Saturday, March 03, 2012

Campus Ministry Outside the Camp

I'd get the "total poser" award if the substance of this post attempted to indicate that I knew oodles about campus ministry. I don't.  I have a bit of experience, having served in campus ministry at Luther College, and continuing affiliation with campus ministry wherever I have lived.

It is something I care passionately about but don't work at professionally.

I know just enough to know that the campus ministry scene is changing even faster than the change so much of the world is experiencing. 

Here's what I can claim and avoid the "total poser" award. I am in full-throttle learning mode. Most of my learning is just going around listening. I've been meeting the campus ministry folks at the university. I attend the Council of Religious Organization meetings at the U of A. I go out for lunch with our university young people. I try to spend time on campus.

I'm trying to faithfully help our congregation birth a ministry in the university context.

And every once in a while I read a book. The one I'm reading now is Stephen Lutz's College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture. It's not long, and it is helpful and wise. Those are sufficient positive attributes to recommend the book wholeheartedly. I tend to agree with its central thesis, that "college ministry is the most strategic mission field in the world today" (41).

A central missiological orientation of Lutz's book is a commitment to "going outside the camp." He argues that most campus ministry focuses on people groups that are already culturally close and open to Christian faith (m0 and m1 in Ralph Winter's scale of cultural distance from the gospel). Campus ministry typically focuses very little energy, or is ill-equipped to mentor those already in the Christian fold, to reach those more culturally distant (m2, m3, and m4). Here's how it looks:

m0: Those already in the Christian fold.
m1: Perhaps churched but disaffected.
m2: The generally silent, apathetic-toward Christianity group.
m3: Suspicious, skeptical, reacting to negative examples in church.
m4: Active in beliefs or religious very negative to Christianity, even antagonistic.

One could also point out that churches in general focus on m0 and m1, and don't quite know how to orient themselves to reaching m2-4. Churches love to reach their inactive members. They rarely even know how to talk with people who genuinely dislike the church and Christian faith.

However, on most university campuses, m2-4 is the largest percentage group. So there is a missiological mandate to reach these groups, somehow. That's Lutz's point, and his passion.

Lutz works to reach these culturally more distant groups by offering "faith and doubt" conversations in culturally more distant places, and by drawing close to humbly, and in conversation with, atheist groups and other distant groups on campus. 

He tells a lively and compelling story.

He also links to some great resources on-line, so if you don't want to buy his book (but I wish you would buy his book), you can link to these:

Tim Keller, "The Missional Church,"

John Stackhouse, "Engaging the University,"

An excellent case study on missional ministry at University of Texas-Austin:

Karin Fischer, "Number of Foreign Students in U.S. Hit a New High Last Year,":

What have you been learning about campus ministry lately?


  1. I haven't learned anything new about campus ministry lately. I was involved in a parish-based Lutheran campus ministry as a student leader when I was in grad school 30 years ago. (I really don't think I'm old enough for that to be correct, but I've checked the math several times.) What was true then is probably true now--reaching m0 and m1 would be less time consuming and more effective if congregations would send contact info for college-bound seniors to their campus pastors, with permission, of course. Perhaps that would leave more time for figuring out how to reach m2 through m4.

    And, yes, I realize that I just nominated myself for the total poser award. Relax, Clint, I don't think you stand a chance!


  2. having just started as the campus pastor for the Lutheran University Center in Pittsburgh, I think I will get Lutz's book. While I have just started as campus pastor, I have had a fair amount of experience and I think he is likely right.

    One of the biggest challenges though is the funding question. Congregations and people tend to give to something they see as valuable. If the campus ministry isn't bringing young folk in the doors, then they question why giving at all. It is too bad.

    The reality I see in all of it is that campus pastors (ELCA's terminology, btw) must be part pastor (to the already Christian students), part missionary (to those outside the church) and part fundraiser.... and across all three parts, theologian.