Today is what I used to call “syllabus day” at the University of New Mexico. It was the first day of classes, the day when usually class was short and all the professors did, was handout syllabuses for the semester. It was a fun, exciting and sometimes stressful day.
This marks for me in many ways the first day of my “senior year” in college ministry. This year will be my last school year of leading and directing The Well. I will be, Lord willing, planting a church in Rio Rancho, NM, in a year. This year will be bitter-sweet in regards to The Well and spending time at UNM and CNM, talking to students and praying over the campus.
With that said, I want to write specifically to my brothers and sisters who will be on campus at UNM or other college campuses this year, ministering and working to spread the gospel to students. I know there are various agencies and churches that will be on campus, and from my observations I have a few pleas and encouragements to give, to whomever will listen.
- Your students need you to lead. This seems obvious, but I have seen many examples of ministers on campus who well past their college years seem to use their ministry as a reason to still act like a college student. Your students don’t need someone to relate to as much as they need someone who is willing to love, to rebuke and to observe in how they love and follow Jesus. College ministry is not about games, about pretending to be youth group extended, it is about proclaiming Jesus, walking alongside students who are figuring out what they believe and why they believe it, thinking up “icebreaker” games and being the silly, cool dude is not your calling.
- Love Jesus more than you love your ministry. I have met college leaders who seem to be more excited about the group they work for then they are about Jesus. You are not working to get your students in love with your ministry, you are to get out of the way, and put Jesus at the center of all you do and who you are, if you miss that, you miss everything.
- The local church is not an option for the students Christian walk, it is a vital ingredient. If your ministry seems to replace church, with the amount of involvement you require, if being plugged into a church means to you Sunday morning attendance, you need to re-prioritize your ministry. Over and over again the New Testament shows that God gathers believers together through the means of the local church, your job is not to replace that, it is to support and be a bridge to that, don’t burn that bridge by filling your students, leaders or selves up with things to do in a manner that actually doing the one another’s of Scripture is next to impossible within the local body of Christ. If you are a leader, once again, lead out in this, your students will see what you think is important by what you make time for.
- You are not that cool. No matter what activity you think will “reach” and be “relevant” to students, it doesn’t and won’t be. I was an unbeliever in college, parties, girls and bars were way cooler than getting together with a bunch of Christians and playing awkward games or even watching a movie. PREACH the gospel, that is all you got, that is all you need. Be honest, be blunt, let God amaze you with what He does through you when you feel unhip, irrelevant and boring. Students who don’t know Jesus are willing to listen to what you believe and why you believe it, they are serious and if you aren’t or if you are trying to impress them, you will lose their interest and respect.
I am sure I have stepped on toes, and I am ok with that. I wrote out these 4 things though, not just from observations, but from experience. In my 3 years of doing college ministry on a full-time basis I struggled in all 4 of these areas.
I wanted to be the cool guy that was more like a friend and classmate than a leader. At times I found myself idolizing The Well, more than adoring Jesus. I thought of all kinds of things to get students to serve and to grow, and sometimes lost sight of the local church (and my ministry was part of the local church!). I would sometimes think, “This night, this game, this video clip, is cool and relevant” only to realize how it was really lame and came across as trying too hard.
Above all else though, don’t hear from me, hear from Scripture let Paul’s words penetrate your soul as you hit the campus:
1 Corinthians 15:1–11 (ESV)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, c and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.