Why Should I do Secular Campus Ministry?
By: Sebastien Braxton
Despite the large number of Seventh-day Adventist youth that attend secular colleges, an urgency fit for such times fails to grasp many conferences, pastors and churches. This urgency falls upon deaf ears not due to unwilling hearts (at least this writer hopes not) but often unawareness. In addition, some have even asked, “Why should I do secular campus ministry?”! Mind you, this question is not raised by souls ignorant of Jesus’ commission in the book of Matthew or His last words to His disciples in Acts 1. The question emerges from the wearied hearts of youth bombarded with a cacophony of causes to invest their precious lives into. Public Campus Ministry (PCM), in the minds of some youth, competes with sex-trafficking, green movement, present-day crises across the world and even domestic inequities near the university they attend. With so many worthy choices before students, what compelling reasons could one give to these anxious youth?
I call them the 8 P’s — here are the first three:
The first compelling reason to do PCM comes from history. A quick survey of the protestant reformation will lead one to perceive the power of ministry within an institution of learning diametrically opposed the principles of Christ. Almost every major reformer served as a professor at such an institution. John Wycliffe at Oxford, Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg, Jan Huss at the University of Prague just to name a few. We often look to these bold and biblical leaders, who often met a martyrs death, as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, we are right to list them as such, however, their students were the mechanism. These students, nameless to us, foot soldiered these gospel professors’ messages within their motherlands and beyond. This mammoth of a movement compels to take PCM seriously.
Potential is defined as: having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future. What does PCM have the capacity to become or develop into in the future? A movement of global proportions. It was 2am in the morning. The Michigan winter foreshadowed by the chilly breeze. It’s foreboding did not deter the 5,000 plus crowd gathered at the steps of the Michigan Union to welcome presidential candidate, then Senator, John F. Kennedy. The senator asked the question, “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?…on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country…will depend whether a free society can compete.” 1 From these words spawned a movement that eventually led to a government agency devoted to peace and friendship.2 The Peace Corps, since its inception, facilitated over 200,000 volunteers to over 139 countries to confront issues from AIDS education, environmental issues and information technology3. Is not the remnant church of these last days the true Peace Corps? Devoted to bringing peace between God and man, and man and man? Our church has begun to see this phenomenon through the continuous impact of GYC and the subsequent movements inspired by its work.
When on assignment in Cambridge, MA, serving the universities there, I came across an article regarding a new university policy at Tufts. This policy stated that it was no longer allowed for a student to be physically intimate with his/her mate while their roommate was in the room! I personally had to navigate this challenge with one of our SDA students there who woke up one morning with a half naked boyfriend coming out of the bathroom! Sexual perversion and promiscuity run rampant on secular campuses devastating the self-esteem, future and health of freshmen to doctoral students. We have also seen a recent increase in the news of suicides on various campuses. Most of these a direct result of an oppressive depression. It is said that 44% of college students reported feeling symptoms of depression and that it is the 2nd leading cause of death in college students age 20-24. Imagining such problems just within the 300,000 students in the Boston Metropolitan area or within the state of Michigan cries for the gospel of Christ.
Upon the imminence of Jesus’ departure, the question of His return weighed heavily upon the hearts of the disciples. The mixture of truth and error within their troubled breasts led them to associate Jesus’ return with the end of world and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.4 In brilliant fashion, Christ utilized this misconception to bring to light the actual final events of this age. Christ then gave an unequivocal sign that the end would come. The gospel being preached in all the world as a witness to all nations is an unconditional prophecy of Jesus. This surely includes secular campuses, which often serve as the intelligentsia of a nation and the cradle of its future leaders. Thus, within the gospel mandate, Jesus’ authority and power avails itself even within the concrete jungles of our world. This gospel must be preached and will be preached on secular campuses. This guarantee behooves us to cooperate with the commands of our King for the only way to fail in secular campus ministry is to do nothing.
It is not a secret that at least 70% of SDA youth attend secular campuses in the NAD. This number remains steady (and is probably much higher) despite the numerous Adventist colleges and universities within our borders. Yet, statistics and discussions suggest that about 70% SDA youth are leaving the church primarily during the collegiate years. Is this a coincidence? A God in heaven makes coincidences few and far between. Especially a God who has placed us in a reality deeply rooted in the law of cause and effect. The truth of the matter is that many SDA youth not only attend these
institutions for specific areas of study, but to get away from adventism itself. In my years of PCM, many campuses boast of hundreds of SDA youth attending and even declaring themselves so, but not interested in church nor the campus ministry. When Jesus sent out the twelve in Matthew 10 He bid them begin with the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus builds that case for seeking that which is lost and its inestimable value. Thus, those who were previously adventist, which are many in our time, can be reclaimed through the work of PCM. I would go so far as to say that PCM, biblical and vibrant, is the key to ebbing the enormous loss of SDA youth in our generation.
Without struggle there is no progress. Frederick Douglass’s words rang true in a time of institutionalized prejudice against people of color but also in a era of institutionalized prejudice against people of faith. PCM brings its own unique difficulties to the table as any ministry does. Yet, these obstacles tend to deter many churches or students from even attempting to crack the juggernaut of a secular campus. Indeed, it is a struggle and shall always be, the devil will ensure that it is so. But humans bear struggle for possibilities. Success and failure are equally possible. Yet Solomon reflects that work should not be determined by foreseeable results.5 He argues that if we constantly study and focus on the possible challenges and pitfalls, we will never start6, and surely never reap. I remember doing ministry at Tufts University and thinking, “Vegetarian Tastefests draw people but never lead to serious bible study interests.” In partnering with Tufts Christian Fellowship for the event (the largest Christian Organization on campus) the event drew over 100 students from 10 different faith backgrounds. There was no standing room. All stayed for the health talk and the promo for our Revelation series. For the next hour we six adventists tried to connect with over 100 students and the in and out visitors. We were pleasantly outnumbered. From that one event, we had a non-SDA attendance to our series and eventually a small group of 12-15 each week on the book of Daniel. We promptly forgot about the struggles and continued to seek new possibilities.
Unlike most, I have found that a post-modern world lines up perfectly for our unique message as Adventists. (I can perhaps explore this further in a separate article). In brief, the current age is obsessed with the concept of a story. As Adventists, God has entrusted us with the story behind every story. The Great Controversy theme or meta- narrative immediately confronts the two great challenges of our generation: purpose and pain. It provides a rich and meaningful answer to the problem of pain and God’s work
to solve it and why His approach is what it is. These two contending powers war upon the ground of human hearts. Each soul either becomes an annexation to the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light. It lays upon the shoulders of sentient souls the eternal weight of every decision of life. Whether we are famous or not in the context of
the secular world, our lives have meaning and point to some transcending victory for one side or the other. More than ever, these two questions plague the pensamientos of collegiates globally, and they are asking with pathos. Thankfully, God answered before they even called through the unique message given to us as Seventh-day Adventists. So much more to say on this, but brevity beckons me onward.
As if the previous seven reasons were not enough, the writings of a modern prophet adds to its importance and urgency. In 1891, at an educational convention in Harbor Heights, Ellen White sought to impress upon the hearers the idea of entering worldly colleges primarily for the purpose of living out the principles of the gospel unswervingly. She reasoned that interest would generate in those around them and opportunities to share emerge. At the conclusion of her remarks she makes the startling but sensational promise, “but this work must be done and will be done by those who are led and taught of God.”7 In other words, if we sense God calling us into a work that will be done, PCM is it. The only condition is our willingness to be led and taught of God.
Sebastien Braxton is a former graduate and director of the Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students Missionary Training Program. He is also the founder of STRIDE in Boston and has served as the General Vice President of GYC.
4 Matthew 24:1-3
5 Ecclesiastes 11:6
6 Ecclesiastes 11:4
7 3SM 234-235