4 Characteristics of a Biblically Faithful Campus Ministry
I trust that we are in agreement that Christian fellowship during college is vital to your walk with Christ. Without Christian fellowship during college, you will untether yourself from the security and comfort of God’s Word and God’s people, leaving you open to attack from your great adversary. As we saw in the last post, you need fellowship for the sake of your Christian convictions and your spiritual growth.
But should you attend just any Christian fellowship? If a campus ministry has the words “Christian” or “evangelical” in its name, does that assure you that regular attendance and participation in this group will bolster your convictions and help you walk in greater fruitfulness and holiness? Although I wish the current situation were different, merely having words that associate with Christianity in the name of a campus fellowship does not necessarily indicate that such a ministry is faithful to Christ.
So, what should you look for in a campus fellowship? What marks will identify a Christ-honoring one? We need to know what a campus ministry prioritizes, prizes, pursues, and proclaims. Consider the following four characteristics of a biblically faithful campus ministry.
1. A faithful campus ministry prioritizes the local church.
You may not have considered this before, but the local church is the center of God’s redemptive activity. Yes, all Christians across the globe have a common bond in Christ, but it is the local congregation that Christ has designated to be the primary place of fellowship, accountability, and spiritual growth.
The local church is the main place where Christ intends us to serve one another (Gal. 5:13), to hear the word of God preached (2 Tim. 4:2), to encourage and be encouraged by other saints (Heb. 3:12-15; 10:24-25), to learn from older, wiser Christians (Titus 2:1-6), and to take the Lord’s Supper with other believers (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). A faithful campus ministry will help its members make the local church the priority of their walk with Christ.
But isn’t this obvious? Wouldn’t a Christian campus ministry make the local church a priority for its students? Not necessarily. In fact, some campus ministries—despite their good intentions to serve Christian college students—act as a kind of church replacement and either implicitly or, in some cases, explicitly discourage their students from finding, joining, and prioritizing the local church. I’ve known students who have justified their neglect of church attendance and fellowship on the very basis of their regular attendance at a campus ministry.
This neglect of the local church, regardless of one’s membership in a campus ministry, is a kind of disobedience to Jesus. It also establishes and solidifies an unhealthy pattern that is often difficult to correct once you graduate. If the local church isn’t prioritized duringcollege, it is unlikely that it will become a priority after college. And, while this may not seem like a big deal to you now, this pattern is harmful to your perseverance in the faith.
God has given the church as a gift to help you keep believing until the end. The encouragements and exhortations of our fellow brothers and sisters and pastors are the means by which God guards us from the deceitfulness of sin (see Heb. 3:12-15). A faithful campus ministry, therefore, will help students develop a lifelong commitment—not to the campus ministry—but to the local church.
If possible, I encourage you to find a campus fellowship that is a ministry of a local church rather than a stand-alone parachurch organization. Although I am grateful for the work that certain parachurch groups have done and what God has accomplished through them, such groups—because they are not affiliated or under the supervision of a local church and its leaders—can tend to draw students away from the local church rather than encouraging their participation in it.
2. A faithful campus ministry prizes the teaching of God’s word.
Any ministry conducted in the name of Christ must constantly submit itself to the word of Christ or else it will be unfaithful to Christ. Put simply: faithfulness to Christ is measured by faithfulness to his word, and to be ashamed of Christ’s words is to be ashamed of Christ himself (Mark 8:38; John 8:31).
Throughout Scripture, God rebukes those who claim to speak and work for Him but who didn’t first listen to His words (see Jer. 23:25-28). Campus ministry leaders who speak from themselves—that is, from their own ideas rather than God’s word—are seeking their own glory, not Christ’s (John 7:18). It should be a campus ministry’s first concern to uphold, cherish, and gladly exalt the teaching of God’s precious word as the immovable foundation upon which the organization builds its ministry.
Why? Because it is the word of God that strengthens us (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11); warns us (Heb. 2:1-5); restores us (Ps. 19:7); shows us the beauty of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18); protects us from the wiles of Satan (Matt. 4:1-8); endows us with wisdom for salvation and godly living (2 Tim. 3:14-15; Ps. 19:7; Prov. 2:1-8); enables us to discern truth from error (Ps. 19:8); exposes our sin (Heb. 4:12); comforts us in God’s grace (Acts 20:32); rebukes, corrects, and teaches us (2 Tim, 3:16); and makes us competent for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17).
Social events, barbeques, group dinners, scavenger hunts, and seasonal parties are all fun and have their place, but they are not the main thing of ministry. Equipping students with the stabilizing and fruit-bearing truth of God’s word is what college ministry is all about.
A faithful campus ministry, therefore, will constantly teach God’s word in its public settings, discipleship groups, and counseling sessions. And those who oversee these ministries will entrust the teaching of God’s word to skilled teachers. While these ministries provide the opportunity for students to lead in various ways and even teach in some contexts, it is usually best to have older, wiser ministers handle the public teaching of God’s word in large-group settings.
Faithfully teaching the word of God requires a spiritual and theological proficiency that has been honed over years of practice. A college ministry that prizes the teaching of God’s word will make sure that such teaching is offered by those who have skill in personally studying and applying the Bible, as well as experience in effectively teaching the Bible in a public setting.
3. A faithful campus ministry pursues Christian discipleship.
To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The word “disciple” essentially means “student” or “learner.” To be a disciple of Jesus, therefore, is to be a student of Jesus. Specifically, Jesus’ followers are to learn how to obey everything that Jesus taught in his earthly ministry and through his apostles in the New Testament writings (see Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:26). A faithful college ministry will pursue the discipleship of each of its members.
Practically, this means that a faithful college ministry will first prioritize the local church—the primary place where discipleship is intended to take place—then prize the teaching of God’s word in each component of its ministry (see above). But it also means that a Christ-honoring campus ministry will create opportunities for each member to engage in personal discipleship with other Christians. These discipleship opportunities may take shape in small groups or one-on-one discipleship relationships. In each case, you will find Christians gladly helping other fellow Christians to better follow Jesus.
4. A faithful campus ministry proclaims the gospel.
Finally, a faithful college ministry will reach out to unbelievers with the good news of Jesus Christ. Although prioritizing the local church, prizing the teaching of God’s word, and pursuing discipleship are activities aimed at strengthening Christians, a well-rounded campus ministry will boldly and lovingly proclaim the gospel to those who are lost.
The contemporary university campus is one of the most fertile and exciting places for evangelism. It is a privilege to be able to walk onto a college campus and share the gospel with those who are presently without Christ. College students are entering a new phase of life; they are venturing out into adulthood and trying to find their way in the world.
You will often find that many students are quite willing to engage with you over spiritual and theological issues. Any college ministry that does not seize this opportunity to reach students for Christ is neglecting an important piece of their stewardship and missing out on much joy.
As you consider various opportunities for fellowship on campus, don’t settle for groups that offer much in terms of activity but little by way of spiritual sustenance. Prioritizing the local church, prizing the teaching of God’s word, pursuing discipleship, and proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers are the essential marks of an excellent, Christ-honoring, faith-sustaining campus ministry. If you invest your time and energy in a ministry characterized by these qualities, you will set yourself on a trajectory of fruitfulness and faithfulness that will propel you through your college career and send you out into the world for the glory of God.
Derek J. Brown currently serves as professor of theology at Cornerstone Seminary in Vallejo, California, and associate pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley where he oversees the college and young adult ministry, online presence, and publishing ministry, GBF Press. Derek blogs at fromthestudy.com.
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