NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Their places of ministry are different — college campuses and local churches — but they share a yearning for college students and young adults to have vibrant relationships with Christ and with others.
Collegiate ministry leaders and ministers to students met for networking and training at the triennial National Collegiate Summit hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, April 30-May 2 in Nashville, Tenn.
Linda Osborne, LifeWay’s national collegiate ministry director, was excited by the turnout of Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) groups and local churches’ college ministries in tough economic times.
“We had 575 participants who were from almost every state convention,” Osborne said. “There are 705 campus ministers in the SBC, so this number is quite good — more than 75 percent of them. This tells me that our collegiate ministers see the information, workshops, networking and encouragement they receive at the summit as important to them.”
LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer told attendees they are some of the “essential people” in the lives of young adults.
“The kind of people who keep these young adults in the church and bring them back after they’ve been out are real, genuine and transparent,” Rainer said. “Young adults don’t want to see actors wearing masks. They want you to be real.
“I’ve never done your kind of ministry, but I know there are times of intense frustration. But, you are making a difference in the lives of these students and it is worth it,” Rainer said.
While church and campus ministries may differ in their focus, the desire of both groups is to lead college students to a saving faith in Christ and an ever-deepening relationship with Him. Some students may see the campus ministry as a substitution for the local church while they are in college, but this is not the intent of BCM groups.
“Absolutely! We both want to reach students,” said Bruce Venable, minister of university students at First Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. “Not cooperating is not an option.”
Venable, a former Baptist campus minister, then associate director of the state BCM staff in Louisiana, has been on all sides of ministry to students.
“As a church staff collegiate minister, I try to do what I can do aggressively, but we don’t step into what the campus ministries are doing,” Venable said. “For example, take missions. The BCMs do summer missions programs. We don’t, but since they do that so well, we plug into that.”
Osborne added, “Back years ago when [then-called] BSU [Baptist Student Union] began, its goal was to connect the students to the local churches. Many of our BCMs have never strayed from this and have been very successful.”
Dave Owen, associate pastor of college and evangelism ministries at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh N.C., said college students are looking for community. “That’s why they join fraternities and sororities,” Owen said. “I did it too, but it was really pretty shallow.”
The success of a campus ministry can be judged on what students do when they leave college and start their adult lives, Owen said.
“Train your students to find a biblical, Jesus-loving, Scripture-preaching solid church and go there,” Owen said. “Tell them not to look for the best school district, not the most Starbucks or the closest Harris Teeter. Teach them to look for the best church and plant their lives in that neighborhood.”
David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., led a session on helping college students become not just receivers of the Word, but reproducers as well.
“What if our Christianity isn’t all about us, but about being not just receivers, but reproducers of the Word?” he asked. To illustrate the point, he told of a time when he was in the Sudan, teaching a group of Christians in a mud hut.
“They wrote down every word I said,” Platt said. “It wasn’t because I was so profound, but because they could take what they had learned and go share it with their people.”
The job of leaders, Platt said, is to take the Word and display the greatness of God.
“Less of our humor, less of our opinions, just the Word of God,” Platt said. “If all we give them is our advice, when they are faced with a decision between advice and the flesh, they’ll choose the flesh every time.”
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. Highlights from the National Collegiate Summit are available on a blog post at threadsmedia.com/blog/article/collegiate-summit-live-stream, part of the website of Threads (www.threadsmedia.com), LifeWay’s ministry area for young adults.