RUF IN 5 QUESTIONS
It seems that the pressures on college students are mounting each year: eating disorders, homesickness, family dysfunctions (divorce, alcoholism, abuse), financial worries, broken relationships, personal addictions, and tragedies among family and friends are more than students can handle alone. The ordained campus minister’s ability to handle the Scriptures in an accurate way, to preach effectually, and to counsel with the application of Scripture lends a tremendous advantage for effective ministry during this critical phase in life and faith. An ordained minister is accountable to a Presbytery for his life and practice, under the authority and oversight of the church. This protects the student from loose or misapplied doctrine and builds a sound Biblical foundation. Theological training grants the campus minister eyes to identify the origin of cultural-philosophical issues expressed in the classroom or dorm and provides the tools and knowledge to wisely advise and pastorally care. The psalmist said, “look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me…no one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). A seminary trained and ordained minister is capable of “soul-care.” Parents can feel at ease knowing their child is under the care of an ordained minister, and the University administration and faculty gain a sense of trustworthiness from our seminary-trained and ordained ministers as well. The model is very effective!
2. How does RUF see itself as an extension of the church and not a replacement for the church?
It is not the purpose of RUF to strengthen campus ministry; our goal is to strengthen the church. RUF is only a means to that end, seeking to point to Jesus and His body through the great hymns of the church and the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. RUF develops leaders for the church. We develop relationships with the intentional purpose of sharing the gospel and discipling converts. RUF encourages students to get involved with a local church and serve to the best of their ability. We want students to get caught up in a vision that is much bigger than them and yet includes them -- to show mercy around the world with spring break trips and service projects. RUF is a part of a denomination that wants to love and serve college students. Our baptismal vows don’t end with high school graduation but continue through college. RUF will have done a good job if ten years from now, we find all of these students in the church serving that local body. This is greater than having provided a “best four years of your life!!” college ministry experience. They will see that RUF helped prepare them for the “day.” RUF exists to connect students to Christ, the Church, and Community.
3. What makes RUF distinct from other campus ministries?
RUF is distinct in placing only a seminary trained and ordained minister on a campus. That minister preaches weekly through a book of the Bible or on a particular Biblical theme. RUF is a distinctly church-based campus ministry; our ministers are called by the church and must subscribe to our Confession of Faith. As a consequence we hold to a fixed theology for our ministry but allow flexibility in our methodology. We hold a distinctive respect for the academy and want to serve and love people there, so we only go to campuses where we are welcomed in the front door. As their guest, we aim to follow their policies without compromising our beliefs.
We see a student’s calling at this stage in their lives to be a student, so we encourage them in that calling and do not busy them with activities that distract from their studies. We want them to understand that by being a good student they glorify God and also lend real credibility to Christianity in the eyes of their professors. Our evangelism is organic and respectful, helped along by our all comers policy. Everyone is welcomed at RUF, not just Christians. RUF seeks to offer the maximum amount of truth to the maximum amount of people.
4. What would you say to parents sending their students to college for the first time regarding RUF? How can they help their students connect? What is productive/counter-productive?
This transition will be difficult. Some have said that the first year of college is the riskiest. Students often only see the good side of greater independence and come to believe that leaving home will be easy. Many can’t wait. As a result, neither they nor their parents prepare for their leaving home. Students and parents are seldom ready for what they are up against in a University context, from the classroom to the dorm room. So many things surprise a student at college, often taking them down a different path than they (or their parents!) would want. The necessary work of “letting go” and trusting God with children will be a little easier if together they have actually prepared for this day. Getting a student connected to a campus ministry in their freshman year is crucial. Talk about it before they leave home. Try to visit an RUF. Get to know the campus minister. Students will want anonymity but then will be surprised by how lonely they may feel. Parents need to patiently inquire about what their children are doing but resist what is actually counter-productive: harassing your child or even expecting a campus minister to harass them on your behalf! If you have prepared for this day, you will know that God is at work.
5. What role can the local church play in supporting RUF as an organization and campus ministers and interns as individuals?
First of all, it is imperative that the church carry out its covenantal responsibility to edify members of the household of God. During the years when students are largely separated from the influences of home and the local church, the church must fulfill in a special way the vow its members have taken to assist parents in the Christian nurture of their children. The church must go to the campus with a Christian view of God and the world. Secondly, we must see the University as a mission field. Thousands of students do not know Jesus; we have a unique opportunity to reach these students for Christ and equip them to serve in church. Thousands of lonely international scholars thirst for connection; we can provide hospitality for the sake of the gospel (learn more at www.ruf.org/ruf-international).Thirdly, if a church is close to a campus, an amazing opportunity exists to love students and assimilate them into the life of the church. Invite students to put their feet under your table, to observe your family, and to see a good marriage. Simply be a friend to a student. Fourth, financial support is a major way that the local church can support RUF. The overall budget of RUF is 23 million dollars. If every member of the PCA just gave $80.00 a year, the ministry would be funded. If every church in the PCA gave just $10.00 per member, our entire operating budget would be funded. My point is, this is a small investment for such a great outcome. Right now, RUF is reaching thousands of students on nearly 150 campuses. Lastly, pray for RUF regularly. The campus ministers and interns are doing strategic kingdom work that Satan hates. Pray for their teaching, preaching, and sharing the burdens of students. Pray as they deal with so many idols that have captured the hearts, minds and bodies of students. Pray for our senior staff, that they will pastor all of these people well. Thank the Lord for His covenant faithfulness through RUF.
Rod Mays has served as the national Coordinator of Reformed University Ministries since 1999. Prior to becoming the Coordinator, he served as senior pastor of Presbyterian Churches in West Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina. Rod and his wife, Debra, live in Greenville, South Carolina and have a married daughter, Morgan Elizabeth (Meg) Benthall.