Kirk King and Ron Pickell, The Word on Campus: A Guide to Public College Ministry. Lincoln, NE: AdventSource, 2008.
The Word on Campus will be welcomed as essential reading by any Adventist interested in ministry at secular college and university campuses. It is the first, and only, systematic treatment of the subject by a Seventh-day Adventist. Kirk King and Ron Pickell, working in collaboration with a number of other experienced campus ministers, have produced a valuable resource—but it’s been a long time coming.
Ellen White began to urge the Adventist church to see public universities as a ripe mission field back in the 1890s (see Selected Messages, Book 3, pp. 231 ff.)—the same time period in which other denominations were starting their public campus ministries. She even suggested encouraging missionary minded young Adventists to enroll in secular universities, counseling them to bear witness in an non-confrontational way, an approach she compared to that of the Waldenses. “But I scarcely dare present this method of labor,” she said, aware of the risks. “But this work must be done, and it will be done by those who are led and taught of God” (3SM 233-4).
Adventists were slow in following her lead—the church wanted Adventist students to attend its own colleges. But in countless places Adventist students have borne faithful witness. In some college towns, including Ann Arbor, Michigan (specifically mentioned by Mrs. White), local Adventist churches have seen their mission as including a campus outreach. Some conferences, notably Michigan, Ontario, and, more recently, Georgia-Cumberland, have developed conference wide strategies for campus outreach. A section of the book discusses these examples and more.
The Word on Campus is intended to help others do the same, and is worth recommending to students, alumni, faculty, staff, pastors, local church leaders, and conference administrators.
King and Pickell list three goals an Adventist ministry on a college campus. First, we need to be concerned for the large number of Adventist students who are attending secular colleges, building and maintaining relationships with them so that they are retained as practicing church members. But more than this, we need to develop in church leaders at all levels a vision of campus ministry as evangelization of the campus itself—this is especially critical for local churches that are near campuses, who must see the university campus as their primary mission field. And third, this outreach to the campus can’t be simply a matter of seeking new converts—we need to use our influence (working together with other Christians, where possible) to seek to make a difference on campus, through compassionate witness, conversation, and service.
A section on “Essentials” gives guiding principles for ministry on campus. This part of the book includes reflection questions after each chapter, and could serve as the basis for small group discussions with students or with church leaders. Each section takes its starting point from a single word: word, be, come, go, with, new, gift, know, now, all. I’ll try to summarize the flow of the conversation. The foundation is being rooted in Jesus, who is the Word. It is this Word we take to the campus, ministering as he did, spending time with students, inviting them into community, and empowering them to share, serve, and lead. Campus ministry cannot be done in isolation, but must reach out to partner with others, including other campus ministries as well as with area churches. It requires a willingness to adapt to the unique setting of campus culture, and to learn new ways to communicate the gospel message. The evangelization model suggested is one of sharing the story of Jesus, then inviting students to grow in him, and then to reach out to their fellow students.
The next section is a practical guide for how to start campus ministry, recognizing that all campuses are different, and each ministry will take on a unique shape. Emphasis is placed on obtaining recognition as an official student group, and building a relationship with the university. There’s some discussion of different forms, and of the need to develop a ministry plan, and how to grow the ministry and develop leaders, but King and Pickell rightly say that ultimately you just have to start doing it—start gathering with students, connecting with them for meals and fellowship and prayer and service.
Appendices include a sample constitution (necessary for recognition as a student group by the university), programming ideas, sample budgets, and a bibliography. A DVD is included with two short videos, “Where Are the Students?” (useful for showing to a congregation to introduce this vision) and “Can You Walk the Walk?” (for students).
I think the most important counsel they give is to “just do it.” If you have a passion for students, don’t wait for the conference, or a budget, or a building, or a calendar full of programming. Start reaching out to students. Especially if you can see a campus from the front door of your church, and students are already coming. Welcome them—and step out into their world with the good news. Help them take the Word on campus.