In this special extended post, Steve Shadrach shares the story of his first days in college ministry and provides encouragement and wisdom for college pastors trying to evangelize, disciple, and mobilize students on campus.
In the beginning…
I attended a great church in college, and the pastor there was one of the five men who most impacted my life. Now in his 80s, we still get lunch together periodically, and I always make a point to let him know what an incredible influence he was in my spiritual formation.
Another reason I appreciate him so much is that when I graduated from college and seminary, he asked me to come back to the church and be his College Pastor. I agreed, and my beautiful (and trusting!) new wife and I loaded up our meager possessions to make our way back to my college town.
As I surveyed the current condition of the college ministry at the church, I was not encouraged. I Iater regretted telling my Pastor the ministry was stuck in the proverbial “basement” and that we had a long way to go to get up to ground level. In fact, there were a lot of hard lessons I learned about respect, communication, submission to authority, etc…but I will save those character building stories for another time!
At Sunday School that first week I shared with the (seemingly lethargic!) students that:
- We were going to boldly plant the flag of Jesus Christ at the center or this 14,000 student state campus.
- If they wanted to participate, we were going to do nothing that first semester but start evangelistic bible studies all over campus and do door to door witnessing in the evenings.
- From that point on, no one was allowed to invite Christians to our meetings. Why? We determined we would build our core only with students that we personally led to Christ.
Their wide-eyed expressions of astonishment let me know they did not expect this from the new “Sunday School teacher” they were told was coming! I felt sure my shock therapy approach would push the vast majority of them back into their holy huddle rabbit holes–permanently! But much to my surprise a good number showed up the first night to receive training how to share the gospel, then go out and do it on campus. Apparently, some of them were just waiting for some vision, a challenge, and little guidance how to do it!
A Movement Begins
We put a map of the campus up on a wall and divided up the whole population by identifying and marking the various affinity groups—i.e. all the dorms, greek houses, athletic teams, graduate students, internationals, off campus apartments, major clubs, etc…After about a month of solid evangelism and small group recruiting, we started matching up two of these freshly minted “laborers” with an affinity group where they lived or had friendships. Our ultimate goal was to have two laborers live and/or minister in every single affinity group on campus. That included on every floor of every dorm, every greek house, every athletic team, every ethnicity, every group of internationals, even each section of the school band!
By Christmas time we had seen well over 50 evangelistic bible studies started (called Investigative Groups) all over campus. Our laborers had seen at least 50 genuine conversions take place through their presenting of the gospel, learning how to ask “the golden question” to believe in and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and then having enough courage to zip the lip and allow the person to decide their own fate!
By spring semester we had rented out eight large houses on each corner of the campus, making sure they were as close to the various dorms and greek houses as possible. We challenged every one of the laborers to either move directly on to campus, or if that was not possible, to live in one of these ministry houses with the express purpose of using their new home, their dinner table, their everything, to win and disciple as many students to Christ as possible in those dorms or greek houses across the street. My wife and I bought a nine bedroom, four bathroom house behind fraternity row where we would have 4-7 student leaders with us each year, equipping them to do ministry in their affinity groups. Note: before you try that yourself read the appendix article in The Fuel and the Flame about turning your house into a haven for ministry!
Along with the constant ongoing emphasis on relational evangelism among all of these main affinity groups, we now taught these laborers how to follow up a new Christian, how to form a discipleship group of faithful/growing converts, and to start equipping them to walk with God and start leading their friends to Christ. If the fall was all about evangelistic penetration, we would now add concentration to the mix that spring. We thought it very hypocritical and presumptuous to ask God for more converts if we hadn’t even prayed and worked hard to establish the ones He had given us!
Do It Again
I asked permission from my Senior Pastor to go to Dallas for the summer because we had planned a 12 week training project there for the students. We challenged each of these laborers to recruit their new converts and disciples to come with them to the project and get a full dose of equipping in the Christian life and ministry. When our laborers recruited a team, we gave it to them for the summer, dubbing them “D-Group” leaders. Their growth was greatly accelerated as they sat in the spiritual “hot seat”, having one of us pour into them as they spent concentrated small group and individual time with their disciples.
To meet, eat, and sleep, we rented fraternity houses on the SMU campus, got jobs for everyone, and spent the evenings and weekends studying the bible, doing evangelism and follow-up in the inner city, learning how to serve and sacrifice, interceding for the nations, building up the churches, etc…Not only did these students become diehard soldiers for Christ that summer, they also became best friends! The passion and vision and unity they stirred in one another produced a profound burden to band together and return to their campus to ignite it for Jesus Christ. The projects’ final seven days was “Back to Campus” week where they broke up into their various affinity groups to pray and plot out a strategy together. To do what? To duplicate in the upcoming school year exactly what had happened to them the previous year.
That August, as all our students returned a few days before classes began to help all the freshmen move in to their dorms and greek houses, we all felt like we were a small, but powerful, army now ready (and equipped!) to accomplish the very thing I had stated a year earlier in that first Sunday School meeting: to boldly plant the flag of Jesus Christ right at the center for this big, bad state campus. And as these sold-out laborers spread out all across the campus, and into virtually every affinity group, it was obvious to me the Lord had graciously transformed us from simply being a ministry…to a movement.
“Go To Them”
We wanted to be primarily a campus-based movement rather than a church-based ministry. We never wanted the students to think the church was a building, but people! We did not want to have the traditional “come to us” approach, expecting these non-believers to somehow find their way into our services on Sunday mornings. No! Instead, we yearned to build a Great Commission “go to them” conviction, where we (the Church!) were spreading out every day of the week, taking the initiative to meet/love/serve/share on their turf.
Yes, we continued to grow and develop a Sunday morning church service (and Sunday School) for students, but we had not yet launched any on campus large-group meetings. We were praying for just the right time (and people!) to create four different weekly meetings: for greeks, for dorms, for athletes, and for internationals. Our student leaders were certainly anxious to create mini-movements in each of these four major groupings, but we were committed to wait until we were discipling at least ten key influencers (in each major grouping) that we had won to Christ. Banding together those ten insiders/influencers, who each had strong networks of relationships, and giving them responsibility to plan, recruit to, and implement a campus-wide meeting gave them maximum ownership. We didn’t realize that this secular university was about to bust wide open into an “out of control” (actually Spirit controlled!) movement of God:
- The greek leaders started “The Main Event”, rotating it each week between the various fraternities and sororities. As it grew, we had to move every stick of furniture out of each house to accommodate the 400-600 greeks that packed (sitting on the floor!) the house. In order to host the “Main Event” a chapter had to commit to having every member and pledge attend the meeting to welcome everyone, as well as provide refreshments. They clamored to sign up to host!
- The dorm leaders started “Late Night” and rotated it week to week between the various dorms.
- Our athletes had become the key leaders in FCA there and created an evangelistic and disciplemaking large group meeting and ministry. AIT—Athletes in Training.
- Our international student leaders started FAN Night (For All Nations) every Friday evening.
- Various off campus weekly large group meetings sprang up as well, gathering in the lounges of the main apartment complexes
The main goal for these meetings, though, was not just to see how many people we could get in the door. Oh yes, we were packing out any facility we attempted to hold meetings in, but the large group was simply a front door, a momentum builder, in order to funnel people into the real guts of the ministry—small groups, led by student leaders, who were bent on leading them to Christ, discipling them, and reproducing more laborers. Our highest measure of success was always: How many undergraduate students have personal made a disciple—in other words, they had led someone to Christ, followed them up, and established them as sold-out disciple of Jesus Christ who growing and consistent in the basics of lordship, the Word, prayer, witnessing, and fellowship.
A Vision for the World
The ministries grew, the summer projects multiplied, but at some point, we realized we were strong in evangelism, strong in disciplemaking, but there was something missing to complete the big picture. When we enrolled in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course it finally connected all the dots. Yes, we had the E (evangelism), we had the D (disciplemaking), but we were lacking the M (mission mobilization). We brought the course to our campus, we started weekly World Prayer groups, we bought everyone copies of Operation World to pray through, we formed summer mission teams, we started annual world mission conferences, etc…We finally understood our campuses or ministries were not an end in themselves, but a means to impact the world. We started viewing our campus, our ministry, our church, our everything as a launching pad, a sending base to impact the nations. We realized if our vision and ministry is not tied to reaching the whole world, our vision is too small!
As students started graduating, they felt the need for more training, a better foundation from which to labor for a lifetime. Whether they were headed into ministry or the workplace, they still wanted to gain more knowledge, skills, character, and vision to fulfill the Great Commission and be a world changer for the next 10-20-30-40-50+ years. We offered one and two year training programs for them, which included a small institute of theology classes they could take. It was exciting to launch hundreds of godly, well-equipped “EDM’ers” out into mission fields all over the world, into seminaries and churches, and businesses, knowing also they would multiply this vision and impact through their marriages and families also.
Saturate the Campus
Why do I rehearse the beginnings of this particular church’s collegiate ministry to you? Well, I don’t want you to shrink back, or underestimate the impact you as a local church campus leader can have, or to abdicate the incredibly strategic work of reaching and sending students to other groups. Sometimes our staff or student leaders would be in a frat house or athletic dorm and run into a member of one of the para-church ministries on campus. Sometimes they would be surprised that we would be on campus instead of “back at the church” as if the campus was their domain and we needed to steer clear of their territory. In fact, the director of the largest para-church ministry on campus wanted to meet with me and requested that we divide the campus in half between us and them. I listened politely, but in the end I said, “Joe (not his real name!), I appreciate the suggestion, but I have to tell you that our objective is to saturate every square inch, every person on this entire campus with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I would be disappointed if that wasn’t your objective as well.”
How about you? Are you seeking to reach college students in and through your local church? I am proud of you and thrilled for you. You have just as much right to be there as anyone, and I promise, there is plenty of room on the colleges across the planet for workers from campus ministry organizations and local churches. Yes, befriend, encourage and resource the other ministries on your campus, but at the same time don’t be intimidated by them. Don’t shortchange the stewardship God has bestowed on you. Don’t diminish the calling you have on your life to boldly and unapologetically “plant the flag of Jesus Christ” at the very heart of your campus. Get started, build deep and strong. Grow into business rather than go into business, knowing quality will ultimately produce quantity. Don’t forget to continually focus on Evangelism, Disciplemaking, and Mission Mobilization. Know for sure God can use you, a lowly collegiate pastor(!), to transform your ministry into a movement, a launching pad, to flood the nations with Great Commission workers.
Also check out the following resources from Campus Ministry Today and CMM Press.
Unsatisfied by Sean Vollendorf
Brown Like Coffee by Steve Shadrach
The Fuel and the Flame by Steve Shadrach
Heart of the Campus by Steve Shadrach
XPLORE by CMM Staff