Jan 19, 2015


MLK, Jr. – Who Knew He’d Turn the World Upside Down?

Collegiate Collective’s Chase Abner writes about what MLK’s college years reveal about the why and how of collegiate ministry.

Do you ever ponder what world figures were like in their college years? As a collegiate ministry leader, I often find myself thinking about such things, wondering if their professors or peers would’ve predicted their future impact. Strangely enough, time and again, the most influential people in our modern world were once average, everyday college students.

I recently stumbled upon a 1989 clip of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s friends reminiscing about him as a college student at Morehouse College in the 1940s. In a way, these friends were taken aback that their playful friend in a “great big, big-apple hat and draped pants” would leave such an indelible legacy on our world. Yes, he was a brilliant student and they expected he’d have a successful life, but they wouldn’t have predicted Dr. King to change the course of history as he did.

This is the most striking quote from his friend Lerone Bennett, Jr.:

“We did not know then that he was going to turn the world upside down.”

Did you catch that? Even this college student’s closest friends didn’t know the potential he had to change the world.

For me, this is yet another reminder of why collegiate ministry is so important and why we must commit ourselves to seeing every student the way God sees them. Here are 3 reminders from Scripture to help you do that:

  1. Every student on your campus is made in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26a ESV)

Every human being is created in the image of God and endowed with all the value and dignity that comes with that. As you walk across campus, be assured that every single person you meet is valuable to God. They are his creation and he deserves their worship. When you talk about how many students are on your campus, remember you’re talking about the number of divine image-bearers.

  1. Every student on your campus could be your brother or sister in Christ.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

God is the God of all peoples. One day we will join together with all believers in a great multiethnic, multigenerational, multicultural, and multilingual worship gathering. On your campus, remember that even though God may use you best to reach a particular demographic, he has called his Church to reach all peoples. Seek ways that your ministry can be a better community for all, regardless of their color or cultural background.

  1. Every student on your campus could change the world someday.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

As you seek to invest your ministry in students, do not assess their potential by mere human standards. Yes, it would be great if the starting QB were in your ministry. Of course it would be cool if the student body president spoke at one of your gatherings. But remember the example of Dr. King. His college friends did not expect him to be the one to change the world and yet his legacy continues to do so.

Remember that type of transformative power belongs to God. It is according to his good plan and timing that people are gifted and enabled to do great things. We don’t have to try and figure out which students are going to have that sort of impact. Each student is a divine image bearer and a candidate for God’s saving grace. Each one could potentially change the world. We don’t know which will, but we do know that we owe the Gospel to every one of them.

As he reflected on what God did through Dr. King, Bennett made this application for all of us:

“There’s no way to tell about the mystery of the human personality. And that the next Martin Luther King, Jr., he or she, may be sitting next to you.”

Right there on your campus…

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.