While attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly last week, I found myself talking to a former campus ministry colleague. He commented, “When are these folks going to realize that old campus ministers run this group?”
I think we can agree that no one “runs” a group of Baptists, but he reminded me of how influential campus ministry (or “Baptist Student Union” or “Baptist Student Ministries” or “Baptist Collegiate Ministries”) has been in Baptist life in the south in the last (almost) 100 years and its contribution to progressive Baptist life today.
One of the strongest influences of “student work” has been in the realm of missions. The student missionary movement of the last 1940s and early 1950s not only expanded the number of field personnel sent out by Baptist entities, but it also planted the seeds for short-term and volunteer mission activities that are so central in the ministry of churches today.
Baptist campus ministry also had a strong influence on social justice. College student meetings were racially integrated long before many of our churches opened their doors to African-Americans. Women rose to places in leadership in campus organizations so prominently that many conservative leaders felt threatened. In fact, women were the first “directors” of many Baptist Student Union organizations and lost ground to men when the role became more professionalized and had to fight to regain a role in the ministry.
As Baptists in the south began to choose up sides in the 1980s, campus ministers often found themselves pulled in (at least) two directions. Some left denominational life over the tension and began to minister as chaplains, pastoral counselors, or in community agencies. Some left to work with progressive churches. Some just left the ranks of the clergy.
Others became leaders in the moderate movement of Baptists. I find many of them in CBF-related churches across the nation. People like Tom Logue in Arkansas, Bradley Pope in Mississippi, Bill Junker in Tennessee and others too numerous to name became leaders in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The tradition continues as Ronnie Brewer, a former campus minister in Alabama, was called from the pastorate last year to become coordinator of Alabama CBF.
One of the reasons that I enjoy attending the CBF General Assembly each year is that I get to see some of my former campus ministry colleagues. They have found a home in the CBF family because they helped lay the foundation for it in their ministries. I celebrate the contributions they have made in pushing and pulling Baptists into a new era.