It's hard to believe, but it is now almost four years since I was last on campus on a daily basis as a campus minister. Since that time, I've served in regional and national roles with Campus Crusade/Impact. Giving leadership on a broader scale has helped me to gain a greater perspective on the realities of ministry to college students and to recognize trends across the country. Thinking back on my 14 years of experience with college students (four years as a student; ten years on staff), I think there are several things that I would do differently if I were to go back on campus tomorrow. Here they are:
1. I would spend more time pioneering. The natural tendency in campus ministry is to hunker down with a core group of students once a movement is launched or a small group is formed. In the initial stages of forming a movement, we do a ton of evangelism in order to surface students, but then once we find the key leaders, we taper off our evangelism as we focus on discipleship. The problem is that these two areas, evangelism and discipleship, are not mutually exclusive. They actually go together!
Once forming a core leadership team, I would take a more apostolic (pioneering) approach in leading. I would still seek to equip and coach these leaders, but I wouldn't do all the ministry. I would do a better job of training them to lead. I would move on to other people groups on the campus and move on to other campuses. This could be a great part of the discipleship process as I would take my disciples with me to trust God to launch movements in new ethnic communities and to seek to launch movements on nearby campuses. I did this some with a few of my disciples, but I would do it a lot more. Instead of sitting in a cafeteria or a coffeeshop talking about our lives, we could do that while we're doing ministry together.
2. I would give students more freedom to lead. It's funny because as a student, I was on a non-staffed campus. We had a CCC staff member visit our campus once a week, but we as students were really leading things. I was actively sharing my faith on a regular basis (i.e. multiple times each week) and gathering for prayer several times each week with other students. And it wasn't because I was super spiritual. It was because that was modeled to me and was expected. As a student-led ministry, it also meant that we reserved the rooms, bought the food for socials, organized and led prayer times, followed up evangelistic contacts, spoke at weekly meetings frequently, led Bible studies, put up publicity flyers, interacted with administration, etc. But once I came on staff with Crusade, I began to think that I was the "expert" and that the students needed me to do stuff for them.
We can't allow students to become dependent upon the "professional missionaries." It cripples them. And let's be honest here. Who understands students better -- college students themselves or middle-aged missionaries that are still jammin' to Keith Green? Just as a parent prepares their children to go out on their own, we need to prepare our students to do the same. I've asked a number of our staff, "What would happen if your whole team left your campus/city tomorrow? What would happen to the movements you lead?" The typical response is that "the students wouldn't be ready for that."
I'm sorry, but the reason that the students wouldn't be ready is because we haven't prepared them for it. 18-23 year olds are very capable of leading and leading well. Go to Iraq, spend some time with our soldiers there and then tell me 18-23 year olds can't lead. Most campus organizations are led by students and we're actually quite an anomaly in that we have whole teams of outsiders giving leadership to our ministries. Even among campus ministries, there is usually only 1 or 2 staff giving leadership to the ministry. Not 15-20 like we have in some locations. In order to fully "own" their movement, students need to feel the burden of responsibility. That's why they should be the ones leading Bible studies, leading outreaches, initiating campus prayer, recruiting for conferences, and planning socials.
3. I would focus more on foundational truths. Though I first got involved with Crusade in the early nineties during a major change process in the Campus Ministry, I was brought up "Old School." I went through NLTC training times, was sharing my faith within a few months of making a profession of faith, and went through the old Discovery Group, Discipleship Group and Action Group Bible studies. In fact the first Bible study I was ever in covered the five follow-ups that we go through with new believers -- Assurance of Salvation, Relationship with God, The Holy Spirit, Ways to Grow (Prayer, Word, Fellowship, Witnessing) and Purity. Just after a few months of being involved in Crusade, I was challenged to be discipleship and become a leader.
I think we've gotten too "cute" in recent years. We think the Four Laws is outdated, few people know how to share the ministry of the Holy Spirit, evangelism is occasional rather than a normal part of life, our Bible studies lack direction and I'm guessing that most of our student leaders have never heard of the Transferable Concepts. I certainly wouldn't disagree that our materials and resources need to be continually updated, but the message needs to stay the same. I fear that in an effort to stay trendy, we've gotten away from what our leadership is now referring to our "core DNA."
As a parachurch ministry focused on evangelism and discipleship, our primary calling is pretty clear. We should not do everything that a local church does, now should we attempt to. Campus Crusade has always been a help to local congregations as we take the gospel to students that our churches have a difficult time reaching, build new and immature believers in their faith, train them for ministry, and send them forth to do likewise.
Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, was often accused of being too simplistic and naive because of his simple gospel presentation and insistence on focusing on the basics of the faith. But Dr. Bright was anything but stupid. The man spent five years in seminary and could walk theological circles around most Christians. But he knew that complicated explanations were not easily and simply passed onto others. That is why he developed tools that the average Christian could quickly learn and be able to pass onto others rapidly. Dr. Bright sincerely believed that a follower of Christ (no matter how old they were in their faith), if empowered by the Holy Spirit, could see God do great things through them.
I'm encouraged by how we are moving forward in these areas as a ministry as we wrestle with a changing student culture. Pioneering new movements, student ownership and a focus on the fundamentals are all current emphases that we have in the Campus Ministry. While we do have a lot of great things happening , I look forward with anticipation as many more students are compelled by the love of Christ. And not just so that they can be a better person, but so that they can be engaged in mission of expanding God's kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."