Envisioning Campus Ministry Anew

In yesterday’s post I talked about giving up our Babylon-like assumptions about how campus ministries might work, and focusing on what we might call the Israel model: a smaller community, dedicated to the highest ideals of faithfulness to God’s calling and mission.

But this means quite a bit of adjustment about how we might go about doing campus ministry.

We might ask first, what kind of leadership does this model require? Does it need an ordained elder with seminary student loans to pay off and a minimum salary? Full-time or part-time? Should they be associated with a local church? What’s the scope of their responsibility? Will they be accountable to the same kinds of measures that a congregational pastor is, or does their ministry take on a different shape or flavor?

And what about other forms of leadership: Where do United Methodist or other Christian faculty fit into the picture? How about area churches, clergy, and lay leaders? What kind of Board of Directors is required, how should it be configured, and how will it operate?

Many of these questions will have to be decided on a campus-by-campus basis. I would imagine more diversity of campus ministry directors will emerge, and soon. Unfortunately, many of our campus ministries, churches, and annual conferences are not proactively engaging challenges and creatively seeding alternatives.

A similarly daunting question is what kind of facility (if any) is needed? My own campus ministry experience was building-less, so we used a large UMC (1-2 miles away) and the Wesley parsonage (2 blocks off campus) mostly. We used the university chapel for our Thursday night communion services and reserved space in a conference or class room if needed. But we were a pretty low-key outfit on a small population size university.

On the medium-sized state university campus where I serve now, we have a sizable facility that includes chapel, study, classroom, gathering, rec room, and kitchen space, plus offices and restrooms. We also have 2 student apartments. So that requires a different ministryview to utilize it effectively. It also requires a huge deal of maintenance and overhead expenses that a building-less Wesley doesn’t. But it also gives the ability to do certain things a vagabond Wesley cannot.

Another alternative might be what my friend Rob Rynders is doing at Arizona State’s Valley Wesley. They’ve got a partnership with NEWCHAPTER, which builds residence facilities for college communities like campus ministries. So the new ASU Wesley Hall, when complete, will house 89 students beginning this August. Obviously, it’s a big investment, but there will be long-term income from students living there. More than that, I believe that a faith-based dormitory will provide the opportunity for immersive spiritual formation and missional deployment.

Valley Wesley isn’t the only campus ministry doing this, and I think that this is one model for a vibrant campus ministry life that can run deep and wide. I would imagine it would also be scalable to different sizes of campus ministry. It also has the added benefit of generating income that could sustain facilities, staff, and programs. Finally, the potential for spiritual formation, vocational discernment, ethical leadership, and cruciform service is dramatic.

The type of facility, leadership, & resourcing sets the stage for a Wesley Foundation’s ministry.

I know there are other innovative & fruitful models for doing campus ministry out there. But just telling our church youth, as they walk out the door to college, to find a campus ministry doesn’t work any more (if it did at all). What does it take to connect to North American young adults today? We’ll take a look at this tomorrow…

…but for today, I wonder:

What do you think campus ministries will look like in the next 5 – 25 years?
What forces are at work that will shape Wesley Foundations and campuses?
Don’t forget to comment below with your responses & other questions!

About expatminister

Aren't we what we repeatedly love? My wife, being GeekDad to the 4 superkids, United Methodist pastoring, Texas, science fiction and other nerdy pursuits, words (speaking, listening, writing, reading), Britain, music, camping, tech, baseball, practicing theology. Jesus. Coffee.


  1. Josh,

    I believe campus based ministries are THE most critical, pivotal missional contexts for the formation and deployment of disciples of Jesus in North American culture, bar none.

    What Rob is doing is one case in point– and there are many, many others,

    A key challenge, as you note, is that the vision of campus ministry that many who “pay the bills” (i.e. older boomer and up conference members) remember or idealize has little to do with its actual potential. Babylon has fallen (Revelation 19 gets this exactly right!). It isn’t and can’t be about big numbers, but massive individual and community impact. This is what I know you and many others I know in campus ministry and have known in the past two decades have generated multiple models for doing in all sorts of ways. It’s a veritable flowering of discipling and missional deployment out there– and I can’t stop telling that story.

    So keep the ferment alive. Keep developing and cultivating new funding streams– as Rob and you and others are. Don’t become dependent on donor dollars only from folks who don’t and likely won’t get the vision and potential you really have to fulfill this Church’s stated mission– discipling people in the way of Jesus who is making all things new!

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards

  2. When I was at Asbury Seminary 10 years ago, the Univ of Kentucky Wesley Foundation already had a private dorm as a part of their model. It would be worth investigating to see how that has worked.

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