Why doesn’t campus ministry qualify to serve as my local church while in college? Isn’t studying the Bible together, singing songs, and doing discipleship with friends at my school the same as joining a local church? There is much that could be said, but here are two reasons why your campus ministry is great, and three reasons why it can never replace the local church.
Two Reasons Your Campus Ministry is Great
#1 On-Campus Evangelism
College campuses are full of unbelieving college students who do not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Campus ministries have unique access to a community of unbelieving people that local churches do not have. These ministries can orchestrate and execute evangelistic efforts in otherwise restricted places. Bible studies, socials, and even worship services can be placed in the pathways of a student’s life increasing the chances of reaching a non-Christian with the gospel.
#2 On-Campus Community
College is a time of transition. It has unique challenges especially for the Christian trying to walk in the light while surrounded by darkness. Students spend hours in class, in the library, at their campus job, and then return to a dormitory or an apartment with roommates who may or may not be Christians. It can be a lonely season full of temptation and peer pressure. Campus ministry provides a context in which you can meet other Christians in the same stage of life that you are in. It is an avenue for Christian community, encouragement, and accountability in your day to day context.
Three Reasons Your Campus Ministry Can’t Replace the Church
#1 You Need the Whole Spiritual Family
One of the unique things about campus ministry is that discipleship and fellowship are done in the context of one demographic. If you look around the campus ministry community you will see people who are in many ways like you. They, of course, will have their differences, but they are the same age, in the same stage of life, having similar life experiences and interests. This makes for fun fellowship and even some good peer-on-peer discipleship, but this ultimately falls short of God’s good design for the local church.
God has given us the fullness of a spiritual family in the local church. He has given us spiritual grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, and a couple of crazy spiritual aunts and uncles. God has not given just a fraternity or sorority of brothers and sisters, rather he is glorified by the beautiful ministry of unity in the midst of diversity. You need the whole spiritual family for the fullness of your discipleship and growth. Even in your evangelism, it is important to introduce unbelievers not just to a college Bible study, but to the gathering of a local church where they can see the supernatural saving and unifying power of the Gospel at work across all ages, stages of life, races, and socio-economic statuses. Look at Paul’s instruction to Titus on discipleship within the church family.
Titus 2:2-8 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
One of the draw backs of campus ministry done in isolation from the fullness of a local church is that college students can develop a false sense of spiritual maturity. When I played soccer in high school, I thought I was really good at soccer. I was awarded most valuable player of the year. I thought I had the fundamentals down and that I understood the game. Then I went to play college and it was another world. I was surrounded by people more experienced and gifted than me and I was lucky just to get some playing time. College ministry when relied upon as the only source of discipleship and Christian community can actually stunt growth, because of continuous comparison only to those who are exactly alike and in the same stage of growth. Christian communities with saints of all walks of life is what God designed to stir his people to greater and greater growth.
#2 You Need Your Pastors
In God’s love for you, he has not only given the church community, but he has also given pastors/ elders/ overseers to lead you into the good pastures of God’s word and to protect you from false teachers. We do not have pastors of churches because someone thought it would be a good idea or because that’s what we have always done. Rather, we have pastors because God Almighty, Creator of the universe, designed his people to commune together in churches under the leadership of pastors. This is why Paul commands Titus to appoint elders in every town (Tit. 1:5). This is why Paul says to the pastors in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) This is why Peter urges younger men to be subject to the “elders” (1 Pt. 5:5), and why the author of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb. 13:17) This is God’s grace to us for his glory through us.
- Isn’t my college ministry director my pastor?
He or she may disciple you, but this does not mean that they are pastors with the same God-given responsibility and authority to lead you. When the book of Hebrews tells the reader to submit to leaders who are overseeing their soul, that does not mean we submit to every Christian leader in every ministry always. Local pastors are uniquely accountable to their particular congregations, and local church members are uniquely accountable to their particular pastors.
Campus ministers are trained, hired, and held accountable by denominational leaders outside of the people they are ministering to. They are not affirmed by and accountable to the students they are ministering to in the same way that pastors are affirmed by and accountable to their congregations. Pastors are expected to meet particular Biblical qualifications for leadership and they are held accountable to those qualifications by their churches whom they are in constant relationship with. Campus ministers are not.
There is also a difference in the type of short-term discipleship that campus ministers can provide, as opposed to the long-term work of discipling provided by the local church. Pastors are charged by God to shepherd the whole church into spiritual maturity. This means that they build their ministries and lead their churches with multiple levels of discipleship needs in mind. They shepherd the church in such a way that spiritual infants grow into maturity over time. They preach through whole books of the Bible on Sunday mornings and lead the church to pursue other discipleship avenues throughout the week. Campus ministers are limited to one age group, and one four-year block of time. This limits the scope and depth of how they make disciples of someone progressively. Students often get released into the real world of church life and Christian ministry as an adult and they fall away from the Lord because the college ministry sub-culture of discipleship is no longer available to them. The roots were not deep, so the real life storms topple the tree.
#3 You Need Covenantal Accountability
The Bible is clear on the type of community that the church must be. The local church is a new covenant community of mutual accountability. Church members join themselves to one another in a meaningful way. There are several places that could be turned to, but the most obvious example of this responsibility is found in the Bible’s command to carry out church discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the whole Corinthian church for allowing one of their members to persist in unrepentant sexual sin. He condemns them for not mourning over their brother’s sin and for not doing the hard work of confronting that sin. He urges the church when they are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus” to remove the one in unrepentant sin in hopes that he would one day be saved. Paul even urges the church to guard the Lord’s Supper, saying, “do not eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:11). We learn in 2 Cor 2:6 that this act of excommunication is a sentence that is decided “by the majority.” In other words, the whole church comes together and congregationally affirms or denies the need for excommunication. Jesus gave this authority and responsibility to local churches specifically (Mt 18:15-18).
Campus ministries are certainly places where people are held accountable, but they are not covenantal communities charged by God to hold one another accountable as 1 Corinthians 5 articulates. They are not voting bodies of interconnected people who are charged by God to decide, “by the majority”, whether they can continue to affirm someone’s testimony of faith or not. This is, however, the work of a local church. The local church is a community of people that are uniquely and covenantally responsible for one another.
Para-church organizations like Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Chi Alpha, Campus Outreach, etc., can be wonderful tools for the organization of evangelistic efforts, but if anyone neglects the local church, they will inevitably find themselves stunted in their spiritual growth. Your campus ministry is great, but it does not and should not replace the role of the local church in your life. Graduation is always approaching. On that day you will be forced to leave campus ministry behind, but the church remains. Attend your campus ministry, but join your local church in the work of the ministry.
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church