by Phillip Johnson
Do you remember your first day of college? Do you remember how it felt to walk into your first class and be handed your first official syllabus? Can you remember your first round of tests and the stress associated with each exam? Do you remember the temptations and pressures you faced while attending college?
It’s been over twenty years since I first stepped on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Yet, I vividly remember my first day as a college freshman. My first day on the campus of OU was filled with eye-opening experiences. The initial shock came when I entered my first class. I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into that Chemistry classroom, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw. The lecture classroom was packed with 550 students. My high school graduating class in Temple, OK consisted of twenty students. The entire student population of Temple schools Kindergarten through 12th grade might have been 200 on a good day. The population of Temple itself was 800 if you threw in a few dogs and cats. Many thoughts raced through my head as I was setting in that class. The one reoccurring thought that dominated my mind was, “How can I possibly succeed academically in this environment?”
Later that day, I experienced another “culture shock” moment. I lived in the dorms my first year at OU. The floor I lived on was labeled the “party floor.” I quickly learned why and how this floor achieved this title. Less than 24 hours after being in the dorms, my faith was being tested in ways it had never been before. John’s description of the world in 1 John 2:15-16 was on display right in front of me. How would I respond? Would I stand up for what was right or go along with the crowd? Would I resist temptation or indulge the flesh? I thought to myself, “How can I possibly survive spiritually in these surroundings?”
I did succeed academically at OU. More importantly I survived spiritually while attending the University of Oklahoma. How? In one word…church! My family at the Westside church of Christ made all the difference. At OU I was just a number. At Westside, I was a valuable part of a family. At OU I was just another face in the crowd. At Westside, I had a name and a place to belong.
You could say my life has come full circle. I now preach at the church I attended while attending OU. Preaching in a university town brings many blessings and challenges. The word that best describes what it’s like to preach in a university setting is opportunity. I have special opportunities to reach out to unbelievers, to share God’s direction with young people and to help others grow spiritually.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “mission field”? Most Christians think of countries such as India, Honduras, and Haiti. These places are great mission fields, but there are also evangelism opportunities in America. I live in a mission field. I preach in a mission field. Preaching in a university town provides unique “mission” opportunities. There are more than 20,000 students on the campus of OU who need to hear the good news about Jesus. What an awesome responsibility! What a great opportunity! Jesus commands us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” Going into the entire world begins in our local communities. The Coca-Cola Company has adopted the slogan, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Coke has used this slogan as motivation to take their products throughout the world. We should adopt this same strategy in our efforts to share the gospel with the world. Evangelism begins in our homes, our neighborhoods and our local towns. In Norman, it also includes a unique opportunity to reach college students.
Direction for Life
Another opportunity presented to ministers in a college town is the chance to connect students to God’s Word. What are the three most important decisions a person will make in life? The most important decision a person will make is choosing Jesus. Committing one’s life to Christ through obedience of the gospel is THE most important decision facing all humanity. Secondary to this is making choices concerning who we will date and marry. Another important decision is the choice of a career. When do most people make these decisions? Many of life’s most important choices are made between the ages of 13 and 25. We face many important decisions. God provides us guidance. God gives us real answers to life’s biggest questions. God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I cherish the opportunity to bring young people face to face with God’s Word.
Much has been written about the faith dropout problem facing the church. A high percentage of young people are leaving the church when they attend college. If we lose one young person, we’ve lost too many. Ministering in a university setting provides opportunity to tackle this challenge. I have seen college students fall away from the Lord and His church. I have also watched college students thrive spiritually. I’ve served side by side with college students in mission fields domestic and abroad. I’ve witnessed college students share the gospel with their friends. I’ve seen many young people choose God over the allure of the world. Some young people do fall away when they go to college; however, not every young person loses their faith. In fact, many young people grow in their faith and thrive spiritually! I am blessed to have the opportunity to help young people grow their faith.
Ministry is filled with opportunities. Ministering in a college setting brings unique opportunities. Wherever you minister, take advantage of every opportunity you have to serve God.
Phillip Johnson preaches for the Westside Church of Christ in Norman, Oklahoma. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.