Today, I want to begin a series of articles pertaining to good and effective campus ministry. Too often I see churches and student pastors avoiding campus ministry. Some avoid it because they are overwhelmed. They are in suburban or urban contexts with students coming from multiple schools. They do not know where to begin. This series is for you! This is all the lessons I have learned to this point in succinct articles that should be helpful.
Others avoid campus ministry out of fear. They think that schools are closed to the church, and they find ways to get Christians out of the school. There may be a sliver of truth to this, but I believe it to be mostly false. If a church properly, respectfully, and effectively engages a school, a lot of good can come from it. Simply consider where a student minister can get the most impact for the least amount of energy. Go where the students are naturally…school!
Years ago I was introduced to campus ministry. I was a youth pastor at a county seat Baptist church in the rural panhandle of Florida. I had recently graduated with my degree in ministry, and of course I knew everything. I knew how to build a ministry because I had taken classes on it. I had debated with my peers (also inexperienced youth pastors) and won. However, in my foolishness I discarded campus ministry as wasteful.
My lead pastor at that time was a former youth pastor at that church about 10 years previous to me. He wanted me to be engaged in campus ministry, but for the first year and a half I tried to avoid it. I came up with excuses why I did not need to be part of campus ministries, engage with after school programs, or go to sporting events. If I had not been so foolish I would have listened to this veteran minister who had done student ministry in this context before and was well aware of the community dynamics.
Finally, he leaned his pastoral authority on me, and “made” me engage in campus ministry. I was frustrated and angry, because I was young. However, this was the beginning of a wonderful learning experience for me. There are few topics in student ministry I am more passionate about than campus ministry. Campus ministry is more than important for student ministry. It is essential.
In that little community with only one high school and one middle school, I began to see the importance of campus ministry. I began to engage with the campus ministries already at the schools. I made some great friends and allies in ministry. I began going to basketball games, softball games, band concerts, football games (both sport and band!), drama productions, etc. I began an after school program for middle school students. In simplistic terms the ministry jumped from about 30 to 70 in a matter of months. That is a genuine momentum boost.
I did not go to all the games, because that is foolish. Do not sacrifice your family on the alter of ministry. However, I will be writing an article on how to effectively use events: Key Word – parents! I learned how to be strategic and efficient. As a student pastor, you only have so much time. You have even less if you are married with little children. So you must maximize your impact. For example a football team has fifty or more players. Basketball may only have twelve.
More than the simple boost of our numbers growing, our group saw genuine spiritual growth and leadership development. Understand, I am not anti numerical growth. Every number is a person, and every person is someone whose eternal destiny is in the balance. Do not ignore numbers. Instead, learn to count the numbers that really matter: students saved, baptisms, students actively being discipled by adults, students becoming leaders on their campuses, etc.
The ministry began to experience a surge in both evangelism and discipleship. I was baptizing students on a more regular basis, which is the most exciting part of ministry – seeing lives changed. Families of these students began to attend the church. Parents came to faith. I have baptized whole families who came to faith through campus ministry.
My favorite story is about four guys on the football team. They had been a part of the ministry for a few years, but when I began doing campus ministry I invited them to join me. Little did I know at the time what discipleship and leadership development can be accomplished with a student. They became spiritual beacons on their campus. However, they always struggled to get to youth group on time Wednesday evenings.
They played football, and practice ended at 6p. We started at 6p. So, the boys often came straight from practice, sans shower. They of course wanted to engage in the worship, but no one could take a breath to sing sitting next to them. Thus, they all sat in the back at a repurposed McDonald’s booth with a wide birth from the rest of the main group.
One Wednesday night, after the other students had left, the four of them wanted to talk to me. Zach the spokesman of the group said, “Mr. Jason, we’ve been talking and we want you to pray for us. Tomorrow, we are going to ask coach if he will let us leave practice a little early on Wednesday so we can shower and get to church on time. Also, we are going to offer to stay late and run extra on Thursday.” I did not know what to say or how to lead them in that moment. So, I did what they asked and prayed for them.
The next afternoon all four un-showered boys, found me at my house. On my front porch they told me that not only had coach agreed, but he decided to let the whole team leave early on Wednesday. The boys were so excited, and were amazed at what God had done because of their boldness. That excitement was overshadowed when next Wednesday, coach showed up to church with his wife and children!
I hope this series inspires you to get off your church campus and into a school campus where the students are! I hope this series is helpful to get you engaged with schools. Currently, I am partnered with 4 campuses on a regular basis, doing 5 unique ministry opportunities. I have a team of volunteers to do it, because our church’s influence is far beyond my reach alone. Prayerfully, I will be on more campuses by this time next year as God has given me more opportunities on the horizon.