News Articles

College ministry leaders explore ‘kingdom umbrella’ partnership

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–With the American collegiate population nearing 15 million and growing, Bill Henry knows Southern Baptists alone can’t win every student for Christ.
But the director of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board’s national student ministry (NSM) believes the denomination can and should play a leadership role in permeating college campuses with the gospel.
With that in mind, Henry invited leaders of four para-church collegiate ministries to address Southern Baptist state student directors gathered Dec. 2-5 in Nashville, Tenn., for annual planning meetings at the board. Guest speakers included Mike Tilley, national director of expansion for campus ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ; Rod Handley, chief operating officer for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; Janet Balajthy, associate national director for InterVarsity Campus Ministry; and Terry Cook, national director of campus ministry for the Navigators.
“I really sense that we have a window of opportunity for working together,” Henry told the Southern Baptist student leaders. “I’d like for us to stop seeing these folks as competitors and start looking at them as potential partners.”
While NSM has no current plans for cooperative projects with the other groups, Henry said he felt it was important “to begin learning about each other and exploring possibilities. … I think this (meeting) is a beginning of a very good story about what kingdom work is all about.”
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes already has joined hands with Southern Baptists in promoting two programs: “True Love Waits,” a sexual abstinence campaign aimed at teenagers, and “CrossSeekers,” an initiative recently launched by NSM to encourage college students to commit to a higher level of spiritual growth and Christian service. In addition, an unofficial group of Southern Baptist leaders held dialogue meetings with representatives from Campus Crusade for Christ earlier this year.
Tilley agreed with Henry there is “a new spirit of partnership between various Christian organizations around this country and around the world.”
“A lot of us cut our teeth on campus ministry in the 1970s when it was more competitive,” Tilley said, adding he believes evangelical ministries today seem more willing to work together under what he called a “kingdom umbrella.”
Handley told the Southern Baptist leaders FCA has the goal of establishing a ministry presence on every American college campus by the year 2000.
“We don’t have the only game in town, but we believe we have a unique niche,” Handley said, adding FCA helps athletes take advantage of the “incredible platform” they have for sharing the gospel. “One of the thing that excites me about networking is we realize we can’t do this alone,” he said.
“I believe God is really pleased today at what is being accomplished at this meeting,” Balajthy said. “I believe we will see an expansion of the kingdom of God because of our willingness to share and work together.”
“There are so many opportunities for working together,” Mack Stiles, another InterVarsity national leader, said. “Thank you for just starting the dialogue.”
Henry admitted he doesn’t yet know what, if any, partnerships will be created between the organizations, adding they might be better worked out on a regional, state or local campus level. Ideas that surfaced during the meeting included sharing speakers for meetings, joint conferences or seminars and improved communication between the leaders of each ministry.
Whatever develops, Henry said Southern Baptists have “earned a seat at the table” in providing leadership to student ministry in America and around the world.
According to statistics released by NSM during the meeting, Southern Baptists reached 247,861 collegians through their student ministry program in 1997. Increases were reported during the year in the number of student conversions and students involved in missions.
“We have a heritage that we can be proud of,” Henry said. “But there is so much more we can do.”

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford