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College Ministry Was Never Meant to Replace the Local Church

College Ministry Was Never Meant to Replace the Local Church

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our series on College Ministries and the Local Church examining the relationship between the two. To read the first post in the series, click here. 

It was the fall of ’96 when I was asked by my friends to go to a place they were involved in called the Baptist Student Union. I had already finished my freshman year of college; it was the first time I had ever been away from home. I didn’t grow up in a church, but my cousin took me to his from time to time. I had no interest and by all means would’ve been considered “unchurched”. 

I had started to become more “religious” that year in ’96 and attended the BSU on several occasions. I was being discipled by the campus minister as well as one of his interns. I attended a weekly worship service where I would hear a word from a local pastor and had an opportunity towards the end of the service to respond. I was involved in a Bible study. Everything in my mind checked off:

  • Worship
  • Prayer
  • Preaching
  • Response
  • Bible study
  • Discipleship

The BSU was my church. But I continued to hear conflicting messages from my leaders. “Here are some great churches you can attend.” Churches would table at our events, inviting  us to be a part of their church. It was all so confusing. What is going on here?

A Health Perspective of the Church

I didn’t know this at the time, but this would be what God would use to shape my ministry philosophy here after becoming the director. I didn’t want students to have the same experiences as me. There was a “tension” that existed. Because of this confusion, I wasn’t part of any local church throughout my entire college career. 

The Church, according to the Bible, is an unveiling of the mystery of the universe (Eph. 3:6). She is in a one-flesh union with Jesus such that, as in a marriage, everything that belongs to Him belongs to her (Eph. 5:22–33). Even with all her flaws she is still these things.

The Church, according to the Bible, is an unveiling of the mystery of the universe. She is in a one-flesh union with Jesus such that, as in a marriage, everything that belongs to Him belongs to her.”

Chris Wilson

A congregation, in covenant with one another as an assembly of Christ’s people, is a colony of the coming global reign of Christ (Eph. 1:22–23), a preview of what His kingdom will look like in the end (1 Cor. 6:1–8). Where there is a covenant among believers—a disciplined community of faith—the Spirit of Jesus is present among them, just as God was present among the people of Israel in the temple of old (Matt. 18:15–20).” 

The church is under the authority of Jesus; the very flesh and bones of the risen Christ. She is the conduit by which hope is restored. But that doesn’t mean the campus ministry is irrelevant.

My view of the local body was extremely skewed by my ignorance of Scriptures in my college days. A campus ministry may seem more “spiritual” than the congregation. Some congregations may have more of an emphasis on young people. Some congregations may seem like they are dull and behind the times. This doesn’t mean you should participate in a campus ministry and not a local church. Biblically speaking, every believer is called to participate in a local church body. College ministry shouldn’t take its place. It was never meant to.

A Healthy Perspective for Campus Ministers

What does a healthy partnership look like between the local church and campus ministry?

My experiences as a college student, and the biblical understanding I’ve gained since, have shaped the way I structure my ministry as a campus missionary. It is critical for campus ministers to work alongside the local church; not in competition with it. 

In our context, that has meant making a few intentional choices.

  1. We did away with worship services.  We no longer are in “competition” with the local church. 
  2. We ask churches how we can continue the discipleship process with the students they’ve already invested in. 
  3. One of our key metrics is whether students are active participants in their local church. That is the end goal for us. We don’t resent the time students spend in their local church (and I’d be very concerned if a campus minister did).  

Working alongside a church is discipling that student to be actively involved in their church; even if that means scrubbing toilets. Students are going to eventually leave college. My hope is that we have discipled our students to love the local church, be able to identify what a Bible-believing local church looks like, and understand what membership looks like. If those things are in place, then when they graduate, they are equipped to find that local body wherever life leads them. That’s a win.

A Healthy Perspective for Pastors

That’s what healthy looks like from one campus ministry leader’s perspective. But what are some suggestions I could make to my pastor brothers?

What the campus ministry has taught the local church is how to efficiently and aggressively reach the college campus. Instead of hoping that your website attracts the college student who randomly wakes up on a Sunday, a healthy church will go find them. Isn’t that Jesus’ mandate for us? While it is true that the church carries out God’s Great Commission, it’s equally true that this will only happen if the church pursues the college campus like campus ministries do. It will require leaving the confines of our church buildings and minister to the dorms, the athletes, the staff…the campus.

Church, have you considered becoming a recognized student organization? Joining a campus ministry alliance? Starting a Bible study using the college students or staff you have that attend your church? Working on the campus with your local Baptist student ministry?

A campus minister could come alongside you and help you get those things accomplished. This requires time, resources, experience, and often relationships and rapport with campus administrators. Bring to the table what you have to offer, and let the campus ministry stand in the gap as a conduit between you and the college campus. 

A Healthy Partnership for Both

Here’s where a healthy partnership between campus ministries and churches exists. Are you ready? A healthy campus ministry that has a deep love for the biblical church helps to fulfill the calling of the local church by coming alongside local churches to assist in discipleship and evangelism on the local college campus

"A healthy campus ministry that has a deep love for the biblical church helps to fulfill the calling of the local church by coming alongside local churches to assist in discipleship and evangelism on the local college campus." -Chris… Share on X

An imbalance exists when one “side” is unhealthy. An improper view of the church by a campus ministry will lend itself to that campus ministry being a church “replacer” instead of a church assister. Without a healthy partnership from local churches, there are very few co-laborers, and campus ministries lack the pragmatic resources they need to accomplish their mission.

This partnership goes both ways. We need each other to reach the next generation. Every church in the state of Missouri has or will have a college student. What are some things we can do together to fulfill the Great Commission to reach college students in the state?

Let’s identify them, and let’s do them: for the glory of God, the good of college students, and the edification of local churches!

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Equipping You to Make Disciples of Collegians & Young Adults

The Collegiate DiscipleMaker is an online publication providing practical encouragement and disciplemaking tools to those making disciples among college students and young adults. Our weekly articles are theologically rich, biblically grounded, pragmatically applicable, and college ministry oriented.

Our Team

We are people just like you— campus missionaries, ministry wives, young adult pastors, and more—who simply have a passion to make Gen Z disciples on college campuses and beyond.

Contributors:

Austin Pfrimmer (Campus Missionary)

Christina Boatright (Campus Missionary)

Paul Damery (Campus Missionary)

Reese Hammond (Campus Missionary)

Jon Smith (Campus Missionary)

Jerome Stockert (Campus Missionary) 

Karin Yarnell (College Ministry Wife)

Editor in Chief:

Britney Lyn Hamm (College Ministry Wife)

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