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What happens when you don’t let a Lutheran campus ministry know about your college-bound student?

A recent post card from LCMS Campus Ministry asked the above important question.  As a campus pastor myself, I greatly appreciate receiving information about students who either are currently attending UW-Platteville, or who will be (or at least thinking about it).  Having this information is extremely valuable, as the University of Wisconsin system does not offer religious preferences of the students if they indicate as such.  Thus, any information is most helpful.

It would be of great benefit for pastors and congregations to send information (at least a first and last name) of students who are or will be attending this or that university to the respective campus ministry or area congregation.  With such information, at least a welcome and greeting could be made.

Such, I gather, was the reason for sending the post card with the question: to create at least an awareness of resources available (and be able to give encouragement) for the student attending college, namely, http://lcmscampusminsitry.org.  And this is most helpful, as many congregations and pastors do not give even a name of an attending student.

Not informing a local congregation or campus ministry of a student attending the area college/university only widens the divide between students and the great help they need while on campus, and between congregations and the pastors of the same church body.  It demonstrates at least a lack of attention and pastoral/congregational care for a member(s) of the flock and, at most, an absence of spiritual concern for the attending student member.

Of course, responsibilities lie, not only on the congregation in which the student is a member, but of the receiving congregation/campus ministry.  They too are responsible, responsible for the using of that information for the benefit of the student, namely, that the student not only know of a sister congregation in their midst with whom they are in fellowship, but also in the way of encouragement in the Holy Word of God and the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, most precious gifts needed at all times, but especially during the pressures and temptations of college.

Activities and various events especially for colleges students can and do attract students, but the centrality of ministry to college students (and everyone, really), is not the number of activities offered, how much fun is enjoyed, or how many attend, but Christ and the distribution of His gifts.  With this front and center, everything else will indeed follow.

Getting back to the question, “What happens when you don’t let a Lutheran campus ministry know about your college-bound student?,” multiple possible answers were offered on the other side of the card.  The answers supplied are these…

That the student will:

A.     find another campus ministry on his/her own

B.     go with a friend

C.     risk disconnection with the church and with Jesus—and assume the church doesn’t care

Any of these may indeed result if the campus ministry doesn’t know that the student is attending.  The answer given on the card as most likely was C.  However, as much as the congregations and the pastors are responsible for what they are given to do, the student attending college also has responsibility, too.

The student has responsibility to seek out a congregation which preaches the truth of God’s Word and administers the Sacraments of our Lord according to their institution.  The student, too, has responsibility to be in the Word, not to neglect the preaching of that Word, and to join with other Christians with whom he/she is in fellowship (according to doctrine).

All too often, many students neglect these things and are elsewhere than where the Lord would have them be.

Students of LCMS congregations are beset by the temptation to go to church where their friends go, where a lot of activities and events are going on, where much emotional excitement exists, where “all the people are,” and to not go at all (to sleep in).

But the former things say nothing about the preaching and doctrine/teaching going on.  Nor do they say anything about whether the Lord’s Supper is offered or believed to be as Scripture teaches.

For many, the things of God take a back seat to what interests and excites us.  This also applies to the student attending college.

Another observation about the answers offered for the above question is this…it assumes that students will not seek an LCMS congregation/campus ministry on their own.  Though this might be true for many students of LCMS congregations, it most certainly is not true for others.

In addition, an assumption is made that students are seeking a church or spiritual organization, and, that if a congregation/campus ministry does know about the student, the student will automatically “start going.”  Though this does happen, in my experience, the times are few.

A general apathy exists among many students who are members of LCMS congregations (and not only students) in attending God’s house on the Lord’s day, hearing the preached Word, and partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood (Explanation of the 3rd Commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism, see also the Large Catechism on this).  Concern for God’s Word and the true doctrine, the faithful preaching of Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23), and the blessing of the Sacraments seems to be waning.

This problem is existent in all of Christendom, not just in campus ministry.  The blame is not only on the congregations and pastors not giving student information, for even if they do, this is no guarantee that the receiving campus ministry will “follow-up.”  Nor is the blame only on that congregation who does receive that knowledge about the student and does nothing.  Knowing about the student, and even visiting, communicating, and encouraging the student with the Word of God is no guarantee that the student will be “active” or will remain Lutheran.

The home congregation of the student attending college, as well as the congregation/campus ministry of the college that the student attends both have responsibilities.  But so does the student.  All are accountable for their action or inaction.  And all fall short…in faithfully catechizing, not just during confirmation, but during the entirety of the ministry, and catechumens in faithfully hearing the Word (throughout life) and remaining in the true faith.  All are to blame!

But simply “doing things different” or “changing” how we do things is, again, no guarantee that things will be different or better.  The answer for the struggles that campus ministry encounters (and every congregation) with reference to local congregations/campus ministries serving students and the students’ home congregations is simply one of faithfulness—faithfulness to the Word of the living God.

Congregations and pastors are not actually given to change people’s hearts.  They do not have the power to do so.  Nor are they to permit the statistics, consequences, or results to affect what is done.  They are to be about God’s work and His Word, trusting in the Lord to do what He will have done according to His will, not our own.

Then, the question becomes, “What would God have us be doing according to His Word?”  This is the question.  Now, is that we’re doing?  If it is, then we have confidence, not that things will improve, that more students will attend, or that more will come, but the sure confidence that we’re about doing what the Lord would have us do.  Then we won’t find it necessary to look for “all the answers” to our questions as to why this or that doesn’t work or “what am I doing wrong or right?”  Rather, we’ll find ourselves rejoicing in the Lord for His great gifts, whether they be many or few, for truly, our only confidence is in the Lord alone.

Of course, we’ll continue to wrestle with temptations and the outcomes as we evaluate them.  Yet we’ll also note that the ministry is not ours.  Nor are the results.  These are the Lord’s.  And as the Lord carries out His ministry of Word and Sacrament ministry, He’ll also draw us to these, too, for forgiveness, strength, and peace, for in these God gives life.

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