Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Campus Ministry Question

Growing up in Crystal, MN, my family and I were active members of St. James Lutheran church. I remember several high points from those years including a trip to the "All Lutheran Youth Gathering" in the summer of 1973. It wasn't until I had made a mess of my life that I was willing to surrender my all to God. That happened in the summer of 1980. But that doesn't mean God wasn't alive and active in my life before then.

During my first year of college (1974-75) a friend invited me to Bible studies in connection with Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE).* In the fall of 1975 I joined an LYE "weekend team." The team, seven college students, met weekly for Bible study, singing, prayer and group building. Our team would then go out from campus on some weekends to lead youth retreats and Sunday worship. Also, the whole group of people involved with LYE at the college, about 5-6 teams as I recall, would get together also for worship and for learning from the then LYE co-directors Loren Teig and Larry Johnson. My experience through LYE is that solid Lutheran theology was coupled with a desire that people grow in their personal relationships with the Lord Jesus.

It was in connection with LYE that my personal faith began to deepen. LYE was just what was needed in my life at the time. Even though my college (Augsburg in Minneapolis) was part of the Lutheran church in a historic and institutional way, I don't remember that the college or their official campus ministry had a goal to help people come to Jesus or to grow in their personal faith.

In connection with the official campus ministry organization there was a deep concern accepting people as they are. Peace and justice were always front and center. Nothing wrong with that--in fact some ministries that focus on a "personal relationship with Jesus" don't put enough emphasis on the call of prophets to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). Augsburg's Wednesday evening "Eucharist" (communion) services, hosted by the campus pastor, helped me grow in God's grace and that was good. Still, at some point I came to believe that the official campus ministry wasn't putting enough emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.**

The same was true of the academics at this Lutheran college. It seemed to me that some professors wanted to shake students "personal faith" instead of encouraging or reinforcing it.***

So it was in the face-to-face small group Bible studies and ministry opportunities provided by LYE and groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship that helped me continue to grow in my personal relationship with the Lord. I still hadn't surrendered to the Lord in some areas of my life, but those ministries were so important. They nurtured and helped faith grow through those tumultuous years.

I'm writing about this today because, yesterday, as I was sorting through piles of paper on my desk, I uncovered a letter announcing a fundraiser for campus ministry at St. Cloud State. They are having an education event and quilt auction called "Quilts for Freedom, Threads of Justice" on November 1. As I read that mailing, I started wondering about the experience of our college students or parents or anyone else in connection with Lutheran Campus Ministry or other campus ministry groups.
  • What has your experience been like in connection with campus ministry at your current or former school?
  • Has it been anything like my old-time experience that I've shared above?
  • Do you see these two aspects of faith life on your campus -- (1) an emphasis on a "personal relationship with Jesus" and (2) emphasis on "peace and justice" concerns?
  • What do you think the balance of growing in "personal faith" and "accepting people as they are" is or should be in campus ministry settings?
  • Does the debate on sexual relationships connect with this?
  • How has the experience of academic study affected your faith?
  • Have you found professors or campus pastors to be helpful to you?
Even if you've been out of college for awhile, or have just heard from others, please let me know by commenting below (on this blog or facebook), by talking in person or on the phone, or through email. (Sorry, I'm still really bad at texting....) I'm contacting a couple of campus ministry organizations to get their take on this too.

There's no "deadline" on sharing your feelings, thoughts, questions or comments. Some of comments that have come in months after the original post have been very helpful in the past and I'm sure that will be true for the comments you have now. Please don't hesitate to share!

*"Lutheran Youth Encounter" or "L.Y.E." was renamed "Youth Encounter" back in the 1990s.
**A "personal relationship with Jesus" or "personal piety" emphasizes personal and group prayer, heart-felt worship, personal and group Bible study, acts of service done specifically in Jesus' name, the importance of relationships with other believers and giving. We emphasize these things in our current church home but not without a concern for issues of peace and justice in the wider community and world.
***This wasn't true for all professors. I remember several that were deeply faith-filled and were open about their personal commitment to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus and wanted their students to share that faith.
***I think it's good to challenge the faith of students to make it stronger. But because some students came to college with a shaky or unexamined faith to begin with, their faith was shaken so much that it failed. Even today, when students are confronted with the challenges of biblical criticism and a, at times, cynical attitude toward personal faith in a risen and living Lord, some students didn't pursue their questions to their satisfaction. I wish our Lutheran institutions would have as a goal that their students get to know the Lord Jesus in a personal way.

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