Reading the 2021 summer issue of ChinaSource Quarterly brought back fond memories of my time with college students in China and reminded me of the strategic nature of campus ministry—both in China and around the world. In addition, as I will share below, the articles highlighted the need for an integrated approach to student ministry in China.
First, campus ministries—whether foreign or domestic—function best when they are integrated with the local church. Aside from theological reasons, there are also many practical reasons for this. One article highlighted the dropout rate after students graduate. If a campus ministry places little importance on the local church, it will be a difficult transition for students who graduate, move to another city, and want to continue following the Lord (at a church!).
Local churches have a have a greater variety of people which campus ministries simply don’t have. How is a Chinese student going to learn what it looks like to be a faithful Christian in the workplace in China? Or how will a Chinese student know how to navigate his or her relationship with parents? Questions like these and a host of others are best answered in the context of a diverse, multi-generational local church.
Foreigners especially must do what they can to integrate their ministry with a local church. For me, this meant working in partnership with a local church that focused on student ministry. As a foreigner, I was able to attract students through English corners or pick-up basketball games and share my faith with them. I would then recommend those who wanted to go deeper in the faith to the church’s pastor. This is just one way that a campus minister can integrate with the local church.
Second, since the mission of the church is holistic, the mission of campus ministry should also be holistic. As a naïve, young foreigner when I first came to China as an English teacher, I gave little thought to my English teaching and lots of thought to evangelism and discipleship outside the classroom. I’m afraid this story has been common, especially among foreign English teachers.
A more holistic approach is to do all things—English teaching and whatever else—to the glory of God. Both word and deed are important to God. While not necessarily intended, I think foreigners and campus ministers can give the impression that those not engaged in full-time evangelism and discipleship are second-class citizens. This simply isn’t true or healthy. Yes, we should care about gospel ministry, but students should also be able to connect their field of study with theology and they should be excited about bearing the image God and fulfilling the creation mandate (Genesis 1:28) in whatever they do. Part of the key here is to know one’s own context and leanings.
There are two potential ditches, or extremes, to fall into when it comes to thinking about the mission of the church and her ministries (i.e. college-student ministry). Narrowly, some view the mission of the church as primarily “word” ministry through preaching and evangelism. Broadly, others view the mission of the church primarily as “deed” ministry, such as helping the poor and caring for the orphan.
Those that gravitate towards the former need to be reminded that faith without works is meaningless and everything—not just Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism—is to be done for the glory of God. It’s possible to be a successful Christian businessperson who pursues and makes lots of profit
Others who lean to the latter need to be reminded that the church isn’t just a charity organization that does good works. Rather, Jesus says that unless one repents and believes they will not see the kingdom. All this to say, campus ministries must exemplify and teach an integrated approach to life and ministry, and this is best learned and done in the context of a local church that does “word” and “deed” ministry together.
Third, overseas student ministry can and ought to be integrated with student ministry in China. The pandemic helped this become more of a reality. With online classes and meetings becoming commonplace around the world, this has opened unique opportunities for online ministry.
To my knowledge, some Chinese Christian English professors (in China) have connected their students with individual Christians overseas to practice conversational English. This is a great opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. An online platform has been created to connect Chinese student ministry overseas with Chinese returnees and churches in China. A church livestreams its service for Chinese students abroad and then has separate meeting rooms after the service for more intentional follow up with them.
All this can help bridge the gap between becoming a Christian overseas and living as a Christian when a student returns to China. Indeed, overseas students returning to China may be a strategic way for the church outside of China to continue to be engaged in campus ministry in China. As we go through a season of China increasingly closing its doors to foreign Christian influence, this is a strategic way for the church abroad to stay involved. I look forward to the forthcoming CSQ which will touch on the topic of reentry!
Lastly, I appreciated the tone of trust in God found in these articles. “The Lord of history will also be the Lord of Chinese university campuses,” said Zhu Zi Jian. He works all things—Chinese campus ministry included—according to the counsel of his will.
I’m grateful for the wisdom and counsel these articles have provided, for “in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 24:6). We need one another. One plants. One waters. But God gives growth. God’s body, the church—in China and abroad, individually and corporately—has many different gifts which all work toward his end of covering this earth with his glory. Rather than being territorial and arguing over particular methods, the conviction of this author is that campus ministry must integrate with the local church, be done holistically, and integrate with returnee ministry abroad. Chinese college-student ministry is too much to do alone.
Lars Lorentzsen (pseudonym) lives in the Midwest of the USA and has been involved in college-student ministry for nearly ten years (six in China to Chinese students and four in the USA to international students). Lars became a Christian (and met his wife) through a study abroad trip to China …View Full Bio
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