The following is an excerpt from my book Campus Renewal – A Practical Plan to Unite Campus Ministries in Prayer and Evangelism.
College Ministries Before
For a long time campus ministries competed with one another. Students would talk among themselves about why their ministry was better than others in its theology, methodology, and convictions. Church-based ministries tried to convince students that they needed to be part of a multigenerational church.
Parachurch groups downplayed the role of churches, given that so few actually did anything to reach students on campus. Evangelicals prided themselves in their teaching and personal evangelism, charismatics in their praying and prophetic ministry, and denominational leaders in their service and compassion ministries.
The reason these well-meaning ministries found themselves in constant comparison with one another is that they were competing for the same students every year. As every campus minister knows, his or her ministry is just one freshman class away from extinction. Each fall, campus ministries compete for the loyalty of freshmen students who come to the university from Christian homes and youth groups.
Add to this the fact that Christian students often move from one ministry to another over the course of their years at the university, based solely on which ministry has the best worship leader or best teacher, and the stage is set for the enemy to pit ministries against one another.
College Ministries Today
Something has changed in recent years, however, causing students and ministers to work with one another across ethnic, denominational, and theological lines. It’s not that they have set out to work together; it’s that these ministries have shifted their focus. Instead of trying to bring Christian freshmen into their ministries, now they are focused on connecting with students on campus who are far from God.
Therefore, they are not competing to connect with the 500 new freshmen that come from Christian homes (they are doing that too, but with a different spirit). Instead, they are focusing their attention on reaching the 40,000 lost students on their campus. The shift in focus alone has drawn leaders together in a larger vision, one that compels them to be in relationship with one another.
United Around Mission
This is not unity for unity’s sake. It is unity based on a common mission and a humble recognition of a need for one another. A new generation of students and ministers are leading our campus ministries. They are more willing than ever to put aside denominational and organizational alliances for the sake of their mission to the campus. Students, especially, see themselves as followers of Jesus on their campus — not as Baptists, charismatics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Crusaders, or Navigators.
They no longer draw those distinctions or have those exclusive allegiances. This is not to say that they are unaware of differences that they have in theology or practice, or even that they do not hold deep convictions. It’s just that students in this generation do not let these differences keep them from meaningful relationships and partnerships in mission. Things that used to divide, like styles of prayer or evangelism and ministry philosophies of specific organizations and denominations, no longer seem to matter to this generation.
Humility is Unity
There is a new posture before one another, a willingness to listen and learn from each other. I see this particularly among students and younger campus ministers. Every week I participate in some prayer gathering or conversation that simply would not have happened years ago.
I see students and ministers in settings that are very different from what they are accustomed to: a prayer meeting that gets a little loud, a conversation in which terms are used that once caused conflict or confusion, or a meeting about an issue that many ministries were not concerned about before. Yet the posture in the room is one of learning, appreciation for one another, and a conviction that we are the Body of Christ on our campus, called to work with one another to reach every lost community of students with the gospel.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission.He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the misssonal community movement at the University of Texas.