by Crystal Brooke:
Being in college is an interesting season of life. For many college students, it’s the first time they’ve been on their own, the first time they’ve lived away from home, and the first time they’ve had to worry about being an adult. College can be an amazing experience filled with new friends, new experiences, and tons of personal growth. It can be one of the most difficult times of life but also, one of the best times of a person’s life. Having just finished up my time as an undergraduate student in college, I can personally attest to this.
Four years ago, when I stepped onto the campus of Western Illinois University, I knew that the Lord had so much in store for me over the next few years and I was so excited to see where He would lead me. During the very first week of classes, He led me straight to a parachurch ministry which would have a long-lasting impact on my personal and spiritual life. Through this ministry, I developed friendships and memories that I know will last a lifetime.
See, one of the most beautiful prospects of college is how the Lord can use that time to cultivate growth in your life. Parachurch ministries can play a large role in that. To understand why parachurch ministries can be influential in a person’s life, it’s important to understand what a parachurch ministry is; I know I had no idea what the word even meant until recently. Parachurch ministries tend to focus on service and evangelism; directing their focus to specific needs like prison ministry, food banks, child care, and numerous other things. Parachurch organizations also tend to broadly define themselves as Chrisitian, allowing individuals from varying denominations and backgrounds to unite towards a specific goal. Examples of collegiate parachurch ministries, or campus ministries, include InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Baptist Student Unions, and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ).
Having been heavily involved in a campus ministry, I see three reasons for anyone who wants to grow in their faith while at college to look into getting involved in a parachurch ministry.
- Campus ministries offer community:
The Christian life was never meant to be done alone; it is lived in fellowship and community with other Christians. Campus ministries offer a unique way for one to be in community with people who believe in the same thing they do. College is difficult and it can be just plain defeating when one feels like he or she has to do it alone. This statement is even more pertinent for Chrisitians wanting to grow in their faith. College brings pressure, pressure to fit in, to do well both academically and socially, to live a worldly life by partying, drinking, and “living up life”. So many well intentioned people go to college and make some bad lifestyle choices, largely due to the company they keep and the pressures they feel from the world. A campus ministry can connect people who want to grow in their faith with other people who want to grow in their faith. These connections aid in accountability. Some of my best and closest friends are the ones I made through the campus ministry in which I was involved.
- Campus ministries allow you opportunities to grow in your faith:
All campus ministries meet regularly throughout the school year. Some will have weekly Bible studies and support students discipling one another; others will have big weekly meetings were different students involved in the ministry come together to worship and hear a teaching from the Word. Campus ministries also have leadership teams which provide the opportunity to step out in faith and grow by serving and discipling others. I was involved in the leadership team of a campus ministry and it was through this that I learned a great deal about sharing my faith with others, discipling others in the organization, and leading bible studies.
- Campus ministries provide opportunities for evangelism:
As Christians, we are all called to share our faith with others (Mt. 28:18-20). A good campus ministry will help teach you how to effectively share your faith and provide opportunities to share your faith both on campus and on mission trips. I know of many friends that have gone on summer mission trips during college through the campus organization with which they were involved. Personally, I went on two different summer mission trips, one in-state and one overseas. Those were some of the most fruitful, life-giving weeks I have ever experienced. There is so much the Lord can teach you when you go out of your comfort zone to share the Gospel with someone else.
If you are getting ready to go into your freshman year of college, are already a college student, or know a college student that wants to grow in their faith while attending college, I want to encourage you to look into the campus ministries on your campus. All it takes is a short search of your perspective college’s student organizations to find a whole list of ministries. Western has 12 campus ministries listed on their official student organizations list and it’s a fairly small campus with around 6,500 undergraduate students. There are many options when it comes to campus ministries, so don’t be discouraged if the first campus ministry you try out doesn’t work out. Go to a few different organizations regular meetings, ask the leaders what their view of Christ, the Church, and the Bible are. If the organization has non-student staff members or volunteers, see if you can meet with one of the to better understand the mission and beliefs of the ministry.
College is full of opportunities: exciting, scary, good, and bad. It is a time of growth, intellectually, personally, and spiritually. God uses campus ministries to not only grow individuals, but to also bring the Gospel to college students that have never heard it. College offers many opportunities; the question is–what opportunities will you take?