Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Campus Ministry a Must for Student Ministry

A trend I have noticed in student ministers over the last few years is their lack of desire for doing campus ministry. Campus ministry is the active work of the church on the local school campuses for the expressed purpose of reaching students with the gospel. I believe that this is a result of multiple antagonistic problems that are compounded into what seems impossible. I see three major reasons for why student ministers have lately given up of campus ministry. However, I also believe there is a solution to the problem.

Hostility from administrators is probably the first reason that comes to mind. This whole separation of church and state has gotten way out of hand, and is off base for what our founding father Thomas Jefferson. He used to the term to explain in a letter that there would never be a state church. However, this has been used to keep all faith from interfering with the education of the youth of America. The results of this have been catastrophic for the church, and the lethargy of her members has left the church in a precarious position. For this reason, many public school administrators see it as their responsibility to keep the church from infecting the minds of the youth. This may have been exacerbated by the involvement of institutions like the ACLU, who actively seek to keep the church out of schools and have punished school administrators for allowing such things. Due to this pressure, many student ministers give up at this point.

The second problem for campus ministry can be the amount of schools that are in the proximity of a church. This is especially poignant for youth ministers in urban areas. I have seven schools that are represented by students in the youth group that I lead. I will be the first to admit that it is impossible to visit all schools on a regular basis. You further have to handle the challenge of favoritism in this area. Some students cannot understand the difficulty of campus ministry, but they can understand that you the youth minister do not come to their school. What happens when you your time on what you can accomplish is that the students from the others schools get envious and sometimes hurt. Again many youth ministers avoid the problem all together by not doing campus ministry.

The last problem to face youth ministers for campus ministry is the work entailed in effective campus ministry. For campus ministry to be successful, it must be consistent. This means that you must be a constant presence on the school campus to reach the students there. The problem with that is what if you have kids, are bi-vocational, or many other problems. We live in a very busy society, and I know of a great deal of young adults with children who feel like they are so busy they never have time for family. As an effect of this, many youth ministers avoid campus ministry because it takes so much work, dedication, effort, and time. Campus ministry can exhaust a youth groups resources if one allows it.

So what should we do? Since, campus ministry is fraught with problems should we abandon it in search of something else? I believe to do such is to fail as a student minister. It seems ridiculous to me to abandon a potential ministry opportunity simply because it is difficult and full of problems. All students until the age of 16 are required by law to be at a school. In this school environment they are constantly around their peers and conveniently located for ministry. Sure there may be a way to search out all the students in your town one-by-one, but that would be poor stewardship of resources. Instead, I believe the public school system is a golden opportunity that should be resourced for the glory of God.

A statement that has always stuck with me through the years is one I heard from Dr. Jay Strack, founder of Student Leadership University: "Anyone can discover a problem, but only leaders provide solutions." This seems to me to be the case in campus ministry. There are many youth ministers who have given up on campus ministry altogether, and I believe this should not be the case. Thus, in the next section I have assembled 3 solutions to each problem.

The first solution to campus ministry is access. A youth minister must gain access to the campus, if he wants to properly engage the student. I was first exposed to the Funnel Principle by Matt Lawson. Matt at the time was the high school minister at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. I was part of developing a conference for youth ministers at the time, and I had requested that he be at the conference just so I could hear him teach on campus ministry. His campus ministry methods are by far some of the most effective I have ever seen. Although I have augmented his funnel principle for campus ministry, it still holds true and effective.

When attempting to gain access at a public school the first level of campus ministry starts with whom he calls the "gate-keeper." This is often the receptionist in the main office. Building a relationship with this person is the most critical, because she often holds the keys to meeting any of the administrators. She gives you access to the administrators but not the students. You then must engage the administrators. Once you have built relationships with the administrators, they will learn to trust you. As a precautionary note, this trust is earned slowly. The administrators will give you access to the faculty and sometimes the students, but this is still only the second tier. Just because you have gained access to the students does not mean you have a fully functioning campus ministry. Once the administrators and faculty have seen you interact with the students for a period of time and know that you can be trusted and are consistent, then you will reach the final tier. This last tier is to work with students side-by-side to accomplish goals for the gospel. In other words you have access to disciple students through the public school.

To flesh out the funnel principle further, one must think on how to move through each tier: a key word - service. Begin by serving and being genuinely interested in the life of the gate keeper. This should not be hard for student ministers, because as ministers we love people. It just takes time. Also, do nice things for the other secretaries in the office by bringing them donuts or coffee...just cause. Once you have gained access to the administrators, offer to serve the campus through service projects: clean up the parking lot, spread mulch in flower beds, rebuild picnic tables, etc. These are non-threatening ministries that will give you incredible access and proximity to students. Furthermore, it is a great form of giving back to the community. This is the first tier of the funnel principle. Through these events you will gain access to serve the students: back to school breakfast, sports-teams banquets, etc. Still this is the second tier of the funnel principle. Ultimately, as a youth minister you want access to disciple the students. Once you have proven your worth and trustworthiness, you will receive opportunities to teach, minister, and disciple alongside of quality students. Where do the discipled students come from? Your youth ministry of course. Start now by preparing them.

The second solution I have adapted for campus ministry is to adopt strategic schools. Few churches have the resources to effectively minister to an abundance of schools, so I submit to you the idea of adopting one or two to begin with. Often I recommend adopting one high school and one middle school, because at first the student minister is the campus minister. As time goes by you will garner more resources and quality leaders in your youth ministry to engage more schools. I liken this to adopting children. Very few people can adopt multiple children at once, but after a few years it may be possible to adopt another. You don't adopt out of desire to adopt, otherwise it would not be unheard of for people to have adopted 10 children regularly. No, we adopt children according to the will of God and the means he has given us.

Slowly over time, God may provide you with an administrator or faculty member at a church that he can use as your representative campus minister to a school. Use the volunteers God has given you, whether it be college students who are volunteer interns needing community service hours or retirees who have a heart for students. My best volunteer campus minister was a retired basketball coach. The school gave me a sticker for my nametag. He was so faithful over the years, they gave him a laminated sticker nametag.

The last and best solution to campus ministry is the discipleship of your students. You have to get students to understand that God has called each one of them to be missionaries, and he has called each one of them to a mission field, their schools. Through proper Bible study and evangelism training, any student can become a campus minister. More than that they can become your best campus minister, because they are required to be there by law! They are given instant access to anyone and everyone at their school. I use what I call the 3 M's, and I pull them from Ephesians 4:12. We help students in their spiritual maturity, to discover their mission, to multiply their influence. A student with exceptional character, biblical foundations, and a desire to reach their peers with the gospel is relatively unstoppable in the world of campus ministry, and you follow the funnel principle you will arrive at the third tier only to find that your students have already been ministering to their peers. You will have the blessed opportunity to join in the ministry of one of your students. This is the proudest moment for an disciple maker.
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