Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions
My husband and I are youth pastors at Harvest in Roseville, and we really want to do more on-campus ministry. I was reading about a youth pastor who held a weekly pizza lunch at the local high school. I was wondering how to go about getting permission to do this. Who do you contact, is it allowed? Thanks so much for taking the time to answer this.
Amanda, Roseville, CA
Thanks for the email.
WHAT IS THE LAW IN THE U.S.
Schools don't have to let pastors on campus. The only hard fast rule is that students can start a Bible club if other student clubs are allowed on campus (equal access law). But that's STUDENTS.
WHO CAN GET ON CAMPUS?
If schools DO allow adults on campus, the normal stipulation is don't proselytize (don't talk about God). This is a fair rule. Because if they didn't do this, picture the school campus: Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons . . . you name it, all walking around campus pushing their religion. Holy wars on campus! So if a school DOES allow us on campus, they most often require us not to push our own programs or religion, but to simply be a positive example on campus. Very often you may have to go through the hoops of a TB test, getting fingerprinted, etc.
HOW CAN WE GET ON CAMPUS?
The key is building trust with the school by NOT violating their rules. To be honest, there are a number of youth pastors out there that are ruining it for the rest of us because they take an "aggressive approach." They quote "God's law is above man's law," and they go on campus and talk about God anyway. And if they aren't allowed on campus, then they often are found lurking around the campus at SEE YOU AT THE POLE, reminding the administration that "you can't stop the power of the Gospel" and handing out flyers for their youth group (against most school's policy). These youth pastor's motives aren't bad . . . but their methodology is poor.
We need to keep the big picture in mind. Would it be better to be banned from campus and not have access to students or would it be better to have access to campus, build trust with students, and share with them OFF-CAMPUS?
Over a decade ago there is a great example of the type of catastrophe that the "aggressive approach" can have. At the time, most the schools in our city were open to pastors on campus as well as some on-campus programs. Many of the schools actually allowed some campus ministry organizations to use the school after school for ministry programs where the Gospel was allowed to be preached. Things were good. Literally thousands of students were being reached through these on-campus contacts.
A well known Christian organization brought a speaker in for an assembly. The school trusted "the church" in general in our city, so allowed the speaker as long as he followed the rules of not talking about God in the assembly. The speaker decided to justify his actions with "God's law is above man's law," and announced that nothing could stop him from sharing the Word of God. He preached the Gospel blatantly in an assembly with hundreds of kids. Parents flipped out- the school administration was outraged (rightly so- the speaker didn't keep his commitment) and everything was shut down in the city. This particular school district didn't discriminate which organization did what- it just removed all ministries, pastors . . . you name it- they removed it all from campus. Open doors reaching thousands of students a week were closed because one guy "had to" share to a few hundred kids ONCE! Of course he simply said "blessed are those who are persecuted for their righteousness."
IT MIGHT TAKE TIME
When I worked with a junior high school ministry years ago, for years I could never get on-campus. The principal always said he couldn't allow us on-campus because of the "Church and State thing." But a few years later when a new principal arrived, a board member introduced me- and I was on campus as much as I wanted. It just took time building report with people in the community like that board member.
NETWORKING CAN HELP
One last thought. Because of my years with Youth for Christ- I can’t help but to encourage you to contact any local campus ministry organizations. Check out and see if there are any Youth for Christ, Young Life, or Fellowship of Christian Athlete organizations in your community. Meet with some of the ministers there and find out what schools they have relationships with in the community. Hopefully they would be open to introducing you to administration. Obviously- you might have to build trust with these campus ministries first.
Hope that helps.
The Source for Youth Ministry