There is no doubt in my mind that if I were to look at the trajectory of my growth as a Christian, it spiked most during my University and College days. While the church I attended certainly spurred me on to live for Christ, it was campus ministry that challenged me most to this end.
Growing up in a country church with a small youth group and with limited involvement in any Christian camps during my teen years, entering University in 2012 I was craving a Christian community among those at the same stage of life as me.
Like many others have, and will, I met life-long friends through a Christian club: the one I joined was Power to Change. Other evangelical campus ministries across Canada include Inter-Varsity, Navigators, and Athletes In Action (a sub-chapter of Power to Change).
As I reflect on this four-year interval in my life, there are two conversations I had that help best illustrate why I believe campus ministry is both propelling and repelling the mission of Jesus Christ for students.
It was my second year of post-secondary, the way my collaborative degree/diploma program worked was I took four of my classes at Fanshawe College and one at Western University. The year prior I was all at Western and had become immersed into Power to Change. Excited, and likely a little naïve, I agreed to help start this club at Fanshawe for the first time.
During our unofficial launch week, I met the College Chaplain, Rev. Francois Kruger. Upon connecting with him, I was excited to find out he was a Conservative evangelical who also believed in spreading the gospel message to students. In fact, he even opened up his chaplaincy lounge for us to use.
However, our beginning as a ministry on campus came with a heed of warning. Rev. Kruger shared his concern for students in Power to Change because of those he had seen get involved in the ministry during undergraduate studies, but then slip away from the church years later. He insisted to know that I was faithfully attending church and that I would be encouraging others to do the same.
At this point in my life, it was the first time I had heard such criticism towards any campus ministry. I accepted his experienced perspective, but don’t think it really registered until after I graduated just how focal the church is in making known the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).
The following year I was primarily taking classes at Western, so I committed to helping lead the Power to Change group at the University instead. There was a particular meeting spot on campus that I regularly went to for discipleship with younger male students.
I also noticed that a local Korean Pastor would come here occasionally to meet with students who were in his congregation. Realizing that both of us were always carrying Bibles, we exchanged words and got acquainted with one another.
Once, while he and I were both waiting for students, he began telling me about his church and quickly tried to persuade me to join. He explained one of the focal points: discipleship.
Every member had one disicpler and two disciples. This, he believed, was essential for spiritual growth and helping to fulfill the Great Commission.
This Korean Pastor helped point out to me something that often goes missing at many churches: intentional relationships centred on learning from other more experienced Christians. Imagine what could happen if there were more discipleship trees like Barnabas to Paul and Paul to Timothy. We’re all called to this according to the Great Commission, but can sway from this mission of “teaching them to obey everything [Jesus] has commanded” (Matt. 28:20) without support from the church.
While in the context of campus ministry, those offering guidance are not always too much further advanced in their faith, but the willingness to regularly meet and study the Bible together is never done in vain. Power to Change equips leaders, and I’m grateful for how discipleship has truly become a lifestyle for me, I seek out opportunities for this today in ways that I likely never would have had I not received this push.
The disconnect Christian students can have from church still baffles me. Campus ministry recognizes the close proximity of like-minded students, and the campus that serves as their mission field. Yet, when this temporary stage of life comes to an end, if regular church habits are not instilled, they can be harder to implement.
I’ve seen a couple of students who, during undergrad, even served as leaders among our Christian club that have since fallen away from the Lord. Both faithfully attended church during school, so this isn’t to be completely attributed to their decisions.
My fear comes more from what Rev. Kruger articulated: anytime external ministry takes precedence over the church, there is prospective danger. After all, it is the church that Jesus declared he would build and the gates of hell would not overcome it (Matt. 16:18).
When parachurch ministries like those on the University and college campus supplement the church, and flow out of it, there is great prospect for missional living with dynamic impact both in short and long-term.