I am writing this letter as a Christian faculty member at a state university—a man who needs your help. My request involves the university where I teach. It contains thousands of students, faculty people, and employees, some of whom are interested in finding a purpose in life. They admit to an inner yearning, a wistful search for meaning; they are concerned about the strife and injustice in society; they are looking for a solution to the individual problem of meaninglessness and the social problems of selfishness and hate.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, you and I have something to offer them. To us, Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life who satisfies that inner hunger; he is the Giver of Life who enables people to dwell together in love. Moreover, he needs them in his Church today.

The problem is how to reach the university campus with the message of Jesus Christ. Out of eighteen years’ experience as a senior faculty member at one of the nation’s largest state universities, I suggest some preliminary considerations that relate to the solution of that problem.

The Local Church. The campus world in general will not go to church to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The majority will not go to any church (except infrequently); if they do, there is no assurance that they will hear Christ presented clearly. If the majority of students and faculty are to be reached, they must be reached in some additional way.

The Campus Foundation. Perhaps your denomination could establish a “foundation” or student center on the fringe of the campus. If a house could be purchased or constructed for this purpose and if one or more full-time pastors could concentrate on serving campus people, perhaps more would respond. Possibly so. But the success of such ventures varies. Some foundations are well attended; others attract very few. More than one campus pastor wrings his hands at the lack of response by students and faculty. Although foundations and some campus churches are near at hand and some are packed for one service a week, most of the campus world still passes them by.

The Mission Field Concept. Another alternative is to consider the campus a “mission field,” not in the sense of “skid row” or “an economically underdeveloped area” but rather in the sense of any group of people outside the Body of Christ. Take Japan as an illustration. The Japanese will never come to your church to hear the message of Christ. Your church does not try to get them to “come and hear” the Gospel. Instead, you adopt the attitude of “go and tell” and so send missionaries to Japan. Your denomination trains them and lets them go. Perhaps your own congregation has sent such a man (let’s call him “Johnson”); you released him from teaching Sunday school classes or singing in the choir so that he could go to Japan.

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Have you pastors of churches in college towns ever thought that precisely the same strategy might be successful in reaching the campus in your city? For example, suppose that you have a college professor (let’s call him “Perkins”) in your congregation. You might begin to pray that the Holy Spirit will open his eyes to the campus as his mission field. This is an important notion, because some non-Christian faculty members who are so biased against clergymen that they will never listen to you, might listen to Professor Perkins. Now for this to happen, Professor Perkins will have to cultivate friendships with his non-Christian colleagues; he will have to become familiar with their thought patterns and carry a prayer concern for them. Furthermore, he will have to know the Bible and be able to introduce these friends to the Christ of the Bible. Beneath all this he will need you to pray for him just as you pray for the Johnsons in Japan.

Do you have any college students in your congregation? If so, they could be the missionary arm of your church to the campus. The student body contains hundreds (perhaps thousands) of young people who refuse to listen seriously to clergymen but who might give heed to a Christian roommate or classmate. For this to happen, the Christian students in your flock will have to cultivate their friendships, gain their confidence, learn to communicate with them, and be skilled in the Word. These students need your prayers just as does Mr. Johnson.

Here are some suggestions for putting this mission concept into action:

First, recognize that the Holy Spirit calls some members of a local church to serve primarily as “pillars” in that church; he calls other members to serve primarily as missionaries to those who will not attend that church.

The “local pillar” type are those whom God calls to serve mainly as elders, deacons, trustees, Sunday school teachers, choir members, or officers in various groups, shouldering the duties and spending the time required to keep a local church functioning. On the other hand are the “missionary” type whom God wants detached (the Greek word for “set apart” in Acts 13:2 is a strong verb, aphorizo, which means “to sever”) from local church duties but not from local church fellowship in order to go to those who will not come to church. (See Isaiah 6:9 and Mark 16:15—scriptural portions that surely apply to the college-campus components of our social order.)

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Second, ask the Lord what his design is for Professor Perkins and the college students in your congregation. If he wants them to be “local pillars,” then they must shoulder their duties in your church; if he wants them to be campus missionaries, you must “let them go” from church duties but not from church fellowship. Similarly, you can expect Professor Perkins and your missionary students to return home “on furlough” every Lord’s Day for worship. But the rest of the time you will have to “set apart” such people for witnessing duties on campus. This will take a great deal of their time as they cultivate friendships with colleagues, earn their respect, answer their questions about Christ and the Bible. But if you will release your campus missionaries from church duties, eventually your church attendance will begin to grow as the missionaries begin to bring their interested friends to church.

Third, pray for your campus representatives. In your private prayer life, you doubtless pray by name for Mr. Johnson (and other missionaries to Japan). Do likewise for Professor Perkins and the college students in your congregation. Does your church have a prayer meeting or “cottage” prayer groups? If so, urge the members to pray for Professor Perkins and your student missionaries.

Fourth, encourage these student missionaries to participate at least once a week in a prayer cell on the campus. Similarly Professor Perkins ought to participate in a faculty prayer cell on campus. You may have to plant this idea in his mind and pray that the Lord will plant the concern in his heart, but you can hardly expect the Holy Spirit to use Professor Perkins in reaching his colleagues unless he is carrying a prayer burden for them. This burden should manifest itself not only in his private prayers but also in a faculty prayer group. Urge him to interest a Christian colleague in starting such a cell.

Fifth, encourage each of your missionaries to find one non-Christian to participate in an Outreach Bible Study (ORBS for short)—a session designed for the non-Christian, introducing him to the answers to five basic questions:

1. What did Jesus say?

2. Why did he say it?

3. What did Jesus do?

4. Why did he do it?

5. Of what significance in our lives are the foregoing answers?

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On every secular campus there should be at least one ORBS that is for faculty only. Likewise, there ought to be an ORBS in every dormitory and fraternity or sorority house. Suppose one of your collegians reports that there is a non-Christian in his dormitory interested in a weekly Bible study and the only time he will attend is Sunday evening. Will you excuse your collegian from evening service to lead this ORBS?

Sixth, urge your campus missionaries to join the campus chapter of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship or Campus Crusade for Christ. These organizations have effective systems for training campus missionaries in the science and art of leading their non-Christian friends to the Saviour. It is not easy to refute the attacks of an atheist, to answer complex questions of an agnostic, to awaken interest in the minds of an unconcerned person, to explain to a thinking inquirer precisely how he can come to know Christ personally. IVCF and Campus Crusade have devised methods for each of these situations and can train your students.

It is encouraging to realize that many students quickly catch the vision and spontaneously enter into a prayer group, an ORBS, and the IVCF or Campus Crusade chapter. But there is another group who come to church Sunday morning (sometimes early enough for Sunday school) and sit attentively in the pews, but who are not interested when they are invited to a prayer meeting somewhere on campus; when somebody suggests a Bible study on campus, they do not attend; as for IVCF or Campus Crusade meetings, they prefer to do something else; and as for carrying a prayer concern for dormmates, classmates, or teachers—they have no concern. The pastor and Sunday school teacher can play an important role by opening the eyes of such students (and faculty) to their mission field.

Seventh, tell your high school seniors about Inter-Varsity or Campus Crusade. Urge them to look up the chapter as soon as they arrive at college. Even before they go to the campus they can benefit from a week of the “College Prep Camp” that IVCF holds just before school begins. The task of a new freshman adjusting to the strange environment of a college is difficult; it is doubly so if he is a Christian arriving on a secular campus.

Eighth, Acts 14:27 indicates that when Barnabas and Paul returned on furlough to their home church, they “declared all that God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” No doubt Mr. Johnson does likewise when he returns from Japan and visits your church. Such reports inspire your prayer warriors, giving them information with which to construct prayers of both praise and intercession. Why not do likewise with your campus missionaries? Ask Professor Perkins to report at prayer meeting on the faculty prayer group and the faculty ORBS. Ask some of your students to do likewise at your college Sunday school class or at a church service.

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To sum up, Christians on campus desperately need the help of pastors and Sunday school teachers. We need you to pray and to urge students and faculty members to join the other missionaries on campus.

Very sincerely yours,


John W. Alexander is professor and chairman of the department of geography at the University of Wisconsin. He holds the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Illinois and the Ph.D. from Wisconsin, where he served as assistant dean of the College of Letters and Science before his appointment as department chairman.

T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.

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