The Mission of Campus Ministries and Christian Universities
For more than twenty years, campus ministry groups affiliated with Churches of Christ have been making the annual trek in January to the Gulf Coast Getaway in the Florida panhandle. I am preparing to go as I write this article. It will be my fourth trip to Gulf Coast Getaway, but the change in the calendar to 2017 has given me pause to reflect on my involvement with campus ministry for thirty years. For me, 1987 was an important year. I joined the Razorbacks for Christ on their first mission to Scotland; I was challenged to take my discipleship more seriously; and I met my future wife in the campus ministry at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville. My trajectory since ’87 took me to further studies at Abilene Christian University, campus ministry at Arkansas Tech, new involvement with ACU during my second residency in Texas, and now the preaching ministry for a congregation that is literally next door to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. Thirty years later I am still involved. I am the beneficiary of two rich traditions in the Restoration Movement: our state school campus ministry movement and our Christian college heritage. I am not unique in this experience, but I cherish both experiences and it is my hope to see the best of both camps combine for God’s glory.
Unfortunately, there is a persistent myth that the mission of the campus ministry and the Christian university are at odds with one another. Concern over a rivalry or competition for the college choices of our young adults is unwarranted and reflects a misunderstanding of the mission of both campus ministries and Christian universities. This myth creates a false dichotomy that Christian leaders and families must decide if our objective is to support Christian universities or establish a presence on state school campuses. This “either/or” thinking is not unlike the mistaken notion that every dollar spent overseas in mission work could be better spent at home in local work, or vice versa. None of this is helpful as no truth can be found in a false contradiction.
In my experience, one of the concerns contributing to the unwarranted rivalry is the anxious effort to create a safe haven from worldliness for college-age adults. If the objective of Christian colleges and campus ministries is to guarantee a protective bubble isolating students from the dangerous influences of the world, then we are ignoring the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven in the world. The church is not a gated community. We dare not limit the mission of campus ministries and Christian universities to providing goods and services for just “our own folks.”
Campus ministries do not steal away Christian students who should be enrolling at a Christian college. Rather, campus ministries are missional groups striving to make disciples for Christ. Young adults who are disciples are certainly worthy of mentoring and encouragement, but they and we should regard Christian students as missionaries rather than consumers of a religious product. Christian universities share in this mission of making and equipping disciples. Hopefully, we are no longer naïve to the fact that non-Christian students attend Christian universities. There is opportunity to share the gospel on the Christian campus as well.
Let us make the most of our opportunities. I encourage leaders in our Christian college networks and campus ministry networks to dream of ways to further cooperation and communication. I encourage church leaders to recognize and embrace and support the mission of both groups. Let us all have the vision that compels us to overcome the myths that make us wary and anxious. We have a better story; let’s tell it.