Far too often campus ministries effectively encourage and engage college students yet do not emphasize the importance of involvement in a local church community. In Birmingham, Alabama, I serve with a campus ministry called Multiply Groups which provides students at Samford University with accountability for Scripture reading, prayer, personal holiness, and evangelism.
As much as we love our ministry, we believe that the primary source of belonging should be within the local church. Due to this, we emphasize that church membership with appropriate discipleship is necessary for anyone serving in a leadership role within Multiply. This allows the leaders to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord and be held accountable by their church.
Three Ways We Submit to the Local Church
Over the past few years, we have spent time thinking through how to rightly communicate the importance of the local church. Due to the variety of churches our leaders came from, our ministry struggled to implement ways to submit to the local church. Collectively, we have taken three steps to ensure that our leadership faithfully submits to and partners with the local church in the multiplication of the gospel.
Require Church Membership
Due to both the transient nature of college and distaste for commitment, church membership is not a typical practice for college students. Even though we would love for every member of a Multiply Group to belong to a healthy local church in Birmingham, we realize that requiring it would drastically limit our impact on campus.
Instead, we choose to require all group leaders to join a church within six months of stepping into leadership. Currently, we have student leaders who belong at nine different churches in our city. Our hope is that by requiring church membership among our leadership, we will create a culture of membership and engagement that reaches beyond our groups and into an active local body..
Recommend Appropriate Discipleship
In addition to church membership, our leaders are expected to find appropriate discipleship within their local church. We define appropriate discipleship as meeting consistently and having clearly stated accountability with a mentor of the same gender who lives in our city and is a member at their local church. Hometown mentors are great, but aren’t around enough to meet the qualifications that we think are healthiest for our leaders.
Discipleship within the local church has not only helped us to rightly communicate our place under the church, but has also proved useful for conflict resolution and wise counsel. Many of our leaders are discipled together by young adults, pastors, and families in the church they belong to. Because of these relationships, we have grown in our ability to resolve conflict, handle theological disagreements, and walk in humility.
Recognize Pastoral Oversight
Recently, we’ve begun the process of recognizing pastoral oversight by inviting some of the college pastors in our city to serve as an advisory council. By doing this, we can keep ourselves from swaying from our convictions.
In order to make this a reality, we selected college pastors based on three criteria. First, we narrowed it down to churches where our leaders already attended. Second, we identified churches with trusted leadership who follow Christ and are committed to gospel-centered ministry practices. Third, we selected churches based on an alignment of core beliefs, mission, and vision. It is important to us that the churches with whom we partner have a strong discipleship focus and doctrinal integrity.
Once selected and approved, college pastors will serve on an advisory council where they will meet with members of our core leadership team twice a semester to discuss the current direction of the ministry and provide advice for us moving forward. We are looking forward to our first advisory council meeting this upcoming semester and praying that God will use it to make our ministry look more like Jesus.
If you lead a campus ministry that acts autonomously from the local church, consider how you might begin by casting vision for why the local church is God’s plan for reaching the world. Rather than jumping in and removing any leader who doesn’t immediately join a church, start with conversation about why and be patient with those who might resist change.
Fortunately, we have had the privilege of building this ministry from the ground up over the course of the past three years. Even still, it has been difficult to cast the vision to the new leaders. Be patient and remember you are not doing this because it is the easiest, but because it is the healthiest for you, for the ministry, and for your leaders. By requiring church membership, recommending appropriate discipleship, and recognizing pastoral oversight, your campus ministry will be healthier and better equipped to fight sin with the gospel.