"At the end of the day, college students belong in local churches, not campus ministries that they will be forced to leave upon graduation," says Brad Baker, college age young adult pastor of Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif. Sounds like a coach trying to psych up his players before meeting their opponents head-to-head on the gridiron, doesn't it? Christ-following college students face this rivalry every year when they take back the field of their respective campuses. Who's going to come out on top this season, the home team or the challenger?
For years we've supported a Campus Crusade missionary who came to know Christ through the testimony of fellow Arizona State University students who were members of the ASU "Crusade" chapter. Today our missionary friend travels all over the world teaching biblically based leadership principles to government officials who hope to change their paradigm. Campus Crusade, or CRU as it's now called, had an eternal effect on our friend and on our family. We're fans of what CRU, Chi Alpha, Baptist Student Union, Athletes in Action and many others do to proclaim the Gospel to the lost and hurting students on our campuses.
But on the other hand, my college-age and twentysomething sons are quick to say that the campus or parachurch ministries they've visited did not spend their meeting time teaching deep spiritual truth. "It's all about evangelism and feel good stuff," my 22-year-old declares. As Christ followers who navigate the hedonistic culture of our local university campus, my sons invite believers and non-believers alike to join them at our local church's seven:ten corporate worship on Tuesday evenings. Typical of the church's philosophy of ministry to this demographic, seven:ten fosters community that is Gospel-centered and outward focused. Students attending the Tuesday night meeting also attend Sunday worship services where they participate in the sacraments, worship, and biblical teaching in a more age-integrated setting.
Rather than fostering rivalry between these two Gospel-driven teams, how do we integrate campus ministry and local church ministry goals for the glory of God? Chuck Bomar, pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon and founder of CollegeLeader.org, says encouraging students to be involved on campus is important because peer-to-peer connections and evangelistic opportunities are there for the taking. But meanwhile, the local church has a responsibility to walk alongside students, showing them that someone in a church context believes in the mission of the church and cares for them. Brad Baker says that "both campus based ministries and the local church are valid and should be valued equally." According to Baker, the fear of losing students to another ministry hinders collaboration between campus ministry and church ministry teams. Ironic isn't it, that our play book focuses on protecting Christians from other Christians, rather than reaching the lost?
Since college students won't be in a college ministry for long, it's the local church's responsibility to disciple college-age young adults into relational, emotional, and spiritual adulthood, Baker says. But collaborating with strategically placed campus ministries that God uses to do great things will help both teams to win. If the goal is to draw students closer to Jesus, then we can put our differences on the sidelines and work together for the glory of God and His family, the Church.