It is my contention that any true ministry of the Church betrays its own raison d'etre if its focus departs from serving God's people with the pure word of the gospel and with the faithful administration of the holy sacraments. For even though some ministries have rather specialized contexts, and some even exist for a particular need within its specialized context, if the Word and Sacraments of God are not central to its work, then whatever good is being done by it, it would be better not to claim that it is a churchly work or ministry. Therefore, when we look at any ministry in particular, even those outside of the ordinary parish setting, the Christian ought to expect to find these chief things, the holy things, at the heart and core of what is offered and given.
In the case of campus ministry, which is the normal shorthand for the Church's presence on a school campus, usually a university campus, it is worth testing this view of ministry against what is actually being done. What one finds is quite mixed.
University Lutheran Chapel Milwaukee was a true ministry of the Church. It was a spiritually vibrant, and intellectually challenging place, where one could always expect his flesh to be killed by the preaching of the law, and to find new life in the forgiveness of sins and the sweet preaching of the gospel. The Mass was celebrated often. Private Confession was both preached and practiced. In defiance of the prevailing trend, which has Private Confession fallen into disuse, at ULC it was very much in use. It was a place on campus, and in one's life, where one could actually find the liturgy, and the best of the Church's tradition, and therefore it served a great need for young adults and indeed scholars of all ages, though it is not always a need that each one feels for himself until he learns to appreciate it. Life on the modern university campus includes much that is subjective, untrue, shifting, phony, unreal, and destructive, and at just the stage of life when one's very psyche only adds to all of this instability. Part of the blessing of ULC was that it was a campus ministry where one encountered what is most objective, true, firm, genuine, real, and edifying. Father Stephen Wiest did this for us by insisting on relentlessly preaching the law and the gospel, in the pulpit, in the Bible study, by informal discourse at a coffeehouse, wherever. And he did so by employing, indeed remaining a servant of, the liturgy of the Church, by which we were given the Holy Eucharist frequently. We were up to a couple of times a week, and moving toward daily mass. If there were ever a context fitting for the daily mass (and there are many), campus ministry is one of them. Fr. Wiest did all this, as a faithful servant of the Church, all while the Church bureaucracy fought him at every turn.
University Lutheran Chapel Minneapolis is another fine example of a campus ministry where the preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the holy sacraments is central to its life. There are others as well. Those two are naturally prominent in my little mind, because of my own experience.
When we turn, however, to a school like Concordia University Wisconsin, the pride of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod's Concordia University System, it would be hard to justify what we find against the standard above.
Take, for example, CUW's Campus Ministry 2010-2011 brochure, in which eleven full pages are devoted to what goes on at this Missouri Synod Lutheran university under the name of campus ministry. Inside the cover of the brochure is pictured the "campus pastor." He is pictured in a decidedly unchurchly and unclerical manner. I suppose that this is the look one wants if relevant ministry is the goal. I would like someone to explain just how this approach is relevant to the college student's life. In his opening letter, Pastor Smith encourages the student to get involved with campus ministry opportunities, and in making his case, he emphasizes that the benefits include such deep things as "enjoying your time at Concordia, developing as a person, having fun, and making lifetime (and eternal!) friendships." It would have been nice to see in this brief letter from the campus pastor an apologia for the value of the Word and Sacrament in the life of the busy and stressed out student, and an exhortation that the student avail himself of this precious ministry during his time at Concordia. But hey, maybe he chose to use a more winsome way to get the student in the door of the spiritual life of the campus, and once in the door, the student will be offered real meat.
Yet as we move on from that first page, the situation does not look very promising. On page 3 the broad view of the structure of the campus ministry apparatus is pictured in the form of a "family tree," with five main areas of ministry, and a number of ministries under each. There is Spiritual Outreach, Bible Studies, Congregational Ministries, Worship Committee, and Spiritual Growth. This is a complex web of organized "spiritual life." Besides those five main areas of campus ministry, we see, when we turn the page, that there is also a deaconess, who will be "overseeing spiritual growth and spiritual outreach ministries and starting new ministries." The next several pages introduce the various members of the committees. The main thing that this web of organization has going for it, it seems to me, is that it is an excellent way to prepare the young Lutheran for the world of synod bureaucracy.
Finally, on page 11, the last page of the brochure, there is actual information about worship, and here, in both what is said and what is not said, we find the most disturbing aspect of the whole brochure. The headline at the top of the page is Opportunities for Worship, and the information is divided into two parts, On-Campus and Off-Campus. For on-campus worship, nowhere does the reader see a Mass schedule. Use whatever nomenclature you want. It nowhere makes it clear when one can find the Holy Eucharist. Instead, it simply says that "worship" is at 10 o'clock on Sunday, and "chapel" is at 9:30 am during the week. It is certainly very positive that the Divine Office can be heard each week (Vespers on Monday and Tuesday, and Compline on Thursday). There is also a 9:30 pm worship on Wednesdays, which for most of the year is led by students. What sort of "worship" is this, and why is it led by students?
Aside from the vague sense of when if ever the Lord's Supper is celebrated, there are other facets of Pastor Smith's campus ministry about which the reader would like to be more informed. For example, how often does Pastor Smith preach? How often does an ordained Lutheran preacher preach? Is it still the practice that laymen on the faculty preach in chapel? This would be a violation of our Confessions, and a poor example for the young Lutheran, and the indeed for anyone on campus. What is the manner of liturgy and worship in these chapel services? Does Pastor Smith hear confessions? If so, why is there not a schedule for it in the campus ministry brochure?
On the second half of the last page we see opportunities for worship that are off-campus. Eight Lutheran Church Missouri Synod parish churches are listed, and this is followed by ten churches that are not in our fellowship. Two of them are ELCA, three are WELS, and those are followed by a Presbyterian Church, an Episcopal Church, a Bible Church, a Catholic Church, and a United Methodist Church! Over half of this list of churches (10 out of 18) are outside of our communion. Yet they are promoted by the Campus Ministry of CUW. Is this not disturbing? Is it not scandalous?
I raise these observations and questions based on the literature that CUW publishes, and as a Lutheran who ought to feel confident about recommending CUW to a young student in his life.
I cannot escape the conclusion that what we have are two very different models of campus ministry, one focused on the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of the Sacraments (including opportunity for Private Confession) and the other focused on the effort to get the students involved in doing things, having fun, and making them feel like their spiritual needs are being facilitated, no matter what confession they may represent. I pray the Church in our day, which exists in part to be present on the university campus, will move toward the former model, and actively move away from the latter model.