When Your Campus Ministry Is “Derecognized”

University culture, as the cutting edge of the spirit of the age, doesn’t make sense. No “marketplace of ideas” that precludes the authority of its Creator is ever going to make sense, and we certainly should not expect it to act in line with the honor of God.

As a friend often says, “Pagans are supposed to act like pagans.” Therefore, we should expect moves like that of California State University’s 23 schools to “derecognize” InterVarsity. God is not caught off guard; we shouldn’t be either.

The fact that any Christian organizations have been recognized on any secular campuses in the last several decades is purely a product of common grace. After all, the history of the world has not generally seen the proverbial red carpet rolled out for the proclamation of the Christian gospel. And that self-worshiping world, at least the Western world, is epitomized by American academia.

I attended a private university at the turn of the century and was involved with Campus Outreach, a student organization that had been “derecognized” as a campus organization. In fact, I don’t think it was ever granted that privilege to begin with. The campus president smiled at us through gritted teeth, the official chaplains (it had formerly been a liberal Protestant school) seethed at our evangelism, and the housing department was pressured to remove our students from as much influence on the campus as possible. We met in ever-shifting locations off campus, the best being a pretty sweet warehouse behind the local grocery store.

And God was working wonders the whole time. I watched students’ lives turned upside down by the powerful allure of the gospel and the Spirit’s power despite the university establishment. At a college of 2,500 students, eventually some 10% of the student body was involved in the ministry in some form or another. Why, in the face of such an apparent barrier — not being “recognized” on campus or given free meeting space — would this be the case? I can think of at least four reasons.

1. God works through relationships.

Those 250 students involved in the ministry weren’t all smuggling themselves into a secret, off-campus warehouse for a rally-style meeting. For most, their involvement was characterized by a relationship with a student (or ten) they had met on their floor, or in the dining hall, or at the rec center, who wanted to show them the love of Jesus Christ. It was characterized by a one-on-one Bible study with a Campus Outreach staff person who had taken interest in their life in some not-so-random conversation on campus. They would learn how to impart that Bible, that love, to their friends and classmates and teammates, and they would, in the power of the Spirit, go do so. That kind of movement is hard to police.

2. God’s people don’t stop talking.

The religious council at my university had a list of rules on the door of each hall. While they have since been amended, one of those rules required all students involved on the housing staff to agree with the expressed beliefs of their residents. This was simply a tame version of Acts 4:18, where Peter and John were commanded not to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus, whom they had just called the exclusive means to salvation for all mankind (Acts 4:12). Their oft-quoted response: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19).

One reason the word of God is not bound is that his people can’t stop talking about it. No removal of recognition will change that for a ministry that is truly evangelistic. In fact, derecognition likely will help inspire it.

3. The gospel is powerful and attractive.

Loving people carrying loving, saving words by the Spirit’s power will continue to see people respond. The gospel is not somehow more powerful because its speaker carries recognition on campus, or he stands on a stage with a microphone, or because the ministry’s announcements bear the official seal of approval and appear on the campus bulletin board. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, period. And it often seems even more potent when not helped along by the governing authorities.

4. Adversity is God’s specialty.

I am happy to call this “adversity” rather than “persecution” so as to avoid equating the California treatment with the Iraq treatment. But either way you slice it, God has demonstrated a pattern of demonstrating his strength in desperate circumstances. If his kingdom were civil or political, then the ideal situation would certainly be full recognition by those in authority. But his kingdom, for now, is not of this world — and it’s an upside down kingdom at that. When the solutions are lacking, God loves to move in and show that the gates of hell will never prevail against his church. She seems to grow best when backed into a corner.

So we need not bemoan this public blow as catastrophic for the kingdom. We need not fight for our little tent in the marketplace of ideas. We need not bang on the Black Gate of Mordor and cry out for entry; Frodo and Sam are making their way to Mount Doom by an unexpected route. Make no mistake, we will win, and we will win while the world doesn’t know we are doing so.

“Derecognition” might finally be the catalyst on our campuses to see the gospel run like wildfire.

“Derecognition” might finally be the catalyst on our campuses to see the gospel run like wildfire.

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is the director for Campus Outreach Charleston.