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Confessing the Faith at College
By Pam Knepper
Many people believe that the one person who can have the single greatest effect over whether a man decides to enter the Holy Ministry is his pastor. In the case of the Rev. Rick Milas this belief was more than an observation; it was the truth.
Growing up in Des Plaines, Ill. during the 1950s and 60s, Rev. Milas and his family attended St. John's Lutheran Church (located in Mt. Prospect), which at that time was led by the Rev. Waldemar Streufert.
"I remember even as a young boy what a great effect Pastor Streufert had on me. His sermons continually reminded all of us that we should have a great reverence for Christ and that we should continually thank and praise Him for what He has done for each of us by dying on the cross," said Rev. Milas. "This reverence was demonstrated in my pastor's sermons, the way in which he led the liturgy, and in his everyday life. He was a very faithful man who took the duties of the pastoral office very seriously."
Along with preaching, Rev. Streufert was also very dedicated to the confirmation classes that he taught.
"Rev. Streufert always said that he hoped that at least one boy out of each of his confirmation classes would end up going to seminary to become a pastor," remembered Rev. Milas. "In my case that ended up being true. Rev. Streufert was an excellent pastor and because of his influence on me, I eventually decided to devote my life to serving Christ in the Holy Ministry."
But like many young men, Rev. Milas' decision to become a pastor did not happen overnight.
Entering Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Ill., in the fall of 1971, Rev. Milas began his freshman year as a pre-pharmacy student.
"Even though Rev. Streufert's influence on me had been very strong, I really was not sure what I wanted to do with my life when I first began college," explained Rev. Milas. "It wasn't until I started getting involved with my campus church and talking with my campus pastor that it became clear to me that I wanted to become a pastor."
After much thought and prayer, Rev. Milas made the decision during his sophomore year of college that once he graduated he would enter Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), then located in Springfield, Ill.
Graduating in 1975 with a degree in economics, Rev. Milas began his seminary studies that fall.
Describing his years at CTS as an excellent experience, Rev. Milas said one of the things that he particularly liked about the seminary was the faculty.
"Among others, Dr. Scaer, Prof. Reuning, Dr. Weinrich, Dr. Judisch and Dr. Voelz were very good," said Rev. Milas. "I particularly enjoyed these men because they not only wanted us to learn but they wanted us to think on our own and not be afraid to express ourselves."
Rev. Milas credits his seminary education as the key in being able to deal effectively with the liberal theology that is so rampant in American society today.
"I was taught intellectual, conservative, confessional theology while at the seminary," explained Rev. Milas. "And because of the theological education that I received, today I am able to defend the faith of Jesus Christ even in the face of adversity."
Graduating in 1979 from the seminary, Rev. Milas' first call was to Christ Lutheran Church in Clinton, Ill. Describing the congregation as wonderful with great people, Rev. Milas says that it was during his sixth year of serving this congregation that he began to seriously think about going in a different direction with his ministry.
"Because of the positive experiences I had had at my own college church, I began to think what it would be like to head up a campus ministry," remembered Rev. Milas. "So I began to talk with my district president about these feelings."
A year later, Rev. Milas received a call to serve as campus pastor at University Lutheran Chapel at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Beginning in June 1986, Rev. Milas served this congregation for three years until February 1991 when he decided to return to the parish and accepted a call to serve as associate pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in West Allis, Wis.
A large congregation composed of some 2,700 members, during Rev. Milas' two years at St. Paul's he was primarily responsible for leading the youth and stewardship programs at the church.
"After serving at St. Paul's for two years it was becoming apparent to me that I missed college ministry," explained Rev. Milas. "So when the call to Immanuel Lutheran Church at Northern Illinois University was extended, I decided to take it."
Beginning in September 1994, the college ministry at Northern Illinois University DeKalb, Ill. was what Rev. Milas referred to as a town-gown ministry.
"Myself and another pastor served the church," explained Rev. Milas. "I handled the gown ministry which meant the students and the other pastor handled the town ministry which included the local community."
After serving Immanuel Lutheran for three and a half years, Rev. Milas accepted his current call as campus pastor at University Lutheran Church at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, beginning in September 1994.
The congregation serves the students at the university and averages around 95 worshippers every Sunday. A ministry that is grounded in Word and Sacrament, Rev. Milas teaches classes on the Lutheran Confessions, books of the Bible, follows the liturgy and practices closed communion.
One of the things that Rev. Milas particularly enjoys about college ministry is the fact that you can concentrate solely on the things of the ministry.
"What I mean by that is worship and Bible study," said Rev. Milas. "Since I am the one solely responsible for everything at the church I can concentrate on what a pastor has been called to do - namely, to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. I don't have to spend my days in meetings with different church boards because in campus ministry these groups don't exist."
On the other hand, because he is the sole person responsible for leading the church, this often means late hours so that he can be available for students.
"College students are in school during the day so that means most of their free time is at night," explained Rev. Milas. "As their pastor, I need to be available to them even if that means being awake late at night to talk with them."
Rev. Milas says the biggest challenge he is facing today as a campus pastor is the lure the big conservative, non-denominational church bodies are having on college students.
"These church bodies emphasize a theology that puts the person at the center instead of Christ," explained Rev. Milas. "For many people this is very alluring."
One of the ways that Rev. Milas is combating this challenge is by offering a ministry to the students whose sole focus is centered around the Word of God and the Sacraments.
"I have found that the appeal of the non-denominational churches only lasts for so long before students start questioning where the doctrine is," said Rev. Milas. "Once they discover that there is none, then many students either come back to our church or they decide to visit us for the first time. Our ministry of Word and Sacrament is very effective because they see that Christ is and should be at the center of the worship service instead of humans."
Rev. Milas says another thing that is most troubling to him is the prevailing attitude by many people that campus ministry is not important and therefore should be eliminated.
"Campus ministry not only offers students a church where they can go on campus but our university campuses desperately need a confessional voice," explained Rev. Milas. "On the one hand we have the voice of other religions along with the conservative, non-denominational churches; and on the other hand there is the world's voice. Students need a voice that clearly proclaims that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and that we must observe everything He teaches. This is something that needs to be taken very seriously. For if there is no confessional voice on our university campuses, then students will more than likely gravitate towards these other voices that do not speak the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ. And for that to happen would be a pure tragedy."
Rev. Milas and his wife Martha reside in Champaign, Ill., along with their two children, John and Laura.
Rev. Milas says that for men who are considering campus ministry, there are several things that they should be aware of before accepting a call as a campus pastor.
1. You must be somebody who is going to stand your ground on your beliefs.
2. You must have a loving way about you with the students, otherwise your behavior may drive them away from the church.
3. Remember that students like to experiment by thinking out loud.
4. Be aware that students will come to talk with you about issues that you may not agree with.
5. You will work late night hours.
6. You must have a good sense of humor.
7. Be willing to do activities with the students that you may not necessarily find important but may turn out to be the perfect opportunity for you to talk with the students.
8. If you are interested in campus ministry, let your seminary placement officer or district president know.
Pam Knepper is the managing editor of For the Life of the World.
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