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Archive for the ‘Campus Ministry’ Category

Study GroupWhen I was a college minister, some people thought I was a youth minister. I found that strange, as did my coworker who led our church’s youth ministry. Despite assumptions to the contrary, high school students and college students have different experiences and needs. Youth ministry and college ministry share some similarities but are clearly different ministries.

The differences, however, don’t need to keep the groups apart. Combining high school and college groups is helpful. The groups can join for Bible classes and other activities, including opportunities to serve other groups of the church and service events in the neighboring community.

Such intergroup interaction has many blessings. Let me mention four.

Blessing 1: Intergenerational ministry is biblical and helpful.

The church has been intergenerational for a long time, and intergenerational ministry helps spiritual development and learning (Allen and Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation.) This intergenerational aspect of faith communities existed long before the birth of Jesus (Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 145:4) and continued into the first-century church, as indicated by Paul’s words about different age groups (1 Timothy 5:1-3). For more on this, see Kara Jenkins’ article, “Biblical Support for Intergenerational Ministry.”

Blessing 2: Age-specific ministries need to be integrated parts of the church.

Providing opportunities for groups to interact helps this integration. While there are reasons to have different classes and activities for different age groups, combining groups for Bible study, service events, and other times of interaction can build understanding, appreciation, and relationships between generations. Keeping age-specific groups always isolated from each other hinders that relational integration. If the church is to be the body of Christ in which each member plays an important and valued role (1 Corinthians 12), the diverse members need to know and influence each other. (To read about the difference between an intergenerational church and a church with intergenerational programs, see Kara Jenkins’ article, “Intergenerational Ministry in the Church.”)

Blessing 3: Friendships with college students can help high school graduates transition.

These relationships can help students be connected and have a place to belong in the church after high school graduation. Teenagers who graduate from high school without relational connections to the next age group of the church are likely to perceive that the church no longer has a place for them. Before high school graduates get to that point, they need to know that the church has room for their gifts and has a desire to continue helping them learn and grow.

Blessing 4: College students need to serve.

Teaching or assisting in intergroup events can offer valuable ministry opportunities for older students to help younger ones. College students are young adults who need to be nurtured, and they need to learn to equip younger friends for faith and ministry. College students in the church are learning and growing, and they benefit from opportunities to share their knowledge and experience.

Allen and Ross - Intergenerational Christian FormationDespite the blessings of bringing high school students and college students together, some people might have fears about mixing the groups. Here I present two possible fears and respond to each.

Fear 1: High school and college students are at different levels of maturity (knowledge, thinking, experiences).

This is a positive aspect of the whole church. As mentioned above, the church is the body of Christ. In that body, all parts are valuable. When we look at the church as a whole, we see members at various levels of maturity. That diversity does not need to be a curse; it can and should be a blessing. We learn from each other.

Also, age stages are fluid. Every group has members at different levels of spiritual, intellectual, and social development. Stereotyping a group of students as being at one maturity level is not helpful. Some high school students have maturity far beyond what we might expect in people of their age, and some people in their 80s are spiritual infants. When it comes to spiritual maturity, there are no accurate age group stereotypes.

Fear 2: High school students aren’t ready for the intellectual and spiritual challenges which college students experience.

With guidance, college students can help high school students with high school experiences. College students have been high school students, and sojourners can benefit from guides who have traveled longer in the right direction. Although we might not want to throw college-age new Christians into teaching roles in a high school Bible class, college students who have intentionally grown through study, service, and mentoring can share what they’ve learned.

Also, high school students need to be prepared for college experiences. When they become college students, they need to already have an idea of some of the challenges they’re about to face. We don’t need to hide those challenges from high school students. They need to be ready. Let’s not protect them from what’s next. Instead, let’s provide opportunities for them to discover what’s next and to do so in contexts of Christian friendship.

In the words of youth minister JD Morris, “both high school and college students need to be called to a much higher standard for spirituality, maturity, and responsibility than what our society is calling them. Kids today are growing up much slower because we are not just allowing, but expecting them to grow up much slower.”

Keeping people in classes and other activities catered to their levels can contribute to the “dumbing down” of the church. When we all walk together in Christ, supporting and strengthening each other on the way, God empowers us to grow beyond whatever ageist expectations our society might place on us.

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Experienced Christians should build relationships with young adults. That was the focus of my previous post.

On my Facebook timeline, I added a link to that blog post. A friend commented, “In ages past, the emerging adults looked to the elder adults for wisdom. Now many emerging adults disregard the elder adults… Somehow we have to change our attitudes to ‘sharing and learning’ rather than ‘taking and demanding.’”

Overcoming the communication gap between generations requires work on both sides. To turn the intergenerational nature of the church into a blessing instead of a blockade, older and younger adults need to build relationships with each other, listen to each other, learn about each other, and cooperate in unity, letting God work through their similarities and differences.

Saturday’s post addressed elder adults about emerging adults, so now let me address emerging adults about elder adults. More specifically, I want to offer seven reasons that emerging adults should build relationships with elder adults.

STG with LKF Malaysia 2006

1. A relationship is two-way. Don’t expect elder adults to take all the initiative. Get out of your “comfort zone” and do something.

2. Elder Christians can give you wisdom that they’ve collected over the years through personal experiences and through learning from others. Listening from wise people is a common theme in the biblical book of Proverbs. For a passage about younger people paying attention to older people, check out Proverbs 4:1-4.

3. Elder Christians can teach you about spiritual disciplines, including ones you’re passionate about and ones you don’t know about or prefer to avoid. (Spiritual disciplines are practices like prayer, study, meditation, fasting, celebration, and service that open us to God’s transforming work in our lives.)

4. Elder Christians can provide relational support. In those times when you get a bad grade or land on the dean’s list, when you get a date or get dumped, when you find a job or lose one or don’t know how to look for one or don’t know that you need one, you need a friend to welcome you into a home and maybe a hug.

5. Elder Christians can tell you about successes and failures that have shaped their lives. Those stories can shape you and empower you to perceive situations from more informed perspectives.

6. You can be a blessing to elder adults. Greet them. Listen to them. Ask questions. Learn. Look at pictures with them. Sit and reflect. Your presence will bless your more experienced friends as their presence blesses you.

7. You set an example for other emerging adults when you befriend elder adults. Be part of social change.

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The church needs intergenerational relationships; but Christians may sometimes overlook, neglect, or ignore college-aged people who have much to offer. Older church members often don’t know how to connect meaningfully with college students and other young adults. In The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings, Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, and Abbie Smith encourage more experienced Christians to recognize college-aged people, to find common ground in the bigger story of what God is doing in the world, and to engage in a process of mentoring that focuses on people instead of planned products. To mentor is to journey with another person, sharing joys, sorrows, convictions, and questions. The goal is a process of lifelong maturing, not a destination at which a person is spiritually mature.

SlowFade

The personal stories and practical suggestions in the book provide help and hope for any Christian, regardless of spiritual maturity or ministerial giftedness, and any church, regardless of size or fiscal resources, to engage in intentional relationships with emerging adults. Older Jesus-followers can nurture those relationships by talking with and listening to college-aged people, having coffee with them, hosting them for meals, joining them in activities they enjoy, and exploring life and faith with them in unplanned, informal ways.

Demographic research forms the foundation for the authors’ message. The book presents evidence for the college age group’s tendency to drop out of church life, and the reasons are many. Some don’t see the church as relevant to their experiences and interests; some have suffered alienation in the church. The authors call the church to live out biblical commands of intergenerational influence. Doing so involves a process that is bigger than programs and that benefits the church and mentors, not just the college-aged mentees.

I’ve seen several books that try to empower students to remain faithful during their college years, and others have taught me theological foundations and practical “nuts and bolts” for leading a campus ministry. This book, however, takes a fresh approach in nudging the wider church to embrace the blessings of intergenerational relationships.

I’m glad that God has blessed the church with some full-time campus ministers and young adult ministers, but the burden and blessing of establishing and nurturing healthy intergenerational relationships belong to the whole church. College students and other young adults long for “identity, belonging, and worth.” They need to know who they are in God’s eyes, where they belong in God’s community, and how they can serve valuable roles in God’s ministry. The church must listen to those youthful voices, appreciating their insights and offering wisdom.

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This post is a modified version of a review I wrote for Campus CrossWalk in May 2011.

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My previous post told of my intense experience of doubt in my early 20s. My faith did not stay dead, and its revival had several parts. Let me tell you about three.

As soon as possible after my return to Abilene, Texas, I visited the office of one of my professors. I asked why he had chosen to be a Christian after exposure to so many alternatives.  He answered, “It makes the most sense.” That statement frustrated me then but blesses me now.

Another professor assigned me to read a thin but dense book that gave me a way to deal with some questions that had been crushing me. As soon as I finished reading, I experienced God indescribably. I acknowledged that God was bigger than my doubts and recognized that I could believe in God even when I had doubts.

Next came the Sooners for Christ, a group of students at the University of Oklahoma. In that community I found acceptance, love, and openness to my questions. I found freedom to be myself, and I rediscovered a passion for ministry. Through devotionals, conversations, ping pong games, and retreats, my faith was forming flesh.

My road back to faith included many parts, including a conversation, a book, and a community. God works in diverse ways.

Sooners for Christ in Mexico, Spring Break 2003

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In my ministry experience with college students and other young adults, I’ve seen a fear of authority. We generally don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. The common feeling is that parents, teachers, law enforcement officials, and other authorities should let us live however, doing whatever.

That is not Christianity.

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Pet 2:13).

The original recipients of First Peter were suffering (or anticipating) persecution. Imagine what submitting to authorities in that context must have been like. Then maybe keeping up with reading assignments or paying taxes might not seem so difficult.

(Day 354: First Peter 1-5)

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In this story of Daniel and his buddies who “go to college” in a strange land, we find religious differences. Religion in Babylon isn’t different just because they use PowerPoint or have the Lord’s Supper after the sermon instead of before, but because the Babylonians worship other gods; they bow to statues and pray to kings. Daniel, the faithful college student, stays strong in his faith commitment. He bows and prays only to God, even when he might get some extra credit at Babylon College if he just prays to the king or bows to the idol.

Today’s college students in my culture aren’t usually tempted to bow to statues or to pray to kings. The temptation is to worship idols of other kinds: grades, romance, success, money, ego, comfort, convenience, entertainment… The list could go on, and most of the idols aren’t bad in themselves. They become idols when we let them take the place of God in our hearts and lives. Whatever idols try to claim your allegiance, bow only to God.

(Day 258: Daniel 4-6)

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Daniel and his friends go to a place far from home. The culture in the new location is different from the culture of their homeland. The languages are different, so are the religions. Even the cuisines are different. There they study for three years. Basically they go to college and major in Babylonian language and literature.

When they arrive at “college,” they discover a temptation to do something they have learned they shouldn’t do. Instead of giving in to the pressure to conform, they remain true to their convictions.

Because of my experience as a campus minister, a lot of my friends are college students. If you’re one, this post is for you. Maybe your temptations aren’t about dietary customs.  Whatever your struggles, it’s important to remain faithful to your convictions. That can be hard when you’re away from home and in a strange place where so many things are different from what you’re accustomed to. Despite the difficulty, I encourage you to keep the faith, like Daniel and his friends did.

(Day 257: Daniel 1-3)

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