Category Archives: Campus Ministry

When Tolerance Becomes Intolerant

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Several months ago, my former employer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was featured prominently in a New York Times article entitled “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy”.  It highlights the growing tension on a number of college campuses between campus administration and religious groups, specifically around the issue of who can serve as leaders within these campus ministries.

While this is an issue that is now starting to garner national media attention, for those of us who have been involved in religious work on colleges and universities this issue is all too familiar.  I believe the New York Times piece does a good job highlighting the issues, but to summarize, many universities and college campuses have begun to ban religious organizations from using their rooms and facilities for meetings and prayer. They have also prevented such groups from applying to be student organizations, which often means that they are not allowed to apply for student life fund or advertise their events on campus.

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A Lesson Learned…

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”

~1 Thessalonians 2:8

As I’ve been preparing for my transition to pastoral ministry, I’ve been trying to take time to reflect on this past season of ministry with InterVarsity, noting especially the lessons that I have learned.  One of these lessons really hit home toward the end of Chapter Focus Week.  On our last night together, my students surprised me with a cake and we sat around as they shared stories and expressed their thanks for the time that I have served as their staff worker.  I was deeply touched and moved by what was shared.

However, there was one phrase that kept coming up as these leaders shared:  “I wish I got to know you more.”  This really stood out to me because it forced me to reflect on the kind of ministry I have had there, and to look ahead to the kind of ministry I hope to have at the church where I will be serving.    This phrase was a telling reminder of the importance of being open and vulnerable in ministry.  Too often it is easy for those of us who serve in professional ministry to erect walls between ourselves and those that we are serving alongside or ministering to.  Sadly, I fear that this was a trap that I fell into during my years at UIC.  No doubt there were certain students that I confided in and got close to, but the reality is that I created very few avenues through which the students could have spoken into my life.  It was rare to have them interact with me outside of “official” ministry times.  Life together was minimal.

Now, there are a variety of things that I could say contributed to this:

  • Life stage
  • Distance (I commuted into the city)
  • Family responsibilities

But it is too easy to blame these things.  We are called to far more when we serve in ministry.  I think Paul summarizes it best when he writes to the Thessalonians:  “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 1:8, emphasis mine).  Paul highlights the importance of shared life in the course of ministry.  It is far easier to create programs, develop training conferences, and give talks than it is to allow life-on-life discipleship to take place.  The reason:  because this kind of discipleship is costly, messy, and risky.

However, Jesus would have it no other way.  In fact, it was this very kind of discipleship that he modeled so well.  Well before sending out the Twelve to do the work of the ministry, we read that, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him…” (Mark 3:14, emphasis mine).  Jesus’ own M.O. was to share his life with his disciples first.  It was out of this kind of discipleship that they learned how to be ministers of the gospel.  It was Jesus’ hope that his own life and model would rub off on these few men, with whom he spent so much time.  Jesus put it best when he said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, emphasis mine).  Ultimately, he would pay the ultimate price for his friends, dying on the Cross for them, even when they all abandoned him.  Jesus was willing to take the risk, enter the mess, and pay the cost for the sake of the ones that he ministered to and ministered with.  We are called to do likewise.

So as I step into a new stage of life and a new form of ministry, I want this lesson to remain front and center.  I need to develop deep friendships with those around me because this is the model we are called to implement.  It is the way that Jesus taught us by his life and example.  It is how disciples and disciple-makers are formed.  Please hold me accountable to this.  May that be the first step on the next stage of this journey together.

More Than a Bible Study

Having been a Christian for ten years, studying the Bible has always been a part of my Christian walk.  During my college years my InterVarsity chapter encouraged every student to be involved in a Bible study.  Looking back on those years, the experiences that I had and the relationships that I developed because of my involvement in Bible studies were some of the most significant in my life.  Many of these friends continue to this day and I even went so far as to marry one of my small group leaders (a story for another time:p).  So when I graduated, finding a church that also valued Bible study was a high priority.  It makes sense.  Being in a small group provides instant community, encourages mutual accountability, and nurtures spiritual growth.

But what if Bible study was more than a Bible study?  What if Bible study became a place where both Christians and non-Christians gathered together and encountered Jesus?  What if Bible study became a place where we not only talked about our calling, but lived it out in community?  These were the questions that animated our discussions at this summer’s Chapter FOCUS Week (CFW).  CFW is an annual training conference for student leaders hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.  This year I had the joy and pleasure of serving in a track for small group leaders.  The purpose of the track was to equip these young leaders to be more than Bible study leaders.  It was to call them into a life of mission in which they saw their small group community as a place to live our their calling to reach the campus for Christ.

Too often Christians settle for Bible studies that simply serve as a holy huddle for Christians to meet and talk about their faith with one another.  However, what we see in Scripture is that God brings His people into community for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.  This is seen most clearly in the book of Acts, where God uses Christian community to advance His kingdom purposes in the world.  One of the core texts for our track was Acts 2:40-47.  In this text we see that the early church saw itself as a place for both spiritual growth and corporate mission.

It was this vision which we sought to pass on to the young leaders at CFW.  As the week progressed, we talked about how to lead meaningful Bible studies in which people encountered God through His Word and experienced His calling upon their lives.  But we also encouraged these leaders to think outside the box and challenged them to consider how what they were learning in Bible study could motivate their small group community to reach out to their dorms, classrooms, and campuses.  At one point one of the students remarked, “I thought I was just signing up to lead a Bible study.  But God is asking us to do so much more.  He really wants us to love the campus the way that He does.”

Likewise, my own chapter members had their eyes opened to God’s calling for UIC.  “I think this year needs to be the year of the freshman, ” Rob said.  Other chapter members echoed this sentiment:  “We really need to take a serious interest in [the new people coming to campus] and let them know that we care about them and that God cares about them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Bible study is about more than simply sitting in a room reading a book together.  It is about encountering God through His Word in a way that reveals His heart for the world and challenges us to be a part of His redeeming work in it.  It is my prayer that both the UIC InterVarsity chapters and small groups everywhere will hear this calling.  I pray that through them God might work to bring salvation to our neighborhoods, our colleges, and to the very ends of the earth.

Tough Questions: Concerning Heaven and Hell

Here is a question that one of my students asked about heaven and hell.  It is a pretty common one:

“How is it considered that we have free will to choose God, if when I don’t choose God I go to Hell? It doesn’t seem like I have a choice but rather only can decide to follow God.”

Again, I ask these questions both to give you a snapshot of the kinds of questions that students are asking on campus, but also to hear any feedback that you might have.

Tough Questions: Why Isn’t the Bible in the Fiction Section?


Working on a college campus you come across lots of tough questions from students and professors about faith in God.  So, I am beginning a series called “Tough Questions”.

These are just little snapshots of some of the questions that have been raised on campus.  I invite you, the readers, to comment on these.  How might you respond?

So, without further ado, here is tough question number one:

“How can you believe in a story about adam and eve talking to a serpent and eating this magical fruit that makes everything go bad…Why isnt the Bible in the fiction section??”

 

Finding God @ Winterfest

It’s called Winterfest.  Each year 400-500 students from across Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana gather for this incredible conference.  And each year, God shows up in powerful ways.  But there was a different vibe in the air this time around.   Just three weeks prior James Chambers, our division’s evangelism specialist, shared his dream to see more non-Christians attend this conference.  The response from the staff team was overwhelming.  By the time Winterfest began over 55 students had registered for “Finding God”, a track specifically designed to be a safe place for skeptics to come and find answers to their questions about Christianity.

One of these students was an international student from my own campus, the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Though he came to UIC as a skeptic he eventually made friends with a couple of students in our chapter and decided to come to Winterfest.  On the opening night of the conference, at our evening gathering, he told us why he had come:  “I am hoping to make some new friends and I hope that God is one of them.”

By the second night, this student was the honorary guest at his own spiritual birthday party.  A few hours earlier he had given his life to Christ.  When I asked him what made the difference, he responded, “I was interested in Jesus, but I didn’t know much about him.  Now I have a better recognition of who he is and I know that he died to save me, that he loves me, and that I can talk to God because of him.  Today I am a new me.”  He was just one of 15 students who became Christians that weekend.  Furthermore, many other students are returning to campus with a different perspective on Christianity than they had before and are continuing to ask questions and look for answers with their Christian friends.

Conferences like Winterfest are part of the reason that I serve in InterVarsity.  It is amazing to watch young people meet God in ways that they never had before and walk away, their lives transformed by the encounter.

To give you just a brief snapshot of the weekend, here are some images of our time together:


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