The College Student’s Dilemma: Should I Get Involved in my Church or a Campus Ministry?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 I'm discouraging many of you from leading freshman and sophomores through a campus ministry
during this time. 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.
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!