The title is a bit deceptive, I am not going “back” to junior college; I am going to junior college for the first time. I have a masters from Fuller Seminary in theology and I graduated from UCLA with honors in philosophy. So why exactly am I going back to JC instead of going forward to do my Ph.D? It’s a long story, so let me explain….
When I went to UCLA I fell in love with the college experience. Freethinkers. Dialogue. Debate. Making of Meaning. All things that mark the college ethos. As a philosophy major, I dealt with the tough questions about life, and I walked alongside other undergraduates who were also asking the tough questions. I was fortunate enough to be able to walk alongside of these people and point them to Jesus.
There are three vivid gospel encounters I remember from my time at UCLA.
One day I was having lunch with a Filipino friend, after graduating his plan was to go back to the Philippines and enter into politics (he came from a long line of politicians). As we were sitting in Ackerman, I remember him saying out of nowhere: “You really make me wonder about this Christianity thing…” I was thrown aback a little bit. Its not everyday that someone throws you a gospel alley-oop. I responded by asking him what he meant. He said that he grew up catholic but that he had abandoned his faith when he moved to the US. Then he told me “it really boggles my mind that you are so smart and you still believe in God.” I went on to explain why I was a Christian and what Jesus did for me in my life. He ended up telling me that he wanted to keep exploring, and maybe start going back to church.
The other encounter happened at a friend’s party. People were doing the typical college thing at this party: drinking beer and consuming illegal substances (pot brownies). So I was sitting at the dinning room table, talking to people as they kept asking me why I didn’t want any beer/brownies. I explained that I’m not into that stuff. Most people were cool with it, except for one guy who wanted to know why I really didn’t want to partake in the festivities. I responded by giving him my testimony, it revolved around watching my dad destroy his own life and our family through his alcoholism. I explained how I found Jesus in that period in my life, and I have been trying to follow Jesus faithfully since that time. As I shared the gospel and my testimony, the guy remembered who I was. I was that Christian guy from his philosophy classes. He went on to tell me that I wasn’t like the other Christians he knew. This guy grew up going to church in a small town of about 500 in the Midwest. He started to ask some tough questions about God and theology but people basically told him to shut up and stop asking questions. He was soon branded as a heretic because he questioned what they taught in Church. He came to realize that he needed to stop being so antagonistic because his questioning was alienating him from the rest of the town. So he and a friend from high school became closet atheists, vowing to “come out” once they left the town. This guy “came out” as an atheist when he came to UCLA. But he found my faith interesting. I wasn’t like the people he grew up with. I asked the tough questions, I engaged respectfully with the same philosophers (even the atheistic ones) that he loved. By the time the night ended he admitted that he has his doubts about his atheism, but the Church hurt him too much to go back. I encouraged him to seek, to ask questions, I told him that God isn’t afraid of your questioning. Others might be afraid of it, but God certainly doesn’t need anybody to defend him.
The third encounter happened during the Undergraduate Philosophy Club. I was an officer in the club, and I was in charge of creating the discussion curriculum. So I was in a position of authority in the class, respected for my faith and my knowledge of philosophical topics. I was the rare “smart Christian.” I was an anomaly. Anyway, one day while we were sitting discussing Spinoza the door flings open and a guy runs in screaming, “they are after me! They are coming to get me” and he hides under a table in the corner of the room. Needless to say, the room was in shock. I knew the guy, we had talked about Christianity and the sermon on the mount multiple times. The few times we had talked about Christianity he told me his life story. Turns out this guy was a bit older than most of us, he had dropped out of college multiple times because of drug problems, but he had been sober for a few years. What happened though was that everybody sat in his or her chair silently, not having a clue about what to do with this guy. So I walked over to him, and asked him if he was all right. He frantically told me that he had relapsed, and now “they” were out to get him. I tried to calm him down, but it was to no avail. So I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment, I prayed for the guy. Now I have no clue what I was thinking, stopping a philosophy meeting at a secular university to pray for a guy, but I did it anyway. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would bring him peace, that he would sense God’s love in the moment, and that God would remove any fear that he might be feeling. Miraculously the guy completely calmed down and sat silently and relaxed for the rest of the meeting. But I could tell the rest of the room was in shock. What just happened? Nobody really knew. All they knew was that I prayed for a guy and it seemed to work. All I knew was that God showed up and touched this guy.
I share these stories so that you will catch a glimpse of the fact that college is a prime place for doing ministry.
A few months ago I was talking to a missionary friend who came back from an Islamic country. He was sharing with me their strategy for reaching people. It involved a lot of relational time. Eating. Playing. Having meaningful conversations. Gatherings in central locations. Just plain doing community together. He explained that these things were key to effective evangelism. As he shared, a light bulb turned on in my brain; college is a prime place for these activities! People eat together, drink together, play together, go to sporting events together, ask tough questions about life, try to figure out their identity, try to figure out what they believe, hang out together, they just plain do community together. The college campus is the ideal mission field! Everything that my missionary friend desired in a mission field is found in a college campus.
College campuses are ideal mission fields.
I have been doing college ministry for several years at my church. The ministry is called “Soma.” Our church is located in a prime position; We have three universities and four junior colleges within a 15 mile radius. Talk about having a huge field to harvest from!
One of my jobs in this ministry is to preach on a rotation. We have three regular speakers and I am one of them. Its cool having a team approach. One guy preaches about God the Father and the gifts of the Spirit a lot. Another guy preaches about community and identity in Christ a lot. And I preach about mission and the gospels a lot. It works about nicely. Its quite Trinitarian. As I preach about mission I have been challenging students to see their workplace and their college campuses as mission fields. Its been really cool to see students begin to catch the vision for missions. They really are beginning to live missional lives.
As I have been preaching about being missional God has put a new desire in my heart; He has been putting something on my heart that we as a ministry have never done before.
The Lord has been putting it on my heart to begin to help Soma students to plant simple churches on their college campuses.
You see, I believe that there is a difference between being evangelistic and being missional. What happens when people share the gospel and invite people to church is evangelistic. This is the paradigm that most of us grew up with. However to be missional is to move into the community and bring God’s presence there. It involves bringing the church to them as opposed to bringing them to the church. God has put it on my heart to bring the Church to these college campuses.
My plan is to follow the Spirit’s lead as he builds a simple church on campus. As that begins to happen, some students will be trained to do the same thing at the schools that they will transfer to when they leave Moorpark and go to CSUN, UCLA, UCSB, or (God forbid) USC. ( Go Bruins!)
The simple churches will multiply!
I believe that the Lord can do this. In fact I believe that the Lord wants to do this. The Lord wants his gospel to infiltrate Moorpark College. He wants to open up people’s eyes to see Jesus. He wants to replace these college student’s desires for the things of this world with the desire for himself.
I’m not going to lie, I am scared to do this. I am scared to plant a “church” on a college campus. I have never tried to do such a thing.
I’m scared of being ridiculed.
I’m scared of coming back with no results; returning to my church with nothing to show.
I’m scared that nobody will catch the vision for planting simple churches.
Basically, I am scared to fail. Its my pride that makes me afraid.
Thankfully the Lord has been working on my pride. Going back to Junior College is a step towards humility. But more importantly going back to junior college is a step towards bringing the gospel to a generation who desperately needs Jesus.
I invite you to pray with me and for me as I enter the mission field commonly know as Moorpark College.
Pray for the following things:
- Gospel Partners: The harvest is large but the workers are few. Pray for workers!
- Boldness: Pray that I would be bold and that my co-workers in the gospel would be bold too.
- Favor: That we would find favor in the eyes of students and professors.
- Softening of Hearts: That the Lord would convict people of sin and begin to implant a desire for Jesus within student’s hearts.
- Christ-Centeredness: Pray that we could be focused upon Jesus, that we would hear his Spirit, and that we would be Kingdom minded.