Our Philosophy of University Ministry
Why doesn’t Eagle Heights have a designated university student gathering during the week? Why don’t you all do more free food? Doesn’t requiring membership keep people from serving? Why do you do what you do? Why are there some things that you don’t do?
Let me begin with a bit of personal background. I value being a part of a local church in a small town with a major university. I have been working with university students for almost twenty years either in a parachurch capacity (BCM – Baptist Collegiate Ministry), or as a local church pastor. It is hard for me to imagine being in a place where university students are not a regular part of making disciples.
But Stillwater has its challenges when it comes to pastoring a local church in a small town with a major university. For instance, there are a lot of parachurch ministries that are targeting university students, which means we have to figure out how to work with them – or around them. With this in mind, here is what we do and why we do it.
- We desire to partner with parachurch ministries, not compete with them. There are many (15+) Christian Parachurch Ministries on the campus of OSU that spend most of their time and resources specifically targeting university students. As a local church we support some of these ministries in various ways, including financially. Additonally, many of the staff and students who are committed to parachurch ministries also regularly attend our church. So instead of competing with them, we would rather partner with them to make disciples.
- We want to be a biblical local church for university students, not duplicate the specialized efforts of parachurch ministries. Some of these parachurch ministries have mid-week worship gatherings and most all of them have a weekly Bible study. If we are supporting some of these university groups financially or otherwise, then why would we duplicate or compete with what they are already doing with our support?
- We have something unique to offer university students while they are in Stillwater. I spent almost ten years doing campus parachurch ministry. I value groups like BCM, Student Mobilization, etc. The Lord used BCM to change my life. But groups like these are not local churches. Some of them act like local churches, but most of them don’t recognize biblically qualified leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-7), or practice membership and church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20), or acknowledge the biblical authority of the local church in the administration of the biblical ordinances. Parachurch is a designation that describes ministries that are coming alongside local churches to accomplish specific disciple-making tasks with specific groups of people. Besides what was mentioned above, one of the realities that often differentiates local churches from parachurch ministries is diversity. For example, the diversity of age that should exist in local churches is a strength when rightly understood. Young people need to know and learn from more mature people with life experience, and people who are more advanced in years need to know and learn from younger people who are often still full of passion and zeal. We intentionally try to be multi-generational in our approach to disciple-making strategies. We organize the way we do ministry to get people from different generations to build each other up. In other words, we don’t think our local church needs to be another affinity-based, age-specific parachurch ministry, when there are a lot of those already existing on campus. We want to begin to integrate university-aged people into the life of the church so they can know how to build up the body of Christ when they move on to the next phase of life.
- We want university students to see and be committed to a healthy local church. To do this we emphasize church membership. Church membership simply means a person is making it publicly known that they are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and therefore, they are committed to His people in a local body through regular attendance and serving, and they are under the biblical authority of biblical leadership that is affirmed by a local congregation. Unsurprisingly, some people balk at the idea of church commitment because they are convinced it keeps people from the local church. But we believe church membership is a biblical means of discipleship, and that to lessen the level of commitment to “reach” more is doing a biblical disservice to those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. We also try to organize multi-generational groups that read the Bible together so that they can learn to value the benefits of generational diversity, while also learning how to make disciples in a local church context. We call these 5Groups. For most students, the local church is the next step for disciple-making community. Parachurch ministries need the local church for this reason.
Though our university ministry is very decentralized, we do have a Sunday Morning University Bible Study, a monthly university lunch, and a university spring break trip. By the way, almost all of these still have a multi-generational dimension to them. But primarily we are trying to help university students be a committed part of a healthy local church. One of our goals is that in participating in a healthy local church, university students would then go and be a part of what they have experienced with us. If that happens, then we would consider that a biblical win, and that is why we have chosen to do university ministry the way that we do it. It’s also the reason we have chosen to refrain from activities that are commonly associated with university ministry.