The below is an article I’m working on in response to a question a lot of our college students have… we have several campus ministries represented at our church: Campus Outreach, Intervarsity, Baptist Campus Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc…we love and support them all… Many students live with a dilemma as I explain below. I’d love your response to this. This is a work in progress:
I want to try and answer the question of what role the church ought to play in a college student’s life during the 4+ years they are in college. Students often find themselves in a dilemma: both a campus ministry and the church vie for their time. But both appear to be doing the same basic things. Both ask for participation as something one should do in order to please God and fulfill His purposes for their lives. While students often find both appealing, they have limited time and don’t know exactly what to do.
So, let me lay all my cards on the table right up front. I think there is a way to be meaningfully involved in both your church and a campus ministry while you are in school. At the Summit Church we do not see ourselves as in competition with, but complementary to, the work of campus ministries. We actively and enthusiastically support the work of several local campus ministries.
I believe that the exact form that takes will shift during your college years (as I will explain below), and I think it will look different for different people. But before I get to the conclusions, let me lay out a few presuppositions about the church and campus ministry, showing what is specifically advantageous about each.
The local church’s advantages
A. The church is God’s only official “institution” of the New Testament. The only real institution of the New Testament is the local church. The first thing the Holy Spirit did after giving the Great Commission in Acts 1:8 is plant the church in Acts 2:42-47. A church is not simply a group of Christians who hang out together, they are an organized body of believers bound together in a covenant community. It is “through the church that God’s manifold wisdom was to be made known to the world” (Eph 3:10). It was when the church was being the church, in all its diversity, that “a great sense of awe was upon every soul… and God added to their numbers daily those that were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The Apostles had one basic strategy throughout the book of Acts: go to strategic cities and plant churches therein. Only the church can administer Jesus’ 2 great symbols of His death and resurrection: Baptism and the Lord’s Table. 1 Cor 11 says that communion should be a regular part of a Christian’s life, and it is only to be done when believers’ “assemble” as a church. Finally, it is primarily through the church (Ephesians 4:11-17) that God does his work in the lives of believers.The church is God’s gift to every believer at every stage of her life.
B. The church is intergenerational. In numerous places the Bible speaks about the advantage of younger believers learning from older believers. Paul instructs the older women to mentor the younger women in 1 Timothy and says the same to older men in 2 Timothy. Proverbs says that… A campus ministry cannot, of course, be an intergenerational community. The tragedy for many students is that during that stage of life where they are making some of the most important and irrevocable decisions, they are surrounded only by people their age. This is not Ephesians 4 community, this is Lord of the Flies. The church is God’s gift to every believer, and a student forsakes it during these crucial years only at her peril.
C. Campus ministry is only for 4 years; church is for life. Studies have shown that a number of students who were involved in campus ministries graduate from college and do not go on to get involved, significantly, in a church or other Christian body. When they graduate from college, suddenly their Christian support structure is gone and they do not know quite where to go. They pine away for the days of their college experience, but were unprepared to make the transition.
D. Campus ministries specialize in only one type of ministry; churches are multi-faceted. Many college students will be gifted by God to work with children, high school students, inner-city poor, or the like. A campus ministry usually cannot offer the training and opportunity to engage in these types of ministries, at least with the expertise they do in college ministry. Some students will experience passions and giftings the campus ministries cannot effectively steward.
The campus ministry’s advantages
I will list only 2, but they are quite significant:
A. Campus ministries meet on campus, allowing students to grow and minister where they live. This is advantageous for two reasons: One, it is better from a time management perspective. Students do not have to travel somewhere else for fellowship, exhortation, and teaching. Second, it is much easier to minister to and reach people on your campus when you do your ministry right on the campus. Campus ministries keep students in the fields in which they should be ministering.
B. Campus ministries specialize in dealing with the issues students face while a student. Campus ministries are led by people who have devoted their lives to ministering to students. Most campus ministry leaders have a specific calling, and corresponding gifting, to work with college students. They are aware of the specific problems students face and know how to communicate with them and help them.
What to Do
So how involved should you be in a campus ministry and in the church? Let me give you 5 thoughts you should balance as you go about making that decision.
1. It is important that you be involved, especially during your freshman and sophomore years, in a campus-based Bible study and in ministry-training led by an on-campus ministry. Campus ministries will deal with issues very pertinent to you, provide you with some great peer community, and will keep you close to people to whom you need to be ministering. Some churches also have a campus-based college ministry that does many of the things a campus ministry does… and thus, you will probably have to choose one of these things and get really involved with it and not the others. That’s ok; you can’t do everything! There are plenty of people we need to train and win, and with thousands of people on your campus, there is plenty to go around for each ministry! What is not OK is to be overcommitted, or to moonlight at several and not get involved in any, or (if you choose a campus ministry like Campus Crusade) to be only an audience member at your church. More on that in #2…
2. While you are involved in campus ministry, you ought to be involved in your church, during that same time, by:
- Uhhh… actually going to a church. Your campus ministry cannot just “be your church.” Campus ministries are not churches in the sense that they are not covenant-bound communities with an eldership that oversees the congregation and leads in the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Table. Campus ministries do wonderful things in ministry, but they are just not organized to be a New Testament local church. The Bible does not recognize genuine discipleship apart from activity in a local church, so go to church while you are in school. But you say, “The church has so many problems.” So do you. Don’t be such a Pharisee. “But I just don’t like the church.” Easy, fighter. She is Jesus’ bride. You can’t love Jesus and hate His wife.
- Going to the same church each week. Don’t spend your time jumping from church to church, and don’t just sit in the audience as a spectator. Belong and be known. As Josh Harris says, “Don’t date the church. Marry her.”
- Joining your church. become a part of the covenant community. That’s what a church is: a covenant community. So, belong.
- Volunteering. Don’t just come and sit in the audience. Perhaps you can volunteer in any one of the numerous things churches need help with on a Sunday morning (parking, greeting, first impressions, kids) or perhaps it can be sometime throughout the week. The key here put yourself in a place where you can know and be known.
- Finding personal mentorship in the church by getting to know individuals and families. Find ways that you can be connected to older believers. Some churches offer “adoption” programs whereby you can get to know a family–eat dinner with them occasionally, wash your clothes at their house, etc. Others provide opportunity for direct one-on-one membership or internships.
3. During your junior and senior years, incrementally increase your involvement in your church. By your junior and senior year, it’s time to begin to equip yourself to live in a non-college environment. Thus, in the latter half of your college tenure it may be more prudent to be in a church-based small group, where you can experience intergenerational community and be involved in the various ministries of a local church. For many, this is only natural, as during their junior and senior year they have begun mentally to shift to the next phase of their lives. (This doesn’t mean, by the way, that you shouldn’t help lead freshman and sophomores during this time in a campus ministry. Some of you will be uniquely gifted in this! More on that in number 4.)
4. The answer to where you should be in ministry is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer, but should correspond to how God has designed and called you. Some students will, from the beginning, know they want to minister to kids, seniors, the poor, etc., and that being involved in the ministries of their church will be a better fit for that. That should not be discouraged or looked down upon! On the other hand, some students are designed and called by God to focus more of their ministry on their peers. They may always keep their Bible study and ministry focus on campus and this is fine as well. This is how i was: not only for all my years of college, but several years afterward as well, I led Bible studies and ministry on campus. Students should be given freedom to explore their ministry callings and plug into the ministries that best fit them.
5. Consider your options for post-graduation missions. Many students will (and should!) think about spending their first couple of years after graduation serving on a ministry project. Both campus ministries and churches offer these opportunities. Churches will usually offer better profession-based, church-planting focused projects, and campus ministries will usually offer better options for ministering to other students. If your campus ministry and church give summer missions options, explore both. This is the ‘freest’ time of your life, and you never get these years back!