By MacKenzie Wood
Hello there! My name is MacKenzie Wood and I am in my third year as an apprentice with Sojourn Campus Ministry at the University of Washington. Having recently graduated from college, I have been able to see the impact of campus ministry in my own life as a student, and now as a minister with Sojourn over the past few years. And it has been such a blessing! There have been ups and downs, and through it all, I’ve seen God work in my life and in the lives of students.
I am originally from Yakima, WA which is about 3 hours east of Seattle. Before working with Sojourn Campus Ministry, I had been a student at the University of Washington (UW) and I had been really involved with campus ministry as a student! It was where I found community and a place to continue learning about God and growing in my faith. As I was approaching my last year of college, I felt that God had given me a heart for campus ministry and I wanted to stay and work with students at UW. After graduating in the spring of 2020, I contacted Sojourn Campus Ministry, because I had seen on their website that they had an apprenticeship program. After talking with them, they invited me to the program! I moved back to Seattle in September of 2020 (I had been home because of COVID) and I was ready to begin working with the campus ministry.
Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of working with Sojourn Campus Ministry. The 2020-2021 school year was a challenging one. The UW campus was almost completely remote. It was very difficult to meet new students and all of our bible studies had to be done over Zoom for the majority of the year. But through that time, God taught me how to trust Him day-by-day, persevere through challenging and uncertain times, and to love those God had put me with at that time. I learned a lot about prayer and about patience (especially with the 7 roommates I had at the time).
Then the 2021-2022 school year came around. We were so excited that students would finally be back on campus! Yet, a bit apprehensive, knowing that things could still suddenly change. Many students had graduated and we met very few new students the year before, so we had only a few students in the ministry at that time. It was hard to imagine how we would grow the ministry. But, stepping out in faith and trusting that God had work for us to do at the university, we began tabling in the Quad and passing out flyers. Over the first two weeks of school, we met many students, several of whom would come to be the committed members of our group. We met students who came from a variety of different backgrounds, and some who weren’t Christian, but were open and curious. And as we have begun building community together, we had weekly bible studies and nights where we took communion together and shared our testimonies. It was a blessing to watch as students opened up and shared the journey God has been taking them on.
Now, as I finish out the third fall quarter with Sojourn, I am so grateful for all the students that are a part of our ministry and have been so excited to see how God is moving in their lives.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on why campus ministry is so important. And these are the thoughts that have come to mind:
1. College campus ministry invites non-Christians to hear about Jesus, possibly for the first time. At UW and at many US universities, there are students coming from all around the world and from a variety of different backgrounds. Many students we meet come from a Christian background, but there are also so many who don’t! Some might be too afraid to enter a church, but we are able to meet them on common ground and share the gospel with them!
2. College is a time of learning new ideas. It’s important for students to see that God cares about the things that they are passionate about. Growing up in the church, it is easy to think that if you want to live a life serving the Lord, you have to work in church ministry. Sometimes, it can even feel like there is a struggle between wanting to serve God and wanting to pursue the passions they have. Many of the students we meet often see their studies as very separate from their faith and their relationship with God. As campus ministers, we get to invite them into seeing their passions and gifting as being intertwined with the call God has on their lives. They get to be challenged on their intentions for what they want to do, and lean in to being a part of what God is doing in the world, in whatever area of work or career.
3. Campus ministry invites the church into a bigger picture of what God is doing in their community. Campus ministry cannot function well without the support of local churches and local believers. Sometimes, it is hard to want to invest in students who are constantly coming and going, rarely staying longer than 4 years. It is hard to continually say goodbye. But the reality is, the things they learn in college will go on to impact them for years to come. And they will be the ones who go back to their homes and carry the gospel with them. More than that, we have the opportunity to learn from those who come from so many different backgrounds. And we are often challenged by the perspective of others, forced to wrestle with our faith and grow in our knowledge of God. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s important that we step into the uncomfortable so we can continue to grow.
I myself can testify to the life-changing impact of campus ministry. It provided a community and a safe place to grow in my faith and ask questions. And it was for this very reason that I knew I wanted to work in campus ministry. College can be a time of great joy, anxiety, chaos, excitement, and discovery. And what a blessing it has been to be a part of this journey with students and point them to the One who sees them and loves them amidst it all.
So, dear reader, I would like you to consider becoming involved in campus ministry! If you are a student, I would encourage you to consider becoming an apprentice with a campus ministry. And if you are a leader with a church or a campus ministry organization, I would encourage you to consider creating apprenticeship programs. What a great way to invite young people to serve their peers, learn how to become a leader, and grow in their faith.
A Theology of Silence
As a preacher there are times that I feel pressure to express something about something in the culture.
And I meant for that sentence to be purposely vague!
Various stories arise in the news that create a tug on me to post on social media or to speak up on Sunday morning. Hopefully this is not the Spirit tugging on me, for reasons I will explain shortly, but I do not think it is. I think it is this impulse that I need to participate in the cultural battle of the day.
Another shooting at a school. Should I say something?
A musical artist dressed silly on an awards show or a football game or just getting eggs at an LA supermarket.
Should I say something?
The entire Christian subculture is debating this issue or talking about this peculiar religious event that’s happening. Should I say something? Often in these moments, saying nothing can feel like abdication of a responsibility to pastor the flock.
Because we all have a platform to broadcast our thoughts we have tricked ourselves into thinking that we all need to broadcast our thoughts and should broadcast our thoughts. Inherent in this confusion is the reality that social media not only platforms us all, but also makes us feel non-existent vacuums. “If I don’t say something then all anyone will hear is the other side! I have to be the brave soldier of truth that stands up to the godless armies of falsehood!” This fallacy is all the more clear when you look at the size of social media. Someone who thinks what you are thinking has certainly posted on it. In fact, probably thousands of someones. If you haven’t seen it, then you have not looked hard enough or the algorithm just wants to squash this sentiment.
The invention of social media has created a false sense of necessity.
As Christians we have not spent enough time considering a theology of silence.
When is silence appropriate? When is it wise? A few things quickly come to mind. Jesus, in the midst of an unjust criminal process, chose to say very little. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb before the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). These passages of the suffering servant suggest that at times the oppressive hand of empire does not deserve a response, or at the least will not care to listen. Similarly, Jesus chose silence when responding to those who would stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8). More generically, the wisdom of Proverbs states “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:28). Job’s friends, throughout their encounters with the suffering man, show how damaging it can be when someone prattles on about something which they do not understand. As God says, they have been obscuring his plans with words lacking in understanding (Job 38:2).
There is a theme of minding your own business in certain contexts in Scripture. When the Sons of Thunder are worried about raining fire down from heaven on inhospitable people Jesus is appalled at their angry outbursts (Luke 9:55). Jesus tells his disciples to not worry about others doing exorcisms in his name because “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Paul is fine with those who preach out of selfish ambition as long as Jesus is proclaimed (Philippians 1:18). And Paul’s great advice about how we should express our religious opinions on disputable matters? “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22). These are all scenarios where Christians are encouraged to just let certain circumstances go by without comment.
Often we feel compelled; we have to say something. We cannot bear to allow oppression to happen unopposed! We cannot let theological error go unchallenged! We must expose those acting selfishly under the guise of religion! Or at a more basic level, we must show the world how smart or right we are! And to all of this I would counter, “Sure you can.” The Bible often calls us to consider how to still our tongue or gives us examples of godly silent people. We have to be more discerning and less reactionary.
I know there can be a counter argument said about the importance of speaking up in the face of evil. One might point to issues of justice like Jesus driving the money changers from the temple or Esther speaking for her people. Stories of persecution in the book of Daniel show believers willing to stand in protest against idolatry and the king. I would humbly suggest even those texts are a bit more silence friendly than we think. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to act in certain ways, but they don’t exactly wax poetic about it. Esther is encouraged to speak, but even there her silence would lead to personal punishment, not a thwarting of God’s will. Ultimately there are things we need to say which will cause division. But thriving in that division and conflict is not what these passages call for.
The other reality of a social media world is that it bifurcates society on most every issue. False dichotomies replicate like amorous rabbits. Not every issue has “two sides.” Nuance is possible. I fear that our quickness to speak creates a quickness to divide. It is concerning how often a careful statement is boiled down into a caricature deserving of ridicule. This matters because a refusal to participate in that game is not the same as not caring about the issue at hand. Sometimes silence is rooted in understanding that the culture at large simply cannot show the necessary patience to engage in a real conversation. Feeding the outrage machine helps no one.
I struggle with many of these themes in part because I am a millennial and am too aware of the faults of my generation. For good reasons, many of us have developed some habits that are together metastasizing. One is an obsession with ideological purity. Someone can only be trustworthy if they are without sin, so to speak, within a particular community of thought. This purity obsession also makes everyone defensive, lest they be proven to fall short in any way which would disqualify themselves from conversation. Furthermore, due to a perception that previous generations too easily acquiesced to injustice, my generation can be unrelenting. There is no space for grace or mercy. Those guilty of missteps must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law! Finally, silence is itself a sin. If you aren’t speaking up you are part of the problem! So people are compelled to speak, required to do so with 100% agreement to the in-group think, and will lose their credibility totally if they fail at either step.
So what do we do? Do we just sit in cowardice? No. But we have to have a higher standard by which we determine if our words are necessary. I do not think the problem is totally unique. James talks about the danger of the tongue in chapter 3 of his epistle. Often we divorce that section from the end of the chapter because of the headings in our Bibles. But the argument flows naturally in the book. You need to tame your tongue! It is difficult and many do not, but it is important! But then he continues with this: live differently instead. Show your wisdom by your life as much as by your words. And what does a wise life look like? “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” When I speak, it should be in such a way that is pure. It comes from good intentions. It loves peace (and presumably hates conflict) and thinks about how others feel. When possible, it allows others to have control. It gives people a break and produces goodness in the world. I do my best to say what things actually are, not spin them to my side. Mean what you say. When you try to make the world more peaceful, then you live in right relationships with God and others. And if we cannot speak in a way that seeks peace, maybe we should not say anything at all.