for students?

Another reason for neglect is that there is no specific educational path to become a campus minister. Virtually all of our Christian universities have majors or emphases in Youth Ministry, I know of none who have such a program for campus ministers.  This absence may be because of lack of demand, but I suspect it is something else. The result, however, is that potential ministers don’t know how to become one and churches don’t know who is qualified to be one—not a promising situation.

These questions are all inter-related, aren’t they! If a church doesn’t know what they really want the campus ministry to do, then they don’t know who to hire. The potential ministers don’t know how to prepare, and the colleges don’t know what to offer—if anything!

In the meantime, thousands of students are left on their own spiritually. We vaguely hope that those who are seeking will come to our church on their own, find a group of peers that they will like and who will like them, and listen to our sermons.  That seems a pretty poor way to reach out to what could be the most receptive community of people in our neighborhood!

And my worst fear is that we are negligent in this area because of the economics of campus ministry. Students have two big black strikes against them:

  • Students have little money, so they do not contribute; they just take.
  • Students don’t usually stick around to become long-term members of the local church, so they are a poor investment.

So why should a local congregation invest in reaching out to them?  Of course, you will recognize right away a business model for growing a congregation, not a Spirit-led model for growing the kingdom of God!

Students are also a little messier. They test values, they challenge tradition, they lack “proper” respect for authority, and worst of all, they don’t dress appropriately!!

Here are a few suggestions for your church to think about:

  • If there is a campus near you that does not have a campus ministry, at least determine the demographic of the students and see if you don’t currently have resources enough to do something with some part of that campus!  If there are international students, could you start a FriendSpeak program to help them with their English and share the story of Jesus with them?
  • If you see great potential on your campus, contact one of the churches with a vital campus ministry and ask them to mentor your leadership!  Do this before you go out and just try to hire a campus minister. Know what your purpose is first.
  • If you have a campus ministry and/or a good campus minister, make part of his/her job description to mentor emerging campus ministers.  Provide the necessary time and money for this task of multiplying and training new workers.

The common statistical wisdom is that most people experience conversion to whatever religion they will choose between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five!

 If this is true, we Christians have no choice but to focus on all those unchurched people in this age group—and lots of them are in college.

Going into all the world is pretty easy when the whole world is next door to your church building on a local campus! 

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Yesterday, Sherrylee and I were in Oxford, Mississippi. You may not know that Oxford was our first home as a married couple. Before we went to Germany, I spent two years in Oxford, working for the church as a campus minister while completing my Masters degree in English.  The first year I was there and before Sherrylee and I were even in love, I lived with Doug and Cora Beal Shields, one of the elders of the church in Oxford.

Doug was a professor of physics at the University of Mississippi, but his real work in life was the campus ministry, which he had begun, supported, and led because of his passion for the mission of God among the young people who came through Ole Miss.

At that time, campus ministry was mostly  offering fellowship for Christians and in-depth Bible courses. Not only did the Student Center offer regular devotionals, but an evening meal and a place to just hang out—I’m not sure that’s what we called it then, but that’s what we did.

Doug had bigger and better dreams though.  First, he raised the funds and built a dormitory for Christian students.  Ole Miss is a top-tier party school, so his experience was that students who came and stayed in the university dorms usually ended up in the parties instead of the devotionals.  Even he moved away from the idea of sheltering Christian students years later, but at the time, this was a very ambitious dream for a small campus ministry.

But his second dream was much bigger—almost shocking.  He asked the church to hire a campus evangelist—someone whose sole task was to go on campus, find students who wanted to find faith, and then study the Bible with them.  This person would also minister to the Christian students on campus and try to involve them in the local campus ministry and/or local church activities.

What was shocking for 1968 is that the first campus evangelist the church hired was a young woman!  Sandra Purkey took the first position—which had to be called women’s counselor to avoid having female ministers.  In 1969, I was hired then to be a campus minister for the male students.

Sherrylee and I married in April 1971 and moved into a small, back porch apartment in Oxford. She took her courses and I finished my thesis, then we left for Germany in September.  The Oxford Church of Christ supported us for all of our eight years in Germany.  That was forty years ago!

Now Doug and Cora Beal are in their mid-eighties, a little slower, a few health concerns, but the primary topic of conversation when you visit them is the same: the kingdom of God!  They want to talk about the new approach to campus ministry; they talk about trying to heal the wounds of a church rift several years ago.  They want to tell us about their FriendSpeak program, reaching out to international students at Ole Miss.

The word that kept coming to mind as I thought about them was perseverance, the willingness to continue to work and dream in spite of difficulty, in spite of setbacks—to do whatever it takes to bring glory to God in the place where you are.

But more than just persistence, I admire their willingness to do it for their entire lives! Doug had a full academic career, even serving as an assistant dean for several years at Ole Miss. He is a recognized scholar, but his life was only about God!  He retired from teaching and research, but he has never taken one step backwards from his passion for the mission of God. And Cora Beal is even more vocal, just as passionate, and right there leading the way in her own right.

Someone said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”  That is Dr. and Mrs. Shields of Oxford, Mississippi.

I would like to live my whole life working as hard and focused in the mission of God as Doug and Cora Beal Shields.

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