A general survey of the history of campus ministry in the United States confirms that there has been significant growth in both para-church and church-based campus ministries over the past forty years. Pastors can confirm that many in their churches credit their "coming to Christ" or "growing in faith" directly to some campus ministry.
In contemporary Western culture the university is a main formative influence on how we think and live. College campuses are, indeed, marketplaces of ideas-our cultural "brains." Christ's church, as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15 [nkj]) has a compelling reason for loving the "academy" and trying to capture it for the gospel. She will want to inform and shape the intellectual forces that drive our culture by being salt and light in academic settings.
Campus ministry is most effective when it is driven by a sound doctrine of the church. We must ask: Where will students be in ten years, after they leave campus? Properly functioning campus ministries direct students from themselves to the church. They teach students to respect the church for its God-given role in society, as the place where they can be connected and loved for a lifetime and as the place where truth resides.
Postmodernism deconstructs truth, meaning, and individual identity and thus tends to disconnect people. But we, as made in God's image, are made for relationships. As the biblical basis for truth and meaning has been removed from our culture, we have grown more disconnected from our families and churches. The university's artificial environment encourages the growth of temporary and transient communities. And so, all too often, college students fall into one of two "black holes": either they disappear from the community of believers when they enter the university and face challenges to their faith or the distractions of personal rebellion, or they disappear after leaving the university because no church is enough like their college ministry. Consequently, the church needs to be on the college campus for her covenant children as well as to bring others to Christ. We want to rescue students from the "black holes" that both their sin and the culture's sins have created.
What should be the goals of a church-based campus ministry? First, we want to see students grow in grace. Exposing students to the means of grace is crucial. Consequently, we must direct them to a church committed to God-centered worship, expository preaching of the Word, administration of the Sacraments, and the practice of discipline. Second, fellowship and service should flow from this growth. We want to teach students to relate to others in gospel-centered relationships, equipping them to love and serve others incarnationally. This means modeling for them what it means to be united to Christ and his followers in a body of believers. The church's love and concern can attract and connect students in this disconnected postmodern environment. Third, we want them to develop a world-oriented Christianity through a proper understanding of evangelism and missions. We must emphasize proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the university community and beyond in winsome and engaging ways that do not see the university as the enemy. Students do not need to be taught militant, aggressive, antagonistic evangelism. Instead, college evangelism should be organic, growing naturally out of personal relationships. It is both intentional and loving, with our continuing to relate to unbelievers, even if they reject our claims, because we care about them as human beings and because we realize that their "No" may not be their final answer. We want students to demonstrate what it means to be Christian and thus "make the invisible God, visible." Finally, students need a grid for interpreting and evaluating life. So we must help them to develop a biblical world-and-life view. This set of presuppositions about Creation, the Fall, and redemption provides them with a frame of reference when classroom or campus culture challenges or contradicts Scripture's truth. It is liberating to learn not to compartmentalize life by some sacred/secular dichotomy and thus begin to live all of life for God's glory. "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
These goals help us in crafting a stable foundation for effective campus ministry. (1) We need a fixed theology, something like the Westminster Standards that provides us with an organized way to teach the truths of Scripture. (2) We must embrace a flexible methodology that does not take a "cookie-cutter" approach to campus ministry. (3) We should use seminary-trained and ordained campus ministers who have the knowledge and skills to shepherd students biblically. (4) We should be motivated by the realization that God is at work. Our awareness of God's sovereignty should inform all that we do. (5) We must strive to understand the individual. Each of us is created in God's image but with our own unique identities. Christ's body is designed to function with unity in its diversity. (6) We must work to understand the learning process by translating doctrine into practice. And (7), we must study the demographics of the campuses we seek to reach, since each has its own "personality."
This strategy for reaching college campuses in our time flows from three interconnected principles, starting with a firm commitment to the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture. Many students are asking, "How can I know God?" and "How can I know myself?" The answers are found in Scripture. Once students know who God is and that they are sinners, then they may ask, "How can I be right with this holy God?" The answer is justification: By faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone. The gospel is outside us. We become right with God not because of what we do but because of what Christ did. This simple gospel is one of the most exciting things to talk about on college campuses because it is so misunderstood. As it is taught and believed, one more question will be asked: "Now, how can I please God?" The answer is sanctification, both as a definitive act-by which Christ's work has made us holy before God-and as a progressive and active work on our part out of obedience and love for God's law. Only by and through the power of the gospel can we love God more than we love sin.
Of course, the final goal of all campus ministry is to see multitudes go to heaven, that city God has built for his people, where all the redeemed will glorify him and enjoy him forever.