Every summer during Freshman Orientation, I’d take my turn manning the table at a student involvement fair of sorts. While new students were filling out paperwork, their parents would stroll through the room, picking up fliers for the clubs and organizations they wanted their kids to join. Then they’d get to our table.
We had fliers for about a dozen religious organizations on campus… from all across the spectrum. I remember one mom asking very matter-of-factly, “Well, which one is the best?” It was a fair question, cutting right to the chase. I looked at Matt Leavesley, a campus minister from another ministry who was manning the table with me that day, and he looked at me. We both wanted to say ours was… but the university preferred us to be a little more diplomatic.
So how did we answer? I don’t remember exactly… but I did contact Matt this week, now the pastor of a church in Alpena, MI, and asked him, “What are the 3 big things you would encourage a high school senior to look for when they’re evaluating campus ministries?”
He responded with three things not to look for:
- The cutest guys/girls.
- The most rockin’ band.
- The funniest speaker.
I couldn’t agree more. And, if you’re serious about choosing a campus ministry that’s really going to move you forward in your walk with Christ, here are three things you’ll really want to consider:
1. Who are the staff and leaders responsible for this ministry?
Start by asking how long the campus minister (if there is one) has been on this campus. Some ministries’ structures result in a very high turnover of ministry staff, which can be hard on student leaders. Some of the strongest ministries I know have staff who have been on their campus for more than 5 years—some as many as 30 years. Longevity can mean stronger relationships with university staff and leadership, and a keener understanding of the culture of that school.
Find out if the campus minister has theological training or church ministry experience. While many in campus ministry are great with students—strong relationally—they may have little Christian foundation outside of that ministry. Many (I wish I had a statistic) started out as students themselves, volunteered as interns for a year or two, then joined the staff full time. They know the campus and ministry well, but may lack the theological knowledge base to provide strong teaching.
See if this is a student-led ministry, an approach which can provide plenty of opportunity for students to take responsibility. But even the best student-led ministries have strong support from staff who live in the community and are on campus regularly providing support, direction and leadership.
2. What is the philosophy and focus of ministry?
Another friend, Matt Schantz, who I worked with for ten years in campus ministry, answered the same question I asked Matt Leavesley by pointing out these three things to look for:
Do they unapologetically teach the Scriptures? The Word of God should have a primary place in the ministry and be held in high regard. Great campus ministries aren’t afraid to take positions on controversial subjects and teach them according to the Scriptures, even if it may offend some.
Is there a spirit of grace and love present as they worship, teach and serve? I firmly believe that much of the success of the ministry of His House at Central Michigan University was because of the sweet spirit among our staff, student leaders and students. Because we focused on the essentials of faith, and consistently pointed one another back to the Scriptures, we avoided bickering, controversies, and distractions.
Are they actively seeking to fulfill the mission of Christ on campus and in the world? Find out if students are being trained and encouraged to share the Gospel, or if they are, in fact, sharing the Gospel effectively on campus. Does the ministry have at rack record of growth or decline? Some ministries may be cautious about growth, fearing that big might imply shallow, but others are finding ways to welcome more in to the community while maintaining an environment where close relationships can be developed and students can grow in the context of small groups. Growing, mission-driven campus ministries are full of students who actively invite others to come and see what God is doing in their midst, and, when they come, they are presented with the Gospel in a way that is clear and compelling.
3. What else should I know about this ministry?
Ask about the reputation of the ministry on campus, among the broader student body, the faculty and other churches in the community.
Understand the structure of the ministry, and whether it is a ministry that encourages students to be involved with other churches on Sundays, or if it functions as the local church for students.
Be clear about denominational affiliations and the predominant backgrounds of students who are involved. Does the ministry have a statement of faith, and do you agree with it?
Find out how the ministry is funded. Is it through the giving of students? As a mission? By a church or denomination?
Does the ministry provide opportunities for leadership, missions, small groups, retreats, etc..?
One final thing to keep in mind: just because a ministry has the same name or affiliation as one on another campus, that doesn’t mean they are a lot alike. Some ministries vary dramatically from school to school, and have a different flavor because of the staff and students involved there.
What are other things you’re looking for when evaluating a ministry to be involved with? Share your thoughts below.
You can also read my other posts in this short series of posts on getting off to a good start in college: