Campus Outreach Speaker Panel

Campus Outreach National Conference | Chattanooga, Tennessee

Mike Hearon: My name is Mike Hearon. I’m on staff with Campus Outreach. I’m going to interact and interview these men. Let me introduce them to you. First, to my right is George Robertson. He’s the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta. He’s my pastor, and he’s younger than I am, the first pastor that I’ve ever had that’s a mere child, younger than me. We’re glad to have you.

Matt Chandler, who’s been with us, is the pastor of The Village Church and leading the Campus Outreach out of Dallas, the Fort Worth area. We have Trip Lee here. You heard from him last night? Yes. Trip is a pastoral intern at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, D.C. He’ll actually be speaking to us about “One Life, Share It” later on in the program. And then let me ask you to welcome our speaker for tomorrow, John Piper, to the conference. John is one of the pastors at Bethlehem Baptist Church. We’re glad you’re here.

Stephen Phelan, who’s from San Diego, California, is one of the pastors at Harbor Church, which will be the next location or the latest expansion for Campus Outreach, Campus Outreach San Diego. A group from Greenville led by G’Joe Joseph, who’s been our interviewer, will be taking a team out there. So we’re glad you’re here, guys.

And I want to have a discussion over a few topics. Generally speaking, I want to interact for a brief time about your experiences and your reflections on Campus Outreach. I also want to talk to you about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and things that I’d like for you to say to these guys about things you think they need to hear about the church. And then I want to interact with you about the Great Commission. So we’ll talk about Campus Outreach, we’ll talk about the church, and then we’ll interact a little bit about the Great Commission.

Now, ten years ago, we had a national conference, and John Piper was one of the speakers. As we were walking off the stage going back to Emile, he turned to me and said, “I want to ask you a question.” I said, “Sure.” He said, “How can I get one of these Campus Outreaches?” John had been the pastor at Bethlehem. We didn’t have staff there, but he observed the conference and interacted with students. And we began a dialogue that led over a two–three-year period to sending Ken Currie and a staff team to Minnesota. I thought, John, why don’t you share with us what made you interested in Campus Outreach? And then maybe what makes you glad that Campus Outreach is a part of Bethlehem?

John Piper: The first thing that made me interested was what they believe — what you, we, believe — namely, that God is sovereign in the aspect of salvation and every other way. And that’s right at the heart of my life. I don’t think I could survive if I didn’t believe that God was absolutely in control of everything.

And secondly, they were bold and passionate about personal evangelism. So many people think those two things don’t go together. And when I find them going together, I’m drawn to it powerfully.

Third, they were committed to life-on-life transforming discipleship. Don’t just save somebody and drop them; stay with them and help them grow into maturity and strength.

And the last thing, which I’d never heard of, was that they were accountable, finally, not just sort of, but finally to the local church and the leadership of that church rather than being accountable to a macro national or international organization. So those four things coming together, I just never met anywhere, and it was so unusual I just wanted to get to know it more.

So you and some others were willing to talk long enough, and so they came. I mean, God did that in three years. It was also difficult to transplant it from a Presbyterian setting to a Baptist setting. And I’m so happy that can happen here in this kind of situation.

So here we are, believing what we believe. And with that kind of ethos or DNA flavor at our church, it’s been phenomenally leavening. In other words, when you have an ever-increasing number of young people who are wired that way, it infects the whole church in a good way. And I want to be infected that way, and the church is being affected. So I don’t regret a moment of it.

Mike Hearon: Now, Matt, you found out about Campus Outreach really through Bethlehem. Tell us about that and your connection and how all that came about.

Matt Chandler: Well, we actually ran into Campus Outreach in multiple locations, and so it kind of became this haunting reality for us at the village that the churches we had learned from and were connected to via relationships had this thing called Campus Outreach. So when we would go, we would hear the praises of what was happening and how God was moving and working. We had begun a dialogue, but finally, when one of our pastors went up to Capitol Hill in D.C., he came back and just said, “Hey, we need to run this down.” That’s when the dialogue began that ultimately brought our team down to the Village.

Man, I had some concerns coming in. We had a very large group of college students already involved. We were seeing college students saved, plugging into the life of the church. My interaction with CO in other locations, they were kind of the driving college ministry in that context. The fear we had was, are we going to create two college ministries here? Are we going to create the CO crowd and then the Village crowd, and how are those going to interact? Really, the Lord’s worked in some spectacular ways in regards to the team that he brought to the Village and how seamless the assimilation of that team has been in their interactions with students on campus, students already plugged into the life of the Village, and how, honestly, they are a part of the Village.

That goes back to this idea of them being tethered to the local church, not accountable to some entity outside of us ultimately, but really under the elders, under the banner, under the vision of what God has done at The Village Church. They come work with us alongside us and at times can coach us on how to do better gospel ministry. So again, with John, I just couldn’t be more pleased with what’s transpired in the guys that God sent our way, and they actually have a front-row seat tonight. I see our crew right here, so couldn’t be more excited about what God’s doing and what he continues to do through them.

Mike Hearon: Now, Stephen, you’re in San Diego. Your church, or the church there, is Harbor Presbyterian, a PCA church, and seven churches are a part of that church planning network. You actually came looking for Campus Outreach. You came asking for us to consider coming out there and joining you. Tell us about why you were interested and how that’s going to happen.

Stephen Phelan: Here’s what happened. We had a CO Sanford grad who came, and she moved out and said, “I’m coming here because I want to be around a bunch of people who don’t know Jesus. That’s why I moved to California.” I said, “Well, you’re in a great place.” And she said, “I’m intentionally moving in with non-Christians, and I want to see them come to know Jesus.” That’s exactly what happened. The people she was living with came to know Jesus. She discipled them, has grown them up in the church. I sort of took note of that.

And then I had a CO Troy grad show up. Justin Clayton and the gang sent us one. He was actually playing for the San Diego Chargers. He came. He said, “Pastor Stephen, how can I serve at this church?” Now, most NFL players, that’s not the first question they ask. “How can I serve?” I said, “Okay, well, we meet in a high school. What about doing setup and breakdown? Not the most glamorous serving job.” He said, “Man, I’ll do that.” He said, “It looks like the bathroom needs to be swept and cleaned too. I got that too.” I said, “Where did you learn this?” He said, “CO.”

And so at that point, I was like a bloodhound sniffing the trail of Campus Outreach. And then my friend who’s playing for the Chargers, he comes up to me and says, “Hey, at CO, we like to lead people to Jesus, and what if we started a curious discussion for him, these things we do at our church. What if we started one on the team with the Chargers?” And so I’m just at that point, I’m on the phone dialing Campus Outreach. “How do we make this thing happen out here? Let’s do this.” And so God blessed it from then and has brought them out.

Mike Hearon: And they’ll be there this new year. Talk about that, the team.

Stephen Phelan: Well, the team led by G’Joe and Aimee will be landing in the spring, and God has just really anointed G’Joe and Aimee for this task. He’s surrounding them with an unbelievable cast because it’s a place that’s difficult. It’s hard soil, especially San Diego State, where they’re going to be starting. It’s a tough place. They call it the graveyard of college ministry. So they’re starting in a hard place, but God’s assembling a team of weak people who need Jesus and are trusting him.

Mike Hearon: So if some of these graduates want to move out to San Diego and join the church and this labor, you’d welcome them to move out there as well.

Stephen Phelan: Come on, the more the merrier. Let’s do it.

Mike Hearon: George, Campus Outreach ministries are under the local church. That might be different than some ministries. From your perspective, talk to us about how that’s been beneficial, how you see that played out, and why you think that’s important for these students to, even while they’re still in college, be connected to the local church.

George Robertson: Well, it’s important to have a clear theology of the church. And Paul said in Ephesians 3 that God created the world in order that his manifold wisdom might be known through the church. The church is the central agency of God’s redemption. The primary work that he is doing in redeeming this world and accomplishing his eternal ends is through the church, and Campus Outreach has recognized that from the beginning with its forefathers and founders. So it’s critically important not just for Campus Outreach, but for every individual Christian to recognize that being involved in a local church is not just good for your soul, but it’s part of participating in God’s eternal work. It’s his priority.

And the blessing I see in students is that going to church, participating in corporate worship is like eating your vegetables. You can’t objectify all the blessings that are coming into your body, but you know they’re working. And you can’t objectify every good thing that’s happening in your soul as you’re participating in God’s agency, but it’s happening. The Holy Spirit is expediting your sanctification in ways that you can’t calculate just by that regular rhythm of being in the local expression of the body of Christ.

From the other side, I echo what these men have already said, that CO produces churchmen. There’s not a place in our church where CO people, either current students or graduates, are not leading and active. Every Sunday, I walk by the nurseries, which are overflowing in our church, and there are CO students in there, working in the nurseries, even without children. I mean, present college students working in the nursery, working, catechizing children, teaching Sunday school, cleaning up, helping set up. So as Stephen has said, there’s no job too lowly for a CO student to take, and that’s just by the excellent leadership that they’re getting from their ministers.

Mike Hearon: Now, Trip, I’m going to ask you to speak to maybe a difficult issue to address. But I want you to address the African American students about the issue of church and the importance of their participation in a local church, and how to think about that as an African American — just the hundreds that are here. Not that we don’t all need to hear that, but just speak to the particular challenges and needs that African American young disciples face in relation to the church.

Trip Lee: Well, I’m going to encourage dudes to see the church as the primary place for our spiritual growth. So the thing about the church is, this is the primary place where God is going to grow me, where I can sit under God’s word, where I can commit myself to other Christians, and where I can submit myself to leadership in a church. We can do that with random people. We can submit ourselves to random leaders, or we can commit ourselves to random Christians, or we can sit under God’s word listening to podcasts.

But the place where God has ordained for us to do that is in his local church. For African Americans, for black dudes, for black sisters, it’s going to be harder in some places to find churches that have the right stuff in them. But the primary thing we’re going to want to be looking for in the church is that the gospel is there, the gospel is being preached, that Jesus Christ is being exalted, and that biblical doctrine is being preached.

And there are other things. For instance, I was at a church in Philly where all those things were there, but also, I loved the music. Everybody looked like me. We had lots of things in common. But there’s also going to be times when you’re going to have to say, “That stuff is good, and that’s extra. Let me think about the stuff that God says that I absolutely need.” I need to be sitting under the gospel being preached. I need to be walking with a body of believers that loves Jesus and follows hard after him.

So, not by any means am I saying it’s going to be impossible to find churches with everybody, with a lot of people that look like us. Well, that is, but there are going to be some places where it’s going to be a lot harder. And so, my encouragement to you is to commit yourself to the things that God says that you need and pray that he’ll provide everything else.

Mike Hearon: Any other comments you guys want to make about this issue of just the church? Anybody?

John Piper: The most painful and happiest experiences in life are through relationships. If you have a lifestyle where you are navigating relationships totally according to what you like — that is, you’re skipping the church because there are too many relationships you’re thrown into there that you just don’t like — then you will be an immature person in the long run. You’ll miss out on the deepest joys, and you’ll miss out on the pain, which is the only way to grow up. In a church, you’re thrown together with people that you didn’t choose. They come, and not all of them are easy to get along with. That’s the place where you grow up. That’s the place where you go deep. That’s the place where you become as happy as you can be.

I spent three hours yesterday doing mediation between a 90-year-old woman and her son and daughter-in-law, who don’t get along. That was really hard. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But to see a possibility that in the last few years of this old woman’s life, she might have a relationship with her son and her daughter-in-law that’s been broken for decades — you can’t put a price on that. You won’t track down that opportunity outside the church.

Matt Chandler: The thing, and maybe I’ll come back to this when we have an opportunity, just to kind of give you some edification and some encouragement. I think the problem really, and I don’t know where it began, but I think it’s probably always been there, but particularly with my generation and your generation, is we view authority as a negative thing.

To sit under authority or to be subjected to another authority is problematic in our worldview. We like to see ourselves as our own authority and uppermost in our own authority. And ultimately, the Bible, for your good, for your joy, and for your maturity, is putting a godly covering over your lives through a body of elders that the Bible is commanding you to submit to. And so ultimately, by not plugging into the church for the long run, by not submitting yourself to a group of men who are in glad submission to Jesus Christ, you put yourself in harm’s way.

You put yourself against the tide of culture, the slippery slope of some ridiculous theologies that grab hold of young minds and young hearts. And as awesome as the place that you are is in life where you’re young and you’ve got energy and you’ve got opportunity and so much is before you, there’s a lot of dangers in front of you that, to be straight, are hard to spot right now because they’re the air you breathe.

But by putting yourself under a group of men who love the Lord and who ultimately will be held accountable by the Lord for you, who are in a joyful place of trying to lead you, shape you, and mold you is one of the safest places you can be and walk as a believer in Jesus Christ. And so the church is where you’re going to be protected from a lot of things that have assassinated the young hearts and minds of a lot of young men and women.

And so I couldn’t encourage you enough, as awesome as CO is, as awesome as the little gatherings you have are, ultimately, that’s a supplement. It’s not a meal; it’s a multivitamin. It’s not dinner. Dinner is the church, the steak and veggies. That’s what happens in the covenant community. Okay? CO is a supplement of that. These gatherings that you do, small group accountability, that’s not the meal, all right? That’s a supplementation of the meal.

The body of Christ, the covenant community, is the meal. So you’re not going to live on a multivitamin. You can’t live, I think, robustly outside of being ferociously committed to a covenant community of faith for good, for bad until something occurs that makes you go, “I can’t sit under this leadership for doctrinal reasons. I can’t sit under this leadership for some error that I have tried to confront biblically.”

And so, my encouragement to you for your safety and for the robustness of vitality in your walk with Jesus Christ is to connect firmly to a covenant community of faith that has as its hope the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Mike Hearon: So we’ve talked about Campus Outreach; we talked about the church. I want to talk about the Great Commission and all this by asking you guys to just pastor your brothers and sisters by speaking a word, a pastoral word to them. Maybe you’d speak to this generation about something that makes you hopeful that you want them to focus on and grab hold of as it relates to advancing the gospel in the world or believing the gospel. It may be some concern that you have that you’re concerned about, but maybe you’d speak.

If it’s good, I’d like for all of you to do that. We might start here, work our way down, Stephen. But I’d like you to speak a word in the time that we have to this group. It could be a word of encouragement. It might be a word of warning. It might be to an unbeliever that’s been seeking all week. It could be a person who’s real discouraged. But to this generation fulfilling the Great Commission, pastor them. We’ll just work our way right down. Why don’t you start?

Stephen Phelan: What makes me hopeful about you as college students is that you’re not asking, “How can I graduate and make the most money?” That is not the question I hear college students asking. The question college students are asking me is, “How can I have a meaningful life? What can I give my life to that will really be of significance, that encourages me?” Because Jesus Christ is the most significant thing in all of the cosmos. He will bring meaning to your life. He said, “I’ve come to give you life, and life abundantly.” And so you’ll get wrapped up in him as you’re pursuing that question.

Now, the flip side of that is what concerns me about where you sit. And it’s in that zeal for meaning and significance, there can be an aura of invincibility, sort of a Superman across the chest, where you’re taking risks, you’re pursuing meaning, and in the process, there’s that sense that you’re bulletproof.

And so here’s what happens. It’s slow, and it’s subtle, but you begin to soft-pedal your sin, and you slowly lose a group of guys and a group of girls who are in your life, speaking into your life because you’ve got it together and you’ve got an S on your chest. And you’re doing things that are real and edgy and urban and cool, and things are happening.

So here’s my word to you. Guys, get a group of guys in your life who will speak truth into your life, who you are regularly confessing your sin to and trusting Jesus. Let me tell you, when I graduated from seminary, Richard Pratt, there was a picture up there, and he went and he just started circling people of the graduating class ten years before us who are now no longer in ministry. They didn’t have that group. They had that aura of invincibility, and it crushed them. My hope is that you will find that group. Confess your sin and trust Jesus.

John Piper: We’re packing in both of those questions here at the end?

Mike Hearon: You can hit one or the other.

John Piper: A good test of the size of your God is whether it comes implicit with a global passion for the world. If your concern, passions, and energies are all micro, your God’s not big enough. If you love the glory of God, there are hundreds of texts that drive you to love the world. His glory will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea someday, and every knee will bow to him, willingly or unwillingly. Not to be burdened for the unreached peoples of the world, in addition to the unreached people in the neighborhood, is to have a God that’s simply too small. So I think one of the reasons I would encourage you to press into global concerns is that it will test how big your God is.

And one of the reasons I’m encouraged is because it seems to me, unlike, I would say, the youth of my generation, this generation likes to sing about a big God. They like to talk about a big God. They don’t always work out all the implications of it, but it’s not a foreign thing. “How Great Is Our God” is not an alien idea. I don’t think I ever sang a song like that at age 18. It was way more pedestrian. So I’m encouraged that all over the country, indeed all over the world, by means of worship, music, and solid teaching, millions of young people are taken by the greatness of God.

Trip Lee: That’s exactly what I was going to say.

John Piper: Say it again.

Trip Lee:I was just going to say it more pedestrian. But I think, at least, and I think of you guys as my peers, and thinking about some of the things that I find myself wrestling with, being able to sit under solid teaching is so many of us, we really have, and through the teaching of even some of the guys that are here today, have really come to value orthodoxy. And we like good teaching. We like right doctrine.

So, I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been encouraged by is the passion that we love the Bible and we love when what people say is what the Bible says. And I think that’s a good thing. And I think we should praise God that he would do that in our generation.

And I think on the flip side is that we can so fall in love with right teaching and so fall in love with getting the gospel right that we forgot to actually go and lay down our lives so that people can actually get that gospel. So my encouragement would be to not overlook that, not fall so in love with getting it right that we’re not actually laying our lives down for it.

Matt Chandler: That’s good. I got one. I think to piggyback on a lot of what’s been said, since you’ve got everything from accountability to the global purposes of God and man. I’m 37, Lord willing, I’ll turn 38 in June. And so the world I grew up in didn’t have microwaves, didn’t have remote controls. It had a video game, but all the games made one noise. And so the world you’re living in is so foreign and different than the world I lived in.

But here’s something that strikes me as extremely peculiar — that you are the most entertained generation that has ever walked the face of the earth. Catch this. Right now, all the information that exists is on your phone. That’s your world. And so the thing that strikes me about where you are is that there’s more to do and more people to connect with, more places to go, and more things to read than ever before, and you’re bored out of your minds.

And so I think the implication there is you’ve been called to greater things. You’ve been called to bigger things. You’ve been called to bigger dreams. You hadn’t been called to watch a three-hour drama. You’ve actually been invited into the greatest epic saga the universe will ever know. And you’ve been invited to participate, not just be a spectator. And so that boredom in you is actually a call upwards and outwards to be a part of the greatest romance, the greatest adventure, the greatest war, the greatest drama that the universe will ever know.

And so on one hand, I’m really excited that you’re getting bored. When I hear my kids say that, part of me gets excited because the promises of the world are being exposed. And so that would be the first thing.

The second thing — and this is my worry — my worry is that there’s enough trinkets and enough toys to numb you to the fact that you are bored, that there’s enough new models coming out, there’s enough new toys, new ideas coming out that, unlike Job and unlike Solomon, you’re not going to hit the lows that Job did to find out that God’s great. And you’re not going to hit the heights that Solomon did that says it’s still meaningless. And you’re going to get stuck in that nebulous middle, tweeting and texting and Facebooking right up to eternity. And so my fear for you is that you’ll grow numb to the fact that your soul is restless by your gadgets. And my hope for you is that your boredom would let signal off by the power of the Holy Spirit that you’ve been called into greater things.

George Robertson: I really love what’s been said so far. I am very inspired by this generation. I regularly say to my people, “I have the privilege of pastoring my heroes,” and I mean by it people who are a lot younger than I am. Your generation is one of the most zealous and bravest that America’s known in a long time. That zeal is great. It’s inspiring, and I want to add fuel to the flame. The warning I would have is to make sure that zeal is accompanied by wisdom. Wisdom comes, as we’ve already said, through the church, by relationship, by doctrine, and so forth.

The one thing I would add is it’s really important for you to have old people in your life. When you’re looking for a church and graduation or while you’re in school, don’t necessarily spend all of your time in a church where everybody is your age because God has woven together a family of fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. There need to be people younger than you whom you can disciple and people older than you who can speak into your life too. That’s one of the beauties of the church.

Then I would say this in closing, what I have to say: Make sure, over all of that, a verse that I wish I had known when I was your age from Zephaniah, that God delights in you, and that Christ is your motivation. Consciously realize that Christ is your enablement for everything. Focus on his delight in you, not on others, and may that be your motivation. May his delight in you, his singing over you, be your encouragement to run upon a troop, to scale a wall, as the psalmist says, not your own hubris and self-confidence.