A Tale of Two Campus Ministries
Though the face of campus ministry has changed over the years, preaching Christ to students never changes.
By Gretchen Roberts
A rich history and promising future define LCMS campus ministry. Beginning in 1920 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the LCMS planted chapels centered in Word and Sacrament while other denominations’ campus ministry models were based on “clubs” or “centers.” Today more than 170 campus ministries and 610 “contact ministries”—churches near colleges and universities—reach out to 160,000 LCMS students and millions of unchurched students.
Traditionally, a full-time campus pastor has served an on-campus chapel, funded by district dollars; but as budgets have dried up and the dynamics of college life have changed, many campus ministries have shifted from that model to one of local congregational support.
“The future of campus ministry is very much in congregations asking ‘who is my neighbor?’ and seeing that they have an opportunity for outreach to Lutheran and non-Lutheran students alike,” says Pastor Marcus Zill, Christ on Campus executive for Higher Things and campus pastor at St. Andrews Lutheran Church and Campus Center in Laramie, Wyo. “Campus ministry doesn’t take money, it takes initiative. It takes the church being the church for young people at a pivotal time in their lives.”
Take a look at how two congregationally-based campus ministries reach out to and minister to students in the changing landscape of campus ministry.
Luther Memorial Chapel
Serves: University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; Concordia, Mequon; Marquette University; Wisconsin Lutheran College; and others
History: UW–Milwaukee had a full-time campus pastor across the street from campus until 2001, when the district cut funding for the full-time position and asked Luther Memorial, six blocks from campus, to take over.
Ministerial and financial model: Dr. Kenneth Wieting supervises a vicar who spends about half his time on campus, a part-time student coordinator and a part-time international student coordinator. The district provides a small stipend, and the congregation of Luther Memorial Chapel funds the balance and provides volunteer support for meals and events.
Reaching out: Rachel Ploetz, student coordinator, sends out a mailing each summer to every LCMS congregation in the five surrounding districts (about 1,000) encouraging pastors and families to contact their LCMS campus ministry on behalf of their students, and to send names of students to Luther Memorial. Most students from other colleges find Luther Memorial by word of mouth.
Activities: “Our main focus is on worshipping together, receiving Christ’s gifts on Sunday mornings,” Ploetz says. Weekly on-campus Bible study, an informational table four days a week at the student union staffed by the vicar and volunteers, an on-campus speaker each semester, social events like trips to the Brewers’ games and after-church meals round out the ministry. The international student ministry involves worship and Bible study, monthly potluck meals, social events and ongoing English classes.
Blessings: “The blessings go two ways: enrichment of the congregational life with these young people present and involved, and in providing them a church home away from home,” Wieting says. Some college students become very involved in the life of the congregation, singing in choir and teaching Sunday school.
Challenges: Finding the students: “Contact information is gold,” Wieting says. Once students are found, getting them to show up to church and events in opposition to the inner pull for freedom and the pressure points they encounter on campus.
Opportunities: Ploetz sees opportunities for congregational members to get involved by volunteering for campus ministry events or even to make a concerted effort to get to know students and welcome them at church. International student ministry is a growing area with many opportunities, Wieting says, with students coming from other countries for a year or two, often not knowing Christ but needing to learn English. Luther Memorial has baptized and confirmed several international students who in turn have gone home and spread the Good News there.
Lutheran Campus Ministry
Serves: University of Tennessee–Knoxville (UT) and other area college campuses
History: When the full-time LCMS campus pastor retired in 2003, the district dropped campus ministry funding due to other mission activities. Students at UT began attending First Lutheran Church, three miles from campus, and area pastors began a campus Bible study. In 2006, First Lutheran called Rev. Derek Roberts as associate pastor/campus minister to serve the students at UT and the growing church and school at First Lutheran.
Ministerial and financial model: Pastors Paul Bushur and Derek Roberts provide Word and Sacrament ministry to students at First Lutheran Church, and Roberts runs the campus ministry, raising between $15,000 and $30,000 each fall through an appeal to local churches and individuals who have a heart for campus ministry. The remainder is funded by First Lutheran Church.
Reaching out: Each semester, Roberts receives a list of incoming students who indicated they are Lutheran on registration forms, and he contacts them and invites them to church and Bible study. In August, he has an on-campus table to hand out water and information about UTK Lutheran. Many students find the campus ministry through the website.
Activities: “Above all, Christ keeps students connected through the Divine Service, offering forgiveness of sins, life and salvation,” Roberts says. Weekly on-campus “table talks”—a meal and Bible study—as well as social events and a yearly apologetics speaker round out campus activities.
Blessings: “Students truly seem to benefit from a serious confession and authentic worship,” Roberts says. “Seeing them come to a closer relationship with Christ, wrestle with the deepest questions in life, and analyze the world and how they’re getting ready to serve and respond to it, is truly a blessing.”
Challenges: Students have busy schedules, and keeping up the energy and activities that meet their needs in the right time and place can be difficult. “You have to be an initiator, even when it seems like no one else—even the students—seems to care, because ministering to them is so important,” Roberts says. Balancing the needs of the congregation and day school in his role as associate pastor with the need to spend more time on campus with students is an ongoing challenge.
Opportunities: “The greatest opportunity is in getting students to church in the presence of Christ, encouraging them to be in but not of the world, and teaching them not just what they believe, but why they believe it and how to share it with others,” Roberts says. “Students today are curious, and they want to be prepared to talk to others about what they believe and practice.”
Want to Start a Campus Ministry in Your Area?
LCMS campus ministries cover just a quarter of colleges and universities around the United States. Clearly opportunities exist to support existing campus ministries and to begin new ones. “You always hear that youth are the future of the church. I would say they are the present,” Wieting says.
Prayerfully consider beginning or supporting campus ministry for students in a critical transitional time in their lives. Here are some steps to take as a starting point.
• If you’re near a campus and have even one or two students worshipping with you but no intentional student outreach, sit down and talk with those students. Ask if they know of others you can invite to church and how to reach them.
• Consider registering as a student organization on campus, which provides access to rooms on campus and, at some colleges, a list of Lutherans each semester.
• Talk with your circuit and district about possibilities for financial support.
• If you don’t have the time or money to invest heavily in a campus ministry, simply invite students to church and connect them with members of your congregation for a home away from home.
• Seek counsel from other campus ministers. Lutheran Student Fellowship (lutheranstudentfellowship.org), Lutheran Campus Mission Association (lcmscampusministry.org) and Christ on Campus (higherthings.org/campus) are three LCMS campus ministry organizations.