“Can we pray for sexual assault victims at the Good Friday service?”
The student sitting across from me in one of those overstuffed chairs was being completely sincere. He had hoofed it up the hill to the student union to grab coffee with me between classes and to put the finishing touches on the Good Friday service we had been planning. It was going to be a small, intimate service, complete with a few scripture readings pertaining to Holy Week, some acoustic worship music and a sharing of communion. It would be open to all students, not just those who are a part of the ministry for which I work, and I was entertaining the idea of having a short, free-form prayer time after we all took communion.
I wasn’t, however, expecting to devote time during a tradition-heavy Good Friday service to praying for victims of sexual assault on our campus, and the student I was sitting with must have noticed that his request threw me for a second. He followed up his question:
“It seems like people try to separate ‘campus ministry’ from ‘campus.’ When we get together for ministry stuff, we focus on discipleship and evangelism, but not as much on the things that are affecting all the students on campus right now.”
He went on to refer to that morning’s cover article in our school newspaper – a heartbreaking story about a former student athlete who was filing a lawsuit against the university based on its alleged failure to protect her after she reported being raped by a member of the football team in her own on-campus residence hall.
“If this is something that’s happening on campus right now, I think we should take the opportunity to pray about it when we’re all together on Good Friday.”
We Focus on Discipleship and Evangelism
After my meeting with this student, I thought about something very wise that a ministry colleague of mine said to me recently. “Evangelism and discipleship,” he said, “are under the same umbrella.”
As campus ministers, we are aware of the equal importance of helping Christian students to grow in their faith during their college years (discipleship) and of sharing the gospel with unbelieving students in the hope that they will choose to put their faith in Christ (evangelism). Not only are these two things ingrained in the consciousness of every follower of Christ, due in part to the words of The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), but they are most likely a vital part of the calling of most campus ministers. Why would we do this job if we didn’t care about discipling young believers and growing the Kingdom by sharing the gospel?
Unity and Justice
Most campus ministries do a very good job at both discipleship and evangelism. When we see both efforts as being “under the same umbrella” and we work prayerfully at both, we see quantifiable results: new converts, new baptisms, more students in our small groups and at our weekly gatherings, and an overall increase in our effectiveness.
However, we sometimes leave two other very important facets of ministry sitting out in the rain: unity and justice. We may recognize the importance of these two tenets of our faith, but we also seem to have separated them from our discipleship and evangelism efforts, and have possibly even grown to think of them as secondary by comparison.
This is exactly what my friend was referring to when he said that people keep trying to “separate campus ministry from campus.” We plan a heartfelt Good Friday service right in the middle of campus, but nearly overlook the opportunity to unite in prayer about a very real and troubling justice issue effecting students all across our campus.
How Unity and Justice Can Be Evangelism
Unity among campus ministries doesn’t always grow our individual ministries the same way that other discipleship efforts do. We may not see results that are as easily quantifiable. Participating in efforts concerning social justice may not seem to grow the Kingdom in the same way as our more tried-and-true evangelical and outreach efforts. But in my opinion, we stand to see enormous breakthrough on our campuses if we consider the possibility that unity and justice can actually be discipleship and evangelism.
My wife has a very close friend who is not a believer, and sometimes when they get together, my wife tells her about my job as a campus minister. My wife’s friend couldn’t care less, she has no interest in becoming a Christian, no love for The Church and a not-so-mild disdain for anything “evangelical.”
When my wife told her though that our campus ministry was attending an open forum last month about racial tension on campus in an effort to assess how ministries can work together to combat racism and better serve minority groups in our city, her friend was visibly excited. “That’s great!” she said. “If the good Christian kids don’t work on that stuff, who will?” In that instance, a justice effort was evangelism. It pointed to Christ’s love where a more traditional approach to witnessing would have fallen on deaf ears.
When we encourage believing students to unite together in prayer and mission on our campuses, that is discipleship. When we chime in on social justice issues where we have traditionally been close-lipped, that is evangelism. The immediate results may be harder to see, and they will probably be harder to measure, but they will be inevitable.
In 1 Corinthians 3:7, the Apostle Paul says, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” Sometimes, through unity and justice, we can plant seeds that someone else can water later through by evangelism and discipleship. If it doesn’t matter who does it, and if it all points toward Christ, then let’s keep it all under the same umbrella.
John Benda is the Director of Campus Christians at The University of Kansas. He has worked in church ministry as a worship leader, high school pastor, associate pastor and teacher. John has also sold used books, cleaned carpets, flipped pancakes and waited tables to make ends meet, and often plays drums in his rock&roll band for absolutely no money at all. He began working in college ministry in 2014. John and his beautiful wife, Lydia, live in Lawrence, Kansas.