The other day I was at York University, one of Canada’s largest universities. As I entered its Student Centre, I was struck again by the sheer dynamism of the place. Saris, turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes filled the compact space, along with Hollister and Calvin Klein. It offers an intense microcosm of the Canadian multicultural experiment. As I let it all swirl around me, it struck me that anywhere else in the world this might go sideways in a hurry.
Stridently committed to secularism, York is one of the most influential and far-reaching institutions in North America. We have yet to place a ministry there. Add to its nearly 55,000 students the nearly 70,000 students at the University of Toronto, over 20,000 at Ryerson University, and the many tens of thousands on other nearby university and college campuses dotted throughout the GTA, and one finds that the opportunity and challenge afforded is almost overwhelming.
While walking and praying through the campus, as I often do, these words reverberated through my soul. I am NOT OK with this! I am not OK with the way things are. Neither is the Holy Spirit. Allow me to get personal here. The reason I dove into co-ordinating our campus work nationally is not only due to my experience, but because I honestly believe that it is time for our Fellowship to weigh in ... big-time.
So let's make it clear. I am talking about the PAOC. There are many who are shocked to find that we do campus ministry. It has never occurred to them. They are even more shocked that we often do it really well, and more shocked still to find that we are doing it all over the country. I never tire of telling people that I get to work with some of the most creative and courageous people in the country. Our campus ministry tribe is filled with unsung heroes. The ministries they have created deserve to be known and celebrated. In many ways, they are the research and development branch of our Fellowship, showing us ways forward into the future.
Allow me to be bold enough to say and explain the words that have been alive in my heart about campus ministry for several years.
It’s our time. The time is now.
Rather than expressing arrogance, it is an emerging sense of responsibility and role. It is the recognition of an opportunity—a word often used to translate a meaningful Greek NT word, kairos. The ancients recognized it as a key hinge moment that determined one’s “fate.” It corresponds to the English sense of “timing” or “season.” It is an opportune time which urgently demands a response.
Here is an honest assessment. We have some of the best campus ministries in the country. While this is true, it is balanced by other facts. We can do better. We can do more. We must. It is impossible to walk through these huge, influential institutions that swallow our youth like Molech of old and not be physically affected. Personally, I feel the weight of the challenge. I am not alone.
Institutions like York and others rise like Goliath, mocking and loudly taunting God’s people to do something. Anything … anything at all….
The assumption is that the parachurch organizations which continue to serve us so well have it “all taken care of.” I have heard those very words spoken. Yet, on most of the campuses across the nation, less than three per cent of the student population is involved in a Christian group of any kind whatsoever. In many places such as York, it is much less. Much, much less. We are called to collaborate. Yet, when we add our efforts together with those of other worthy groups and organizations involved in campus ministry in our nation, they all fall stunningly short of what is needed. This is a God sized challenge and He is calling us to play our part.
Here are a few basic thoughts from my notebook.
Engage the campus. Do it with the unique experience and resources we have as a movement. Whether it is planting churches, providing chaplains, starting student clubs, developing church ministries that actually reach out onto campus and/or developing commercial outreach projects, we can leverage the experience of those who have done it well and who are still growing. We can and we are.
I believe we can have it all. We can combine intellectual integrity, biblical and theological depth, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We can do it in a way that is contextually aware and creative, and which reveals the servant missional heart of Jesus. To my mind, this is “normative” Christianity.
I am calling out. There are many of you who understand the call to reach the campuses of our nation. You hear it. You feel it too.
You may be a graduate who recognizes just how special your time at university has been for rubbing shoulders with hundreds of other young people at such a key point in their journey. You might be a student right now. You might be a parent or grandparent who recognizes the “make or break” role these years can play in the life of your young adult. You may be someone who recognizes the campus as the most strategic mission field of the 21st century. Whoever you are, you are someone who cares.
Let me be blunt. We are losing a generation. Where are they going? Well, 1.5 million of them are being shaped on the campuses of our nation every year without any reference to faith at all. Almost all of them will bypass traditional church structures. Yet, if they won’t come, we must and will go.
There are two key words in all of this. The first is challenge. The second is opportunity. And we are called to embrace both.
What we simply cannot do is be OK with the way things are. Learn more about Campus Mission Canada at . We invite you to partner with us in prayer and in practical support. Your investment will bear dividends for generations to come.
Dr. Robb Powell is Mission Canada’s campus ministries co-ordinator.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of testimony, a monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2012 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.