Connecting college students to Christ: Bringing light to the gospel


Amanda M. Klemp

The campus ministry in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, calls itself “Illumine.” The name, which has served them to “bring light from the Scriptures,” reflects how the group studies the Bible.

“When I met with a few university students after I first got here and asked them what they wanted out of campus ministry, they said, ‘If you’re going to do a fluffy Bible study, we’re not particularly interested,’ ” says Luke Thompson, campus pastor. That ambitious attitude from the students set the tone for the growing, three-year-old campus ministry.

Thompson focuses on two aspects to the ministry. The first is weekly socials, where the students get “the best meal they’ve had that week” followed by an in-depth Bible study.

“We go all out on the dinners and have things like ribs, Mexican, or Indian food,” says Thompson.

St. Paul congregation sets aside part of its budget for the meals, which are held in Thompson’s home. Thompson says a key component to building a relationship with the students is letting them know they have a “home,” a go-to where they can be comfortable.

The socials usually draw about 20 people. About one-third to one-half of the participants come from a Lutheran background. The others either have no background with Christianity or come from nominally Catholic homes. They are hungry to dive into Scripture.

“We basically have two types of students who show up. One is your WELS member looking for a community to find like-minded people and other conservative Christians. But the other half, the friends they invite, have no Christian background or very little Christian background, and they’ve never been exposed to apologetics, deep doctrine, or treating the Bible historically,” explains Thompson.

He continues, “Our Bible studies are very rigorous. We spend a lot of time on the historicity of the New Testament—looking at things like the transmission of the New Testament documents and texts, the reliability of them, the formation of the canon, the historical backgrounds of the gospels, and the historicity of the resurrection. This is the first time many of the students are exposed to this, and they get kind of addicted to it.” Several of the Bible study participants continue studying at the church’s Bible information class not necessarily to become a member but to get a strong, formal introduction to Christianity.

Many of the weekly Bible study attendees started by attending an Illumine Talk, the second main aspect of the campus ministry. These presentations look at elements of pop culture with a view toward literary criticism and Christian apologetics. Once each semester, Thompson will take a topic—ranging from zombies and contemporary fantasy to the modern anti-hero—and use it to examine human nature and how it reflects truths from Scripture. Then he shares the gospel. About 50 students attend, most of whom are not involved in campus ministry or a church at all. Thompson’s goal is to offer the most non-confrontational way possible for students to invite friends to an event that shares God’s Word.

In a multicultural college community that is overwhelmingly non-Christian, one of Thompson’s big goals is to equip the students to talk about the Bible like a New Testament apostle. He wants to remove the commonly defensive statement, “I believe,” from their faith vocabulary, particularly relative to opposing beliefs. He explains, “When you read the New Testament, they talk in a very different way. It’s not about ‘what I believe’ or something abstract, but they’re talking about real, historical, concrete events that took place.” He wants his students to share the gospel in the same way—sharing that it’s real and why it’s real.

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry

Amanda Klemp, WELS editorial projects manager, is a member at Living Word, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.


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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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