Campus ministry, at large, is vastly different than ministry in a church. The demographic is narrowed. The lifestyles are more uniform. The conversations are generally more surface-level because college students don’t have that much experience in life.
So when a college student “accepts” Christ, it is usually a big deal. People get super excited. There’s praises and clapping and baking of muffins, as well as co-ministers who say things like, “That is so amazing! God is so good!” Most people react like this.
Except me. I get skeptical.
Yup. I’m that guy.
Before you burn me at the campus ministry heretics’ stake, give me some grace to be vulnerable here. First let me say that when someone becomes a Christian, there is no greater joy for me. Seeing a spiritual baby born is truly a miracle and God deserves praise for it. Last year, I had a friend from China that I got to know during the fall semester. We were conversation partners so he could learn English. We went out to dinner together. I taught him about American football.
Then, one day, he said in broken English, “James, I hear you know a lot about Jesus story.” So, I told him about Jesus. He contemplated. He battled to find truth. He came with me to my parents’ home for Christmas. He experienced the graces of Christian love, family, and fellowship. A few weeks after the start of the second semester, he told me that Jesus saved him and now, by God’s grace, he was a Christian. Our conversation meetings then turned into intentional discipleship times.
Now that’s awesome.
What I don’t think is awesome, and therefore do not get super excited about, is when a person reads a tract and the only way they understand the gospel is that Jesus died so they can have a great life. They can get healed of disease. They can get a good job. They can have a better family. They can get a free-pass from their sins. A lot of times, students will pray “the prayer,” and we truly think they are a real Christian. Jesus gave us some wisdom about this. He said that we need to wait a while to find out whether or not this seed that was planted landed in good soil (Matt 13:18-23).
The great American theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards helps us flesh this out. He says that it’s not easy to tell whether someone is a real, professing Christian or simply a pretender. He says in Religious Affections, “The difference between doves and ravens, or doves and vultures, when they first come out of the egg, is not so evident; but as they grow to their perfection [maturity], it [the difference] is exceeding great and manifest.”
Whenever someone excitedly asks me, “So he accepted Christ?! He’s a Christian?”, I always answer with, “Let’s find out in 6 months.” Edwards counsel is wise. Let’s wait to make judgments until they have gotten out of the egg, flown around a bit, grown into their own feathers, and tried to find their own food.
A tangent to this is talking to people on campuses who have no “assurance” of salvation. Here in South Africa, we hear a lot about “making sure they get assurance if they are Christian.” I have never understood how this practically works. Isn’t assurance a life-long battle? After all, Paul says we are in a marathon, not a sprint. Fighting to make your calling and election sure doesn’t happen because you know information about God’s preservation of his people. Assurance comes about through transformation. A Christian might say, “Of course I’m assured of my salvation. I accepted Christ. I’m secure.” Others who I might share some verses with (like John 10, Romans 8, or 1 John 5) might realize Jesus preserves his people. But we need to remember that it was Jesus who said that not everyone who says to him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again, Edwards gives insight. “It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.” What are the “lively exercises” of grace? It is a joyful and willful delight to love and obey God, study his word, pray, love people, and hate sin. If someone doesn’t hate their sin, if they are not growing in experiencing God as the supreme Treasure of their life, one has to wonder if they ever truly met Jesus at all.
I want people to meet Jesus. I want people to have comfort that they will not be lost. All true Christians should want this. But let’s not assume people are prepared to meet their Maker when they may in fact not be. Let’s not assume people are really believers, even if they have confessed it for 10 years, when in fact they don’t really love Jesus and don’t hate their sin.
I understand this might rub some people the wrong way. I know that others might think I’m being too skeptical. I understand that I might be taking away from people’s joy.
The truth is, I love my job, but these are realities that I deal with. People can say whatever they’d like, but this goes beyond campus ministry. This is an Evangelical problem all over the world. I want people to truly follow Jesus, and that means continuing to preach the gospel to them as they grow to really be satisfied with Christ alone-not his gifts or anything else. Whatever you think, know that I’m just a dude doing my best, by the Spirit, to follow Jesus and be faithful to his calling. I want to make disciples of all nations, but I don’t want any person to be fooled and get to the next life only to find out they were deceived in this one.
trying to figure out this whole “ministry” thing with you,