Search for   


Perpetuating the Church on Campus

By Kristin Chapman

As Jonathan Baker mowed lawn after lawn the summer after high school graduation, it seemed like little more than a good way to start preparing for all those future bills at Emory University.

But the long, hot Nashville days were also preparing him for his future in another way. One of the lawns he mowed belonged to Stuart Latimer, associate pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. Previously a Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) minister at Vanderbilt University, Latimer chatted with Baker about the PCA’s campus ministry.

“I would tell any student going to college, RUF is a great place for fellowship and teaching,” said Latimer. “It’s biblically-based, theologically-informed, focused on the gospel, and very practical. Especially going to Emory, where he’d hear a lot of things that might cause him to question Christianity, I wanted [Jonathan] to hear why he should believe the gospel.”MET(SmIs)WebBut2a

Intrigued by what he heard, Baker took Latimer’s advice and contacted Jeremy Jones, the RUF minister at Emory, after arriving at the university. Although Baker had grown up in the church, he says he came to college extremely cynical and angry with it. But when he became involved with RUF, he immediately noticed something was different: “The first thing that drew me to RUF was the distinctly un-youth-groupy feel. Things seemed real. The people seemed like they were dealing with genuine issues.”

Driven by Theology

Now a junior marketing major, 21-year-old Baker said that RUF has provided a safe place for him to struggle with the complexities of Christianity while receiving sound biblical instruction. “All I wanted from church in Nashville was to hear the truth, no matter how offensive it may sound to some,” he said.

“Centering our message on biblical truth is exactly the mission RUF seeks to fulfill as we reach out to students in almost 100 colleges and universities across the nation,” says one RUF leader.

Those campuses range from large state universities to small private institutions. But at each one, RUF staff is committed to discipling students in their faith while pointing them toward fellowship within the church. The methods may vary from campus to campus, but the mission remains the same.

“We are not driven by methodology, but by theology. A fixed theology and a flexible methodology allows us to be on any type of campus,” said Rod Mays, national? RUF coordinator. “Although at first glance RUF may resemble other campus ministry organizations, it diverges from the para-church philosophy. RUF is designed to be an extension of the PCA church, not a replacement. Its doctrine is rooted in the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

“Compared to other campus ministries I've been involved in, RUF provides the most sound teaching,” said Caitlyn Painter, a sophomore RUF student at Emory University. “RUF is not afraid to tackle difficult issues, and challenges students on campus to meditate upon God’s word.”

It’s All About the Church

According to Mays RUF operates from the perspective that the church’s flock needs to be tended, especially when some of those members are far from home, often on secular campuses. “They are away from home for the first time, seeking anonymity. And a lot of times church and Christian fellowship are the last things they are thinking about.”

That’s when RUF steps in, he says. Through large-group meetings centered on a sermon, small-group Bible studies, and one-on-one meetings with an ordained RUF minister, students are shepherded during an often rocky time of life. Although RUF was designed with PCA students in mind, RUF is open to anyone and seeks to minister to the entire campus.

The hope is that through RUF students will grow in grace and fellowship within the church, so that after college they will not fall away from Christian fellowship. “If they don’t catch the vision that the church is their home for the rest of their days as a believer,” Jones said, “then they’ll be rootless the rest of their lives.”

Local PCA churches play a key role in the process of helping students connect to the church family, according to Mays. As families welcome students into their homes, they encourage the students to be involved within the church, whether through singing in the choir or teaching a children’s Sunday school class.

“And as the local church partners with us, they are making their church and their individual homes a refuge,” he said. “It’s all about the church and being plugged into church.”

Another purpose of RUF, Mays says, is to help students “cultivate a heart for reaching the lost.” They realize, however, that students’ first priority on campus is to “fulfill their calling to be godly students. They are actually at the university to fulfill their calling, so we are not going to keep them busy with ministry opportunities that would take them away from their studies,” said Mays.

That doesn’t mean students should isolate themselves from the rest of their peers and not seek to witness to others. To the contrary, RUF encourages its students to actively “rub elbows with non-Christians,” teaching them that evangelism is about developing long-term relationships with people.

Last fall, Jones and his RUF team hosted an outreach event on truth and tolerance from a Christian perspective. Although the event was well-attended, Jones said outreach events alone are not sufficient to reach people. “Nobody would have been at the event if my students had not developed relationships with the students,” he said. “The most effective way students are reached today is through relationships with other students.”

Not Perpetuating a Campus Ministry

RUF wants to help students learn to draw their worldview out of Scripture. “If those Christian students are equipped, often [they] grow in their faith in a new way and have something to share with their friends,” said Jones.

Baker, who co-leads a small group of freshman men, said RUF’s training has helped him feel equipped as he has grown and learned more about himself.

“Simply being secure in God’s undeserved and unexpected love for me has given me the desire to reach out,” he said. “I’m not necessarily worried about what I’ll say or what will happen, because God is ultimately in control. I simply try to love those around me and trust that God will use me in their lives wherever He sees fit.”

Although RUF is still fairly new at Emory, Baker said he is already seeing its impact. “I’ve seen tremendous organic change on an individual level,” he said. “People seem secure to come to us and talk and it seems like every week I hear of someone’s friend who is seriously contemplating Christianity. The key is tangible and ongoing love.”

Mays said people frequently inquire about how the ministry’s efforts are going, but he said the impact is often hard to measure.

“RUF is not about just perpetuating a campus ministry, but perpetuating the church. It’s a means to an end. We will only know if we’ve been successful when we see where our students are 20 years down the road.”