Engaging Students: Retreat Focus for Campus Leaders


Campus ministers and Wesley Center board members are collaborating to rethink their missional approach on campuses across Texas.


As the guest speaker at the recent first-ever retreat for college ministers and Wesley Center board members, Professor Rankin shared insight from his 20+ years of involvement with students. “Campus ministers need to think of themselves as missionary anthropologists,” he explains, “rooted in and able to articulate deep Christian beliefs while studiously paying attention to the "host culture" (like cross cultural missionaries do) in order to understand how to communicate the faith.  This means understanding the academic context (including its philosophical and theoretical assumptions) more adequately and understanding how our ministries work best in such a context.”


The Challenges

Campus directors and support representatives from 10 colleges and universities met together to discuss the growing data that indicates ministry leaders need to re-think how they do campus ministry. Attendee Tom Teekell, pastor from Wesley Foundation at Stephen F. Austin University, admits that college ministry is never stagnant. “The new influx of students each fall naturally generates new energy and fresh ideas,” he notes, “however, it is easy to rely on the students for ideas rather than being intentional about strategic, long-term decisions students don’t have the tools to address. Dr. Rankin helped clarify what some of those issues are in the campus ministry context and therefore, the opportunities.”


Dr. Rankin reminded campus leaders; “We are in danger of losing this generation of young people because most do not see the church as a necessity. Students are generally driven by individualism, consumerist views (they consume our spiritual "products"), the assumption that happiness means all the things we associate with the American Dream and it’s their right to pursue those things enthusiastically. These unspoken and unexamined assumptions have direct impact on our campus ministry activities.”


TAC Connectional Resource Director Dr. Elijah Stansell says the two-day event helped the group to establish new “benchmarks” for better aligning campus ministry with the TAC strategy of Investing in the Young. “We are remiss if we are not truly equipping these students with a biblical response that encourages moral decisions to the pressing societal issues that are so prevalent in today’s culture,” adds Dr. Stansell.


New Benchmarks

To facilitate greater spiritual maturity, Dr. Rankin discussed these new approaches:

·         We tend to focus on trying to get freshmen to join our groups, but may need to reach out to older students.

·         We need to lead these groups with our lives, as ministry starts with bearing witness (in life as well as words) to the transforming power of Christ. Our programming should be driven by relationships that lead students into deeper and more consistent commitment as followers of Jesus. To make this fundamental change in the way we operate, requires having a clear vision of the goal of our campus ministries, which is to develop mature and growing disciples who are personally experiencing ever-deepening joy in Christ and who become fruitful members of congregations.

·         We need to pay much more attention to doctrine and teaching but do it in experiential, life-driven (rather than artificial classroom) ways to help students know what to care about.

·         Benchmark: We should have the goal that a consistent number of our campus ministry students will hear a call to vocational, representative ministry.  One of the major criteria for effectiveness in campus ministry is a steady stream of students entering ministry.

·         To address a growing “alienation” from congregations, we need to pay more attention to how students connect to the church, even while in college so that students make this transition after graduation. Many congregations do not understand the significance of college ministries and should therefore pay more attention to college students.

·         Campus ministers need to get to know faculty and administrators on campus to become real resources to the campus, providing important services to students that the college doesn't have to pay for. And, campus ministers can get to know the college operations better and can do a better job of working in tandem to help students succeed.


“As the campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at Prairie View A&M University,” says Kalamba Kilumba, “I believe our challenges stem from the constantly changing culture and trends among college students. Since we have to continually come up with new ways of reaching them, continuing education for campus ministers is critical.”


The retreat was both educational and encouraging for all who attended. “This was the first time ever, in my 18 years of campus ministry that the conference organized an event like this, and we are so thankful for the opportunity to be reminded that higher education has become more focused on preparing students for a career and thus has given less attention to preparing them for life. We, as campus ministers, have to address the spiritual maturity development of students with focus on students’ leadership development,” says Kalamba.


Although Dr. Rankin acknowledges that college ministry is incredibly challenging, he also reminds those working with young people that “it is also a wonderful opportunity, and all the more reason for us to take seriously our mission. God has called and anointed campus ministers for an incredibly important and crucial ministry, even though they don't get much recognition or strokes from ministry colleagues in annual conferences and beyond.  The anointing for the work is true and powerful.”