The Layman’s Role in Campus Ministry

Burt Campbell

As a senior in a liberal college, I was under great conviction when an older gentleman named Bruce Galloway showed up. “Papa G” was in his mid-seventies at the time and was reaching out to athletes at the college. He invited several of us to a weekly Bible study in his home, and that was the beginning of discipleship for me. I had never been exposed to the Word of God in the way it was presented in his home. He and “Mama G” made us feel at home, and we looked forward to going every week. Later when I moved to Clemson, it was through the influence of Dr. Charles Dunn and many visits in his home that I was introduced to University Baptist Church. It was there that I met my wife and where we continue to serve. (There are still jokes today about how I would always show up at the Dunns around mealtime. I will not deny it.) In fact, the burden we have for students is a direct result of what the Galloways and Dunns did for us.

The Campus Home

Few things are more attractive to a college student away from family than the opportunity to visit and have a home-cooked meal. To be away from institutional living for brief respites is a tremendous blessing to the student and creates great opportunities for the family to minister. Many years ago a Clemson graduate student showed up at our doorstep. He had come to Clemson as a self-proclaimed atheist. Through the influence of a man in our church, this young man started a Bible study with our campus pastor. He was soon saved and started coming over to help us with our computers. He would always show up just before dinner. One night he asked Gretchen if he could bring some of his co-workers from school. That started a tradition of having students over on Wednesday nights before church. Today this young man teaches Sunday school in a Fundamental church in Virginia. We have seen hundreds of students come through our home from all around the world. Usually our campus pastor and his family join us, and it creates a wonderful environment for all of us to get to know students.

The local church’s campus ministry is greatly enhanced when families come alongside the pastor and church and make themselves available. There are many things that families can do to make this a viable ministry. For example, students often need rides, they always appreciate a meal, and they like to be able to just hang out. To take a student home after church or invite him or her over to the house during the week will pay great dividends. You establish relationships that will last forever.

Ministering to students is as easy as setting another place at the dinner table. It does not require a great amount of preparation over and above what one would do for his own family. It does, however, require awareness that there is a need, and a willingness to open the home. We have found that the home is a great bridge to introduce students to the church. We have had meals on Wednesday nights so that students could come to our house and then be encouraged to go to church. Many times it results in new students showing up for a service. We also have found that Sunday night after church is a great time to have students in the home.

A Family Ministry

Ministering to students brings a great blessing to the entire family. Young children are a delight to the students, and the children love the students. Our children have grown up with students in the home and as a result are more outgoing and willing to minister. Our twin girls are finishing college this year, and since they have been in college have befriended students from Clemson in an effort to win them to Christ. When he was in high school, our son met a Clemson student at the gym and introduced him to us. The result of his outreach was a Bible study with this student. Our youngest daughters, who are still in high school, interact with college students at church and at home on a regular basis. What a great blessing it is to see children reaching out to others. Recently one of our daughters sent a two-page email to a Clemson student that she had been witnessing to for two years. It was a thorough presentation of the gospel that challenged the young lady to accept Christ. It just happened that the student was deeply troubled at that time. Recently we have been privileged to see that student in our home and at church. We continue to pray that she will be saved.

A Critical Time in Students’ Lives

The need to reach students for Christ is great. The college years are pivotal—the transition from childhood to adulthood is occurring. It is also a frightening time for young people as they are faced with the life decisions of marriage and career. As a rule, life is fairly simple for young people until they enter college. In high school students seldom need to make big decisions about to do the next year, because the predetermined answer is “move up to the next grade.”

But as a student nears graduation from high school, things begin to change. This is a stage when students often begin to search for truth and are open to exploring options. The college campus has plenty of opportunities to explore, from cults to the occult. Liberal thought is the rule, and the society’s conventions are scoffed. A perverted idea of intellectual freedom reigns, and “anything goes” . . . except Bible Christianity. If God’s people do not present God’s Word to these exploring students, someone will offer the students a substitute to fill the gap in their lives. However, with a focused campus ministry and families who are willing to help, the opportunities for giving the gospel are tremendous. If we can help others see this great mission field in our own backyard, then by God’s grace we will see students reached for Christ.

Encouragement and Financial Assistance

There are other opportunities for Christian laymen to help reach the college campus. One very necessary ministry is for the laymen in the local church to encourage the campus pastor. Students don’t keep regular hours, and the campus pastor is on call 24/7 even when it is not convenient. Crisis seems to occur at odd hours, and the campus pastor is often exhausted from trying to salvage a straying sheep, or from pouring his energy into evangelizing sinners. Our campus pastor received three calls in the middle of the night last week. At times like that, campus pastors need encouraging. There is also the opportunity to provide financial help to the campus pastor. Many of the activities and events that are held to attract students require funding. It is a great blessing to the college ministry when a layman is willing to sponsor an event or pay for a mailing. Also there are situations when a church cannot afford a campus pastor and a missionary model is used. In these cases regular monthly support can provide enough income so that the campus pastor is free to minister to students on the campus.

The Simplicity of the Truth

The layman can also help by conducting Bible studies and mentoring students. The campus pastor is limited to the number of students he can work with at any one time, so to have men and women who can meet with students to answer their questions and befriend them is also helpful. One fear many people face in working with students is that a student will ask questions that are beyond their theological ability to answer. Quite frankly we have found that the simplicity of the gospel presented from a pure heart in a loving manner has the greatest effect. There is nothing wrong with telling someone you do not know the answer or referring him to the pastor. Students are looking for transparency and intellectual honesty. When we approach a student prayerfully, understanding that God will use us as we obey Him and that He is responsible for results, then we have great freedom. There are times when we are disappointed and other times of great joy, but at all times we are mindful that it is God who is working out His will. Only in Heaven will we see the full impact of the campus work. Certainly only God knows how He will use our testimony and the distribution of the Word of God on the campus.

What Can You Do?

Our hope is that this will encourage others to get involved. Many of God’s people live in communities that are home to college campuses. If more of God’s people were burdened to reach these young people, then probably more churches would begin campus ministries. I know one pastor who has been praying for several years for a family who is willing to help with the college ministry to come alongside his work. He understands that for a campus pastor to be successful he needs a family who will help. All Christians should be available to serve God in this capacity. We can at least encourage others to consider the ministry of the college campus. Our prayer is that God will call others to this field of ministry.

Author biography at time of original publication: Burt Campbell, president of ACI Financial, serves as deacon at University Baptist Church in Clemson, South Carolina. He was the first layman to be involved in Spurgeon Foundation Campus Ministries.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)