College Ministry Questions

I’ve been reading up on ministry to college students (College Ministry from Scratch: Equipping Kids for Life after Youth Group, by Chuck Bomar) and want to share a little about what I have learned:

It is important to get to know the college-aged people in our ministry, spending time with them and getting to know them is important.

  1. What Commitments Do You Want to Shape Your Life? This question is good to ask for a number of reasons.
    1. First, it helps college-age people think through commitment. Some never commit, some over commit, while others commit without realizing the implications of that commitment. So asking this question gets the idea of commitment to the front of their minds and hopefully forces them to move from one stage to the next.
    2. Second, this question gets down to what they desire. College-age people are trying to figure out what they want. Many people are asking them what they’re going to do with their lives, but they don’t move toward that until they figure out what they want. In other words, this question will help them with a thought process they’re already in. It’s helping them figure out what they want to be committed to. Notice that I didn’t say what they are committed to. Once they figure out what they want to be committed to, we can help them differentiate those things with what they are committed to already. Most likely they’re currently doing things that undermine the very things they want in life. And it’s at this point of the conversation that discipleship really begins. Our desire is to get them to the point where they want their commitment to God to shape their lives. What we commit to today will shape our lives tomorrow. So the key is getting them to a point where they’re aligning their commitments with what they desire. It might take a dozen meetings to discuss this question fully, but it’s worth the time.
  2. How Do You Know You’re a Christian? This is a bit of a loaded question. We often ask questions like, “How did you become a Christian?” or even “When or how did you get saved?” but it’s different to ask a question worded this way.
    1. This is a great question to get people thinking theologically, and it can launch you into a very long, yet healthy and fun conversation. The goal of asking this is to help them gain a sense of confidence in their salvation.
    2. But beware: The opposite might happen first. And this is where it gets fun. Most of the time their response will have something to do with a time they remember praying. Challenge this. Ask them something like, “So, you know you’re a Christian because you prayed one time?” You’ll likely witness some intellectual gymnastics at this point. They might flounder around a bit, struggling to find an answer. But this is healthy. Although it might get a bit uncomfortable for them, we’re actually helping them toward being more confident in who they are in Christ. Eventually we can guide them toward:
      1. Seeing the fruits of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23),
      2. Seeing the transformation that’s taken place (Romans 12:2),
      3. Seeing their obedience to Christ (John 15:10), and
      4. Seeing the love they have for other believers (1 John 5:1). But letting them discover these things for themselves by asking them questions is a great and natural way of helping them get there.
  3. What’s the Difference Between a Faith and a Conscience? So many college-age people, especially those who’ve grown up in the church, have more of a religious conscience than they do a personal faith. This question can take some explaining on your part, so I’ll help you out here.
    1. The bottom-line difference is that we’re not saved through a conscience; we’re saved through our faith (Ephesians 2:8). Helping college-age people differentiate between these two things is very important. A conscience is gained by receiving information. What we’re taught shapes our conscience. So it’s possible to do certain things—or not do them—simply because we grew up being taught that way.
    2. College-age people are at the point where they’re reevaluating all of the assumptions they grew up with. They’re trying to figure out what they personally believe, versus just assuming something to be true because their parents believe that way. So, this question is just another way of helping them think through what they’re already processing. It gets to the core of what they believe, and it’s a natural way for us to join in on that journey.
  4. Who Are You? This question gets to the core issue of college-age people: Identity. Identity is not an issue; it’s the issue that college-age people are thinking through. This might seem like a simple question, but it’s not.
    1. It’s a great question because it forces people to think about who they believe they are, who they believe they’re perceived to be, and possibly even who they want to be.
    2. Perhaps most importantly, this question gives us clues as to how much their faith factors into their sense of themselves. For the most part it doesn’t. Most will initially respond with personality traits, career pursuits, or likes and dislikes.
    3. The final stage of natural identity formation in college-age people is the Theologian stage. I’m not saying they need to be seminary-trained; I’m simply suggesting that their sense of identity is seen in who they’ve been made into through Christ. The theologian would answer this question by saying something like, “I’m a child of God.” They not only verbalize this, but they seek to embrace it. Now, embracing our identity solely in Christ is an ongoing process for all of us—one that’s never fully embraced here on earth, unfortunately. But we want to help people get to the point where they desire to embrace this truth and are pursuing it. And we can make them aware of our continuing process in this area as well. It’s a fun conversation to have with someone, for sure. But most importantly, we can learn how we might assist them in discovering their spiritual identity before anything else.
  5. What Do Others Want from You? The biggest reason I ask this question is that it allows me to see the pressures they’re feeling from other people. The college-age years are filled with pressure, but every person experiences different challenges and handles them differently as well.
    1. This question might give us insight into their relationship with their parents, a boss, or even the pressure they put on themselves.
    2. It can lead the conversation in dozens of directions, but it helps them think through what’s weighing on them and gives us insight into how we might be able to encourage them. Ultimately, of course, we can guide this conversation toward what God wants from them. And helping them focus here, possibly negating all other pressures, is the place we want them to get to.
  6. What Do Others Want for You? This question is a great follow-up to the previous one. For instance if they feel pressure from their parents, then this question might help them see past the pressure and into their parents’ motivations. Most parents just want what’s best for their child. This can be a healthy thing for a college-age person to recognize and articulate. This can even help relieve some of the pressure they feel. Plus, it can provide a great opportunity for us to encourage them and potentially walk with them as they seek to articulate their feelings to their parents. We can let them know that our desire is to see them get where they want to be and that we want to help them get there. And along the way we can help them discover what God wants for them, too.
  7. What Makes You Unique? This question really helps self-awareness. It naturally causes college-age people to differentiate themselves from everyone else, which is a crucial step in identity formulation. This can obviously give us insights into strengths they have, but it could also lead into struggles they’re facing. They might feel disconnected, like nobody cares, or just completely different to the point that they have a hard time finding a sense of belonging anywhere. Again, this can provide a great opportunity for encouragement and help us discover a place where our voices can have an impact in their lives.

College Ministry Mentoring

I’ve been reading up on ministry to college students (College Ministry from Scratch: Equipping Kids for Life after Youth Group, by Chuck Bomar) and want to share about college students sharing in the lives of older more mature believers in the church.

Here are five simple markers that show a certain quality in relationships between older believers and college-age people:

  1. The frequency and consistency with which the pair meets together one-on-one. If they’re meeting frequently on their own, without any prodding from others, then it shows that each of them sees the value in the relationship. If there isn’t consistency, then it’s paramount that we figure out why. It might be a matter of schedules, or it might be that the two people just don’t click for some reason. Either way, this is when we can step in and help cultivate that relationship.
  2. The college-age person seeks spiritual wisdom from the older adult on her own. If this is the case, it says the younger person sees value in this relationship. It also likely suggests that the older believer feels confident in his or her spiritual direction. If this isn’t happening, then we may need to equip the older believer or perhaps help the younger one to see the value of someone older investing in her spiritual life.
  3. The college-age person knows where the dishes are in the older believer’s kitchen. This shows a particular level of intimacy in the relationship, which takes time to develop, of course.
  4. The college-age person can drop by the home of an older believer uninvited. This again shows an intimacy and comfort level in the relationship that indicates quality.
  5. The college-age person’s pursuit of an older believer’s counsel in everyday life circumstances. College-age people are thinking through all sorts of things. If they’re seeking the advice of the older believer in their life’s direction, educational pursuits, job concerns, or any other daily issues—again, this shows us something about this relationship.

Most college ministry job descriptions include references to weekly gatherings, campus ministry, and discipleship but lack specifics that get to the heart of what’s truly needed in college ministry. Here is a Job Description summary:

  1. Learn and understand age-stage issues.
  2. Personally disciple college-age people.
  3. Help cultivate a heart in older believers for younger people.
  4. Create bridges for the building of intergenerational relationships.
  5. Provide direction for mentorships.
  6. Create a gathering point.
  7. Develop self-feeders.
  8. Develop a relationship with campus leaders.

Our biblical command isn’t to run a program; it’s to disciple people. Although a program might be a piece of that, it’s important to make the distinction.

The more you personally help college-age people through their life issues, the more you’ll be able to help other leaders do the same. Your experience is going to be critical for the long-term effectiveness of ministry to college-age people in the church.

So when Jesus told his closest men to go and make disciples, they certainly would not have walked away thinking they needed to have a weekly meeting and go through a book together! Discipleship is a part of the job description, but it is through sharing life, not through weekly meetings.

Preparing a great talk or small group Bible study probably won’t have the greatest impact on the people in our ministry. It’s the time we spend giving them our undivided attention. It’s being available, there in person, and willing to hear them out or walk alongside them through the pains and joys of life that has lasting impact.

College Ministry 101

I’ve been reading up on ministry to college students (College Ministry from Scratch: Equipping Kids for Life after Youth Group, by Chuck Bomar) and want to share a little about what I have learned:

Although college-age people might enjoy having a ministry specifically designed for them, there is a much greater desire to be a part of our churches as a whole.

A ministry to college-age people needs to focus on being a bridge for helping people find relational connection to the life of our churches. The role of college ministry is to move people from relational connections in student life to having relational connections in the adult life of our churches.

We all know that the time in a person’s life between graduating from high school and becoming an independent adult is filled with all sorts of transitions. People move out of their parents’ home and then back again. They go to school, change majors, drop out, transfer schools, graduate, or don’t graduate. They take a job, get promoted, change jobs, get fired, and move to other areas. They date someone with hopes for marriage, break up, begin new relationships, struggle with others, develop friendships, and hurt some people in the process.

My question is, “Who walks with these young adults through all of the changes, challenges, and confusion?” I think it’s the role of the church. And, more specifically, it’s the role of the college-ministry leader to make sure these people are being brought along in the context of relationships and in everyday life. This task requires more than a weekly gathering.

I’ve observed that the college-age people who have someone speaking into their lives in the midst of these changes and transitions are the ones who stay connected to the church. And when they stay connected during the college-age years, the generational gap is naturally closed through relationships.

College ministries tend to focus on getting people to show up versus helping individuals move toward the adult life in our churches.

As leaders of a college ministry, we play a small part in a lifelong process of discipleship. I’ve personally observed five overarching pursuits of college-age people that need to be guided: Identity, Intimacy, Meaning, Pleasure, and Truth.

The most effective way of making sure we’re addressing these age-stage issues, as well as forming deeper connections to the church as a whole, is by helping form natural, mentor-like relationships between college-age students and older, spiritually mature adults. These become people who, through a relationship, use their own God-given experiences to help a college-age person navigate the maturity process.

Here are five simple markers that I believe show a certain quality in relationships between older believers and college-age people:

  1. The frequency and consistency with which the pair meets together one-on-one. If they’re meeting frequently on their own, without any prodding from others, then it shows that each of them sees the value in the relationship. If there isn’t consistency, then it’s paramount that we figure out why. It might be a matter of schedules, or it might be that the two people just don’t click for some reason. Either way, this is when we can step in and help cultivate that relationship.
  2. The college-age person seeks spiritual wisdom from the older adult on her own. If this is the case, it says the younger person sees value in this relationship. It also likely suggests that the older believer feels confident in his or her spiritual direction. If this isn’t happening, then we may need to equip the older believer or perhaps help the younger one to see the value of someone older investing in her spiritual life.
  3. The college-age person knows where the dishes are in the older believer’s kitchen. This shows a particular level of intimacy in the relationship, which takes time to develop, of course.
  4. The college-age person can drop by the home of an older believer uninvited. This again shows an intimacy and comfort level in the relationship that indicates quality.
  5. The college-age person’s pursuit of an older believer’s counsel in everyday life circumstances. College-age people are thinking through all sorts of things. If they’re seeking the advice of the older believer in their life’s direction, educational pursuits, job concerns, or any other daily issues—again, this shows us something about this relationship.

Most college ministry job descriptions include references to weekly gatherings, campus ministry, and discipleship but lack specifics that get to the heart of what’s truly needed in college ministry.

A Job Description Summary:

  1. Learn and understand age-stage issues.
  2. Personally disciple college-age people.
  3. Help cultivate a heart in older believers for younger people.
  4. Create bridges for the building of inter-generational relationships.
  5. Provide direction for mentorships.
  6. Create a gathering point.
  7. Develop self-feeders.
  8. Develop a relationship with campus leaders.

Our biblical command isn’t to run a program; it’s to disciple people. Although a program might be a piece of that, it’s important to make the distinction.

The more you personally help college-age people through their life issues, the more you’ll be able to help other leaders do the same. Your experience is going to be critical for the long-term effectiveness of ministry to college-age people in your church.

So when Jesus told his closest men to go and make disciples, they certainly would not have walked away thinking they needed to have a weekly meeting and go through a book together! Discipleship is a part of the job description, but it is through sharing life, not weekly meetings.

We are Called to Bear Fruit

In January 2012, our church is going to focus on a very important topic, one which is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You might check out a men’s study we did years ago on the Secrets of the Vine.

Just as one would expect grapes from a grape vine, the most obvious fruit of a Christian is another Christian. We should tell others how Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and arose from the dead for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). God wants us to “show and tell” so that others will become disciples as well. Bearing fruit is the way we prove we are his disciples (John 15:8).

Other spiritual fruit will include our personal character qualities, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruit is produced in and through our lives as we abide in Jesus, which includes gathering together in community to study his Word and worship.

There is only one command of God that humans have not failed to do… God’s first recorded words to Adam were, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28). This meant having children but on a spiritual level, it also means for us being fruitful in serving God and other ways. Jesus gave a similar commission when He said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain,” (John 15:16). Just before His ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

So, how can you work with God in His garden? Jesus said, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4, 5).

First, you must have the right seed: Jesus is the seed of Salvation. You must receive Him and be vitally connected to Him (John 1:12). When you believe in Jesus, yielding your life to Him, He grafts you into Himself (Romans 11:17). This speaks of personal salvation. Has that happened to you?

The soil of your life must be cultivated: This involves abiding in Jesus. He said “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Consider this interpretation:

  1. If you abide in Me – that would be worship.
  2. My words abide in you – that would be Bible study or involvement in a small group.
  3. Ask whatever you will – that is obviously prayer.
  4. It shall be done for you – that could be personal obedience (John 15:10).

Having good soil includes getting the rocks and weeds out of the soil. Rocks and weeds could refer to sinful attitudes and habits, which prevent spiritual fruit bearing.

Jesus said, “My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1), which could be translated “farmer” or “gardener.” God’s Holy Spirit shows Christians areas that need work, and change. Our humble response to His conviction allows God to get the rocks and weeds of sin out of our lives.

Jesus says the vinedresser “takes away” or “prunes” the unfruitful branches to increase their fruitfulness, (John 15:2). Many plants produce too many leaves and unfruitful branches. This compares to Christians who get too busy (even in good church related activities) or get their priorities confused. Our lives may be filled with many good activities while neglecting the best, such as worship, Bible study, prayer and witnessing. Does God need to prune your life of unfruitful activities so that He can make you more fruitful for Him?

Gardens need to be protected:  In literal gardens, there are enemies like rabbits, deer and insects. This could compare to the attacks of the enemy. Our divine “vinedresser” will defend us as we abide in Christ.

  1. Sunshine and rain involve God’s gracious response to our prayers.
  2. The nutrients from the soil could be compared to the food of His Word.
  3. Fertilizer could be our kind deeds to others preparing them for the seed.

So, how is your spiritual garden? Is it fruitful for God? Abide in Christ and His Word. With His power and grace you can have a bumper crop. Amen.

Overcoming Loneliness in Life

One of the toughest things for a college student to overcome is loneliness. They are in a new environment, perhaps away from home for the first extended period of time, and so many experiences are totally new. It can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get isolated because no one knows who we are. Being in a new area we might rather wait it out until we can make it back home to familiar surroundings. It’s difficult to establish “safe” places to meet friends, share concerns, doubts, or heartaches.We all struggle but it often feels like we are the only ones going through these issues.

One reason we have the capacity to feel lonely is because God made us to need other people. In other words, we don’t like to live alone because we weren’t made to live alone. The Bible teaches that, even when Adam was living in paradise (a perfect setting with no problems, no stress, no sin, and no one creating heartaches for others) God could see that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

God doesn’t want us to be lonely, and that’s why he offers us several ways to overcome the pain of loneliness while we are spending time of this planet:

God gives us a plan for life: You may feel nobody knows the depth of your loneliness, but God says this: “I made you. I put you on this earth for a purpose, and I created you. I care about you. I love you, and I have a plan for you and your future.” When you focus on God’s plan for your life, you don’t have a lot of time to feel lonely.

God gives us people in our lives: If you’re like many college students, you have plenty of acquaintances, but what you may not have are close friends. I’m talking about friends who really know you and walk beside you when you go through the inevitable crises of life. Enter, the church.

The church is the family of God, and one of its purposes is to provide us with the opportunity to develop real relationships. I’m not talking about ‘acquaintances’, but deep, close friends who will think about you and pray for you daily. If you don’t have a small group you meet with every week, take the initiative and get involved with a group where you can establish true, transparent, trusted friendships.

God gives us his presence: God created each of us to have an intimate, personal, and close relationship with him. As you go through life, this is our primary goal. Out of the overflow, we serve others in Jesus’ name. No person, no experience, no drug, no success, no possession, no fortune, no relationship, nor any fame or ideal job is going to fill that aching hole in your heart that God created for himself.

This means the most amazing remedy to loneliness is God’s presence.

I used to send missionaries all over the world, and in places like some cities in China, you can be surrounded by a million people and feel completely alone. Your college campus is no exception. We know that God is everywhere and there is no place on Earth where God is not. Knowing that can relieve you loneliness. When you understand that God is with you all the time, you can call on his help to conquer the loneliness in your life.

So, remember that God is right here with you. Jesus says, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 MSG).

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