In one form or another, Campus Ministry has shaped almost every season of my life. I grew up in College Station, Texas, one of the quintessential college towns in the US. Our little Disciples of Christ church was among the 5 or 6 DoC, UCC, UMC and PC(USA) congregations who supported United Campus Ministry- an ecumenical group of students who gathered every week. My family was on the dinner rotation, so every couple of months we made what felt like tons of casserole of some sort to take up to the UMC church near campus. I’m pretty sure my first middle school crush came about delivering food to UCM-ers. More importantly, several of our youth group leaders were students from across the country who found our congregation through UCM, invested in our lives and were mentored by folk in our church. At least three went on to ordained ministry.
When it was my turn to go off to school (and my years of profligate living), I found out that I could eat home-cooked meals 3-4 times a weeks by hopping from one campus ministry to the next. Because the Disciples church in town was made up of about 30 couple who knew Moses as a child and the Baptist Student Union had the best intramurals teams, the BSU became my “church away from home.” Through them, I discovered my gifts in music, an appreciation for denominations that recognize women in leadership, and a more personal relationship with the God I’d known a lot about since I was a tot. They may not have “saved” me, but they sure kept me from going farther down the road to destruction than I was headed.
Today, I work for Campus Crusade for Christ, a parachurch organization with missionaries serving on over 1200 campuses around the world. In my communications role, I see stories every week about the students whose lives are transformed by their exposure to God’s love and grace. But I also hear conversations between ministry leaders who truly believe that the church (universal) has failed college students. That people in churches don’t know what to do with students, much less the students who are engaged in leadership and/or evangelism training during their years in college. I sat in a meeting with one leader who said, “Churches just can’t handle these 20-somethings who are passionate about evangelism. They just want to put them onto a committee. I’d rather see students stay out of churches than quench that fire.”
Ouch. I wanted to say that she was wrong. But when I look at the PC(USA) congregation where I now worship, which sits within 10 minutes of 70,000 students on two campuses, I had to agree. We are struggling to find our way out into the community of grown-ups that surround us, much less over to the college campus. Even the Presbyterian students who have grown up in our church prefer other places that have figured out how to be more “student friendly.” There are moments I look around and think we’ve turned into that little church I visited in Russelville, Arkansas. Once. I never went back because I couldn’t see any place for me to serve or grown there.
As a seminary student, it seems like a lot of my learning right now is observing (between battles with the books, of course). Watching for things that work and things that are broken. For most of the churches in our area, Campus Ministry is beyond broken. It’s missing in action, especially if offering a “contemporary service” does not qualify.
What am I going to do about it? Right now- keep working toward my degree and my first call. Keep watching and visiting and asking questions. Learn all that I can from my current employer about the collegiate culture and how to engage- albeit in a more reformed way. And when God shows me where I’ll be serving next, I’ll make sure that campus ministry remains part of the conversation. After all, the youth in our congregations need someone besides the most recent Disney Channel stars to crush on.