What Is A Career In Campus Ministry Like?

"I have always been interested in the spiritual lives of college students. In my college years I participated in some important religious groups and the leaders had a significant influence on my formation as a spiritual and ethical person. What is available in various forms of campus ministry and what does it take to get there?"

asked by Terry W from St. Louis, Missouri

The role of religious institutions and groups with college students and colleges and universities has always been an important one. There are several ways one could participate in leadership, depending on the form of ministry involved.

If the university is religiously affiliated it most usually has its own office of the chaplaincy and religious life. It handles these things internally. So, for instance, if you are a part of a private liberal arts college affiliated with a denomination they customarily have an office of the chaplain. This person is responsible for relating to the students and faculty of the school, providing religious services and other meaningful programming. Very often this person is the source of wise council for members of the community seeking guidance. A chaplain in a larger college very often coordinates student volunteers and participates in other committees of the institution. In many cases the chaplain is also a professor, taking on both roles as a part of a whole ministry. In these cases the required credential would be one determined as standard by that faith tradition. Of course, if this is a shared academic position then academic requirements would also apply.

In the case of state universities campus ministry usually takes the form of duly recognized ministries that have been vetted by the school.

For instance, the standard religious organizations of the denominations or faith bodies are provided space or purchase space adjacent to campus. There you would find the various houses or foundations affiliated with those traditions: The Baptist Student union (Baptist), Lutheran Student Union (Lutheran), Newman Center (Catholic), Hillel Center (Jewish), Wesley Center (Methodist), etc. All of these organizations have approaches to campus ministry internal to their own traditions. They also establish the kind of credentials expected for their religious leaders. Often these standards are the same that they would expect of any clergy person serving in any other ministry.

Another variation of campus ministry at state universities is the Ecumenical Campus Ministry. This is a coalition of several denominations that come together to provide one ministry. Its support comes from the many denominations and its outlook is decidedly ecumenical, stressing Christian unity. The campus ministers in these ecumenical campus ministries generally reflect the model and standards of ministry of the participating denominations.

The other form of campus ministry is the para-church model, such as Campus Crusade for Christ. This is an organization that is national in scope and establishes chapters at different colleges and universities. They tend to be more evangelistic and have a stronger mission to convert students. Their standards and practices are established by their national mission and the credentials for leaders are generally determined and provided by the organization itself – as opposed to, say, expecting a seminary degree or ordination.

If you are a member of a religious organization already you would be wise to explore the options through your religious body itself. That will provide the surest pathway to a form of ministry. If not, you might contact an ecumenical campus ministry and inquire with one of the ministers about the right way to proceed.

Another model of campus ministry is an older one, namely, that local congregations provide support to college students through their own programming, attracting students, supporting them, establishing classes and fellowship groups. These efforts are usually staffed by local clergy and lay persons who have a passion for this form of ministry.

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