By Steve Moore
Moore: Scott, how did campus ministry and the church influence you in your young adult years?
Bishop Jones: When I started college I was searching for a personal relationship with Christ. At the University of Denver, the nited Methodist campus ministry was practically non-existent. I went to Bible study with the Navigators and an informal dorm group. Then I worked for three years at the ecumenical United Ministries in Higher Education at the University of Kansas. My first year there was no Christian Bible study group, but 150 persons used our building for Sufi Dancing with both campus ministers participating! The next year we gathered a group of Christians that numbered about 25 and that grew slightly the next year. During hose three years at KU I found a saving relationship with Christ, so campus ministry was the place where I was coming to faith. But it ould have been so much better! I was also a youth director at two local churches during those years and that was an important factor as well.
Moore: As a professor of evangelism who is now serving the church through the role of bishop, are there any hopes and dreams you might have for what campus ministry could mean to the church?
Bishop Jones: In my keynote address on Tuesday, December 6, I will identify three strategic reasons why campus ministry is crucial to the future of the United Methodist Church and American Christianity generally.
First, I want to see more young people reached with the gospel. 18-23 year olds are at a pivotal time in their lives and they are making life-long decisions. They need the gospel! I mean the whole gospel-a biblical gospel that includes evangelism and social justice, personal holiness and social holiness, individual faith and a deep love for the Church, vibrant worship and deep study. There are other Christian groups, but United Methodism offers the best and most complete version of the gospel I know.
Second, I want campus ministry to be the place where we learn how to connect with younger people. Our congregations are too old, and we need laboratories where we learn how to ministry with persons in their 20’s.
Third, and this is a by-product of the first two, we need to help connect young people with God’s claim on their life for full-time Christian service. Some will be called to ordained ministry, others will enter business as a Christian vocation, and still others will become youth pastors. I knew many persons in seminary who at age 45 said something like “I was called to preach 25 years ago, but I just didn’t quite hear it.” Campus ministry is a place where people can hear the call.
Moore: Having worked on a church related campus and been around higher education a lot, are there any challenges out there of which we should be particularly aware?
Bishop Jones: College campuses are the veritable marketplace of ideas, causes, movements and visionary expectations. Many of them are hostile to Christianity. Others of them are receptive if the right approach is used. To be engaged in campus ministry means staying loose and participating in that marketplace. Christendom is dead – we no longer have a privileged position in the culture. We must constantly explain our beliefs and connect with our audience, knowing that they have lots of other options available to them. But if we are not engaged in those communities, other viewpoints and value systems will win the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Moore: Are there any outcomes that you are really hoping will emerge from our conversations and work together at the Summit?
Bishop Jones: I hope for three outcomes. First, we need to network. I want to know who else is doing great ministry for Christ on the campus. Second, we need mutual encouragement. Sometimes this work is lonely, and in some places it is discouraging. We need to build each other up. Third, we need new ideas. I hope to come home with some fresh insights about how we can do campus ministry in Kansas at a higher level.
Moore: Are there any lessons from the history of Methodism’s ministry in higher education from which we can gain wisdom for the future?
Bishop Jones: Charles Wesley wrote, “Let us unite these two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” It is easy for Christians to check their minds at the door and disengage from modern scholarship. It is also easy for scholars to check their faith at the door and quit believing in God. Our Wesleyan tradition stands in the extreme center and holds both strong faith and a commitment to academic excellence in tension. In the late 20th century that was a hard position to hold. Yet, it is the place where truth is found, and our commitment is that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The other lesson is vigilance. We once had great campus ministries. In many places during the 1970’s and 1980’s we gave them away, sometime selling our buildings and often cutting the funding and failing to recruit the gifted leadership we need. We are in a re-building phase, but we must re- build with a commitment never to decline again.
The Foundation for Evangelism is an affiliate of The General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church.
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