Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) founder Mark Lowrey choked back tears as he described the vision that inspired his ministry at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in the early 1970s.
“We were gonna impact the world with the gospel, and people were gonna understand who Christ was, and they were gonna come to him, and they were gonna be part of his church,” he said in a 2023 video celebrating the 50th anniversary of RUF.
Lowrey died on Christmas Eve at age 78, but not before seeing RUF spread to 177 university campuses in 43 states, employing 160 ordained ministers, 57 women in staff roles, and 157 interns. Lowrey also spent more than 25 years with Great Commission Publications, a curriculum ministry jointly supported by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).
Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on September 27, 1945, Lowrey earned his undergraduate degree from USM and served one tour in Vietnam with the army before enrolling at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, Mississippi.
In 1971 Lowrey was approached by leaders from three Presbyterian churches in Hattiesburg and asked to lead the college ministry at USM. Called “Westminster Fellowship,” the campus ministry had begun in the 1950s as a ministry supported jointly by the three churches and carried out by ordained ministers. But by the early 1970s, the ministry had stalled: It had no USM students. The churches hoped a first-year seminarian would revive the ministry.
“I had been deeply impressed by a speaker at RTS who drove home the church’s unique role in carrying out Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations,” Lowrey later explained in an essay commemorating the founding of RUF. He also recalled his time at several InterVarsity Christian Fellowship conferences and how InterVarsity wrestled with the question, How do you do ministry on the college campus?
Despite the obstacles, Lowrey saw an opportunity at USM. Denominational campus ministries in the 1960s and 1970s had focused on students from their own denominations and “had largely substituted social concerns and activism for evangelism and discipleship,” he wrote in 2023.
Lowrey’s approach would be different: Minister to children from Presbyterian churches, but carry out the Great Commission to all students. As a ministry of the church, his campus work would teach students the importance of being part of the local church both now and for the rest of their lives. As the ministry grew, campus ministers—almost always seminary-trained and ordained— ministered “to students through students,” according to Lowrey, with the goal of producing students who would serve the church upon graduation.
The ministry focused on the essentials of the Christian faith as expressed in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith: the authority of Scripture, salvation through Christ alone, growth in grace, worldview, evangelism, and service.
The campus ministry at USM officially became a PCA ministry in 1973, when two of the three supporting churches transferred into the newly formed denomination. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, RUF campus ministries began at several Mississippi institutions, including Belhaven College (now Belhaven University), Mississippi College, and Mississippi State University. The PCA presbyteries in Mississippi encouraged Lowrey to expand the ministry. He developed an internship program, summer conference, staff training programs, and short-term missions conferences.
In 1983 Lowrey became the PCA’s coordinator for campus ministry.
“Mark was equal parts a vision person and a detail person,” recalled James “Bebo” Elkin, who served alongside Lowrey in Mississippi in the early days of the ministry. “He was skilled at putting together a coalition: he wasn’t just a master of facts and figures, he also prioritized relationships with people, and could get them involved in key ways.”
In 1996 Lowrey moved from college ministry to children’s ministry and served as director of publications for Great Commission Publications (GCP) from 1996 until 2020. The publishing ministry that produced the Trinity Hymnal was struggling financially and needed to update its curriculum offerings for children.
Central to this new curriculum would be teaching children that all of Scripture—both the Old and New Testaments—points to Jesus Christ. They named the curriculum “Show Me Jesus.”
Lowrey navigated GCP through the pandemic as its interim executive director from 2020 to 2021, and then as executive director from 2021 until 2023.
As news of Lowrey’s passing spread, tributes poured in on social media. Fellow pastors described him as a “true churchman” and a faithful mentor.
“His life and ministry helped shape the PCA in ways not readily visible but undeniable,” said Daryl Madi, a pastor. “Much like a steel support beam running the length of a house. It doesn’t get prominently displayed for guests to see, but nothing would be the same without it.”
He is survived by his wife Priscilla, whom he met and married while she was working for InterVarsity Fellowship in the early 1970s, and their two children, Leonard and Elizabeth.
“If you let the Word loose with the Holy Spirit, then he changes people,” Lowrey said of RUF. “I know that God’s still working because that’s what it’s about—God’s work.”