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Posts Tagged ‘college ministry’

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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This Saturday and Sunday are Campus Ministry Celebration Weekend for Central Church of Christ and Campus Christian Community in Spartanburg, SC. This promises to be a memorable experience for members of this university student ministry and all the Christians who have helped with the ministry in this first year of its existence.

Our guest speaker for the weekend is Matt Carter, who is scheduled to speak at the banquet Saturday night and both the college class and the worship assembly Sunday morning.

Matt Carter is a national leader among campus ministers affiliated with Churches of Christ and is the lead missionary in a church-planting team in Chapel Hill, NC. Prior to his role at Chapel Hill, he had several years of campus ministry experience at the University of Georgia, the University of Memphis, and Kansas State University. He is a graduate of UGA and Harding Graduate School of Religion, and he taught biblical studies at Manhattan Christian College in Kansas. Matt and his wife, Felicia, have three children: Asher, Noah, and Naomi.

To learn more about the mission team in Chapel Hill, click here.

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