America’s neediest mission field is the student world. Figures released by the Office of Education, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Washington, D. C., show 3 million students enrolled in the colleges and universities of the United States. Is the gospel of Christ permeating the academic community? What percentage of these students are in church on Sunday? How many are committed Christians?

In the last year there has been an increase of 6.3 per cent in enrollment in educational institutions above the high school level. During the next 10 years an increase of 100 per cent is expected. Entrance requirements and the quality of work expected have stiffened so that today’s student population is of superior level. National leadership in practically every realm of life is being produced by these educational institutions. How perilous is the future of our nation and how bleak the outlook of the free world if Christ is not found on the campuses of America!

An Evening By Candlelight

Recently I was invited to participate in “Religion in Life” week on the campus of a great university on the Pacific Coast. Out of 60 groups, almost 50 cooperated in requesting local clergymen to share in this program—dinner in one of the fraternities, a short talk, answering questions, and entering into informal discussions and personal conferences. No doubt many ministerial readers have shared such an experience.

I confess that I have seldom spent an evening with such well educated, serious, courteous, clean-cut young men. They were well dressed and well mannered. They ate by candlelight and drank milk. Few used tobacco. They gave attention and full cooperation.

Though I too was busy when I was in their situation, I received the impression that the student of today is frantic. The social swirl takes a terrific toll of time, money, and strength. Athletic activities compete for a portion of the week. The academic demands seem to grow stiffer by the year. The student drives himself until he almost breaks. Many do. In the melee the church is forced out of the picture. Many of today’s college students have not attended church regularly since early high school days. Add to this the virtually complete secularization of American education and the result is a lost host—on whom the future of the country depends.

Obstacles In The Work

To reach the academic community, 10 major denominations provide some 800 to 1,000 full-time university pastors. Approximately 3,000 part-time and full-time pastors are provided. Many faiths are cooperating in a united approach to individual campuses. A few inter-or nondenominational efforts, such as Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade, are working in this field. But the obstacle is the almost complete indifference or ignorance of the local evangelical church. For this the pastor is largely to blame. The second major obstacle is the scatteration of the student body. Of 15,000 students enrolled in one large university in the Southwest, 15 per cent are considered resident. Possibly the greatest handicap is ineffectiveness of method. Of the 400 registered Baptists in a certain large university, the chaplain’s office finds that he can reach only 10 per cent in any way!

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Personally, I feel very frustrated when I try to address a group of today’s university students. My tradition-laden vocabulary limits my effectiveness in basic communication with the contemporary academic mind. Common ground or a meeting of minds is hard to discover. Of course, the very time allotted for official religious emphasis on today’s nonchurch related campus is totally inadequate.

A Suggested Course

Some handles are available whereby we may get hold of this urgent and critical problem.

First: Every local church should sponsor a ministry to senior high students involving spiritual and social matters, so that when they go on to undergraduate studies, these youths will be burning and shining lights for Jesus Christ no matter how dark the lost student world is in which they will spend those four years. The very existence of Youth for Christ high school clubs is an indictment of the local church’s evangelistic program.

Second: The Christian education program of the local church in college areas should include a major effort to appeal to college students to attend, study, work, and serve. This would be costly in terms of funds, time, facilities, manpower, and leadership. A Christian view of God and the world will never be gained in the classroom of the universities of today. Relatedness with a local church and a well-prepared program should help.

Third: The concept of Christian service should be broadened to include teaching in a “name” university. Let us challenge our youth to get superbly prepared and teach in one of the world’s greatest mission fields—the American college. The Christ-honoring life and the counseling opportunities alone would have a tremendous ministry.

Fourth: In our blind, suspicious, selfish, provincial mind, we have made “cooperation” a dirty word. The realism of this spage age, however, demands that if the American campus is to be approached directly it has to be done ecumenically. This can be done without compromise of truth as it is in the Bible. We conservatives have not exploited such a possibility on any appreciative scale. Let’s take off our sequinned robe of self-righteousness, lay aside the pugilist’s gloves, and come to grips with this “preacher’s problem.”

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Fifth: We have major efforts now toward distributing the Word of God to peoples in Korea, Japan, Africa, and most of the world. Could a mighty campaign be launched nationwide to place a New Testament in the hands of every freshman or senior? Are we producing a printed page evangelism that is specifically for college students? Could radio and television programs be produced over neighborhood facilities that would go out to the university mind with a saturation comparable to what the United States government’s Voice of America does abroad?

This and more can be done. Six major Baptist bodies of North America have launched a five-year program of evangelism known as the Baptist Jubilee Advance. One of the years will include a mission to the academic community. No doubt other groups are making cooperative efforts. What could be done to persuade such denominational campus ministries as the Westminster Foundation and the Wesley Foundation to engage in a more effective soul-winning emphasis? How can we confront the total evangelical community in college and university centers with their imperative evangelistic responsibility? The crucial question is, How can we together present the Gospel with united strength on a national scale to the academic community?


In Flames Of Fire

O Holy Spirit, come! In flames of fire, come,

And stir, and stir to life this mortal clod,

So cold, so dead, so prone to err. So stir

And vitalize, as on that primal day,

When the disciples felt His living power,

And were transformed. All barriers burn away

Of race, and caste, and prejudice. Dead forms

Break down. The lifeless bones revive. And, if

The Spirit’s coming means destroy, destroy.

So, Spirit, fill our lives, that selfishness

Is purged away, and we shall seek the good

Of fellow man, rejoicing in his weal.

O Spirit, stir this slumbering humankind,

Stir with the urge that rests not, till the world

Shall know the Christ our Lord. Stir with the life

That justice brings, and truth, and peace, and love

To all our shattered, torn humanity.

O grant that, Spirit-born, all men shall join

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A faith-wrought, universal brotherhood.

Our smug complacency tear down. Consume

Self-satisfaction and self-righteousness,

So deadly. As before Thy presence, Lord,

So set us, as we are, before ourselves,

That we may make confession to our God.

O, may the Spirit’s fuller presence cause

A fuller sense of need of pardoning grace,

And life that glorifies and honors Christ.

A quickened sense of Thy indwelling bring,

So that the Spirit testimony bears

With ours, that we indeed are sons of God,

And heirs with Christ of heaven’s boundless store.

So God-possessed and so Spirit-filled

Make us, O Lord, that we shall live our faith,

And creed means deed; and deed shall vindicate

Our creed. Lives that arrest and challenge grant,

That shall elicit once again the world’s

Awed commendation: “See, see how they love

Each other!” Lives of radiant victory give,

And hope unconquerable, lives that speak

The Jesus-language, which the world will read,

And understand and, understanding, seek

The God who gives such faith, and hope, and life.


J. Lester Harnish is Pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles. He is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of California Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the Board of the Los Angeles City Mission Society.

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