by Brad Baker
Para-church organizations spring up wherever there is a void of local church leadership and initiative. They are sometimes led by people who are tired of dealing with the dysfunction of local congregations and church leaders. Although I sympathize on many levels, college ministries would ideally form and be sustained in and through local congregations. I could easily argue the validity of this position, but I’d much rather discuss where we go from here since we are way below what I’d consider ‘ideal’. Campus-based college ministries aren’t going anywhere and neither is the local church, so we better figure out how to do more than just ‘play nice’ with each other. In particular how do campus based ministries (*BCM, Cru, CO, XA, CCO, GC, IV, NAV, RUF, VCM) and church-based college ministries work together to more effectively reach and disciple students.
Here are a few things I’ve learned (mostly the hard way)…
#1. Do What it Takes to Collaborate
Working in isolation feels safer and more affective at times but in reality it violates the fundamental truth that we are one body. I look back at my time as a college pastor of a large ministry and grieve that I didn’t make more of an effort to work in concert with campus ministries. If you’re looking for a place to start, commit to one lunch a week during the spring semester with the various campus ministries or college pastors in your area. Collaboration works best when it flows naturally from a trusting friendship. Typically fear keeps campus and local church leaders from working together. They fear ‘losing’ their students to another ministry. How ironic that at schools boasting 30K plus attendance, ministry leaders would fear losing their students. Shouldn’t the focus be on reaching the lost not protecting the Christians from other Christians. In other cases college ministries won’t collaborate with others because they can’t envision what that would look like. Vision flows from relationships with God and others. So the starting place is prayer and spending time with potential ministry partners. The value of collaboration is undeniable and therefore it’s worth the time, energy and sacrifice needed to make it happen. Don’t allow your ministry to operate in a silo!
#2. Re-evaluate the End Game
Far too many ministries master meeting students “where they are” but forget to think much about where they want to take them after the connection is made. Self-feeding, local-church committed and quickly advancing to adulthood (relationally, emotionally and spiritually) are a few of the end
goals I work towards. Keep in mind they won’t be in your college ministry long and you must do everything you can to integrate them into a local church. Isn’t that where we want them to put down long-term roots? This is particularly vital if you're a campus-based ministry leader and tend to operate somewhat isolated from the local congregations around you. If they fall in love with your campus ministry instead of the local church you’ve done them a huge disservice. After graduation they will scratch their heads wondering what happened to their cozy little community and context for spiritual renewal/growth. All campus based organization should make it a top priority to connect as many college students as possible to a healthy local church. If you’re a college ministry leader in a local church maybe you can be the one to plant this idea in your friend’s mind who runs the BSU or Cru on your campus.
#3. Honestly Look at Your Weakness and Their Strengths
Campus based ministries typically understand the campus better than local church leaders. They
are in touch with their campuses unique culture like no one else. If campuses should be thought of as large cluster of small tribes then campus ministries could be seen as long-term missionaries to those tribes. This means local church leaders need to lean on their insights. Campus ministries have typically been working on any given campus longer than the churches that surround it. In addition campus ministries are typically more missional in the way they think about the campus and its inhabitants. In contrast churches tend to be more attractional when it comes to connecting with students. In my mind both are valid but should be valued equally. When campus ministries and local churches partner together this balance is usually reached much sooner. In terms of what they have to offer to students, local churches typically have a broader scope than campus-based ministries. For example Cru may or may not be able to help cover the cost associated with a troubled student seeing a professional counselor. Or the BSU may or may not be able to offer the men in their group consistent connection with old more mature men who can mentor them on an ongoing basis. In contrast the local congregations probably could. The ideas above are generalizations at best and hypothetical at worst. But the fact remains, campus ministries have something to offer the college ministries of local churches and vice versa.
At the end of the day college students belong in local churches not campus ministries that they will be forced to leave upon graduation. However campus ministries are strategically placed and God uses them to do great things. We must do whatever it takes to work together. We must focus on what we agree upon (students need Jesus) and agree to push our differences to the side for the glory of God and his family; the church.
*Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM), Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), Campus Outreach (CO),Chi Alpha (XA), Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), Great Commission Ministries (GCM), Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), Navigators (Navs), Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), Victory Campus Ministries (VCM)