Battlelines No. 9

I met Will Sharp in a graduate school class years ago at Freed-Hardeman University. Since then, I’ve been impressed with his work and service to the Lord. He serves as a Campus Minister at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. There aren’t many people more keenly aware of what needs to happen in our universities to make faith and ministry more vibrant and effective for our young people. Please take a few minutes and read this profound article simply entitled The Soul of Campus Ministry.

What is the soul of campus ministry? It’s the student who sits in the back of the auditorium, wondering where they belong in this world. That student asks if they are in the right major, contemplating what they will do after graduation, and they are the individuals who begin to start asking the tough theological questions. 

Christ tells us to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel, but who is proclaiming the gospel to those going into all the world?

Who is showing the students the importance of spreading the Good News in their profession? The soon-to-be nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, engineers, accountants, lawyers etc., etc. The Lord’s church’s vision and goal should not just be to minister to the children and the youth group, preach to the congregation, and have events for the young at heart. We must minister to those who end up being a statistic. 40-50% of students connected to a high school youth group will fail to keep their faith in college. Why? Because you and I need to be better in showing Christ to college-aged individuals, who seem to be vulnerable when away from their home church and Christian friends.

Solomon Asch, a psychologist, is best known for his conformity experiments. In 1951, Asch experimented with a group of college-aged individuals. The concept involved determining the length of lines in which the student matched two identical lines together that were the same length from a group of lines. The students involved were all actors except for one student. The actors would match two lines through the experiment, knowing that they were not at all identical. What did this do to the one student who was not an actor in the study? Asch revealed that a sizable minority of responses conformed to the actors’ answers, the wrong answers. The idea of conformity runs rampant among the college-age group. Losing college students to the world is a troubling thought, but churches can resolve the issue.

The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education. | Ralph Waldo Emerson

In his book College Ministry 101, Chuck Bomar writes, “High school graduates disconnect from the church, and far too many never come back. We’re desperate for ways to keep college-age people engaged in the life of the church – not only for the sake of the church. We need ministries that bridge the generational gap between children and adults. No ministry will fill this need like a college-age ministry” (p. 30).

College students do not want to just come to church.

College students want to have a connection to the church. Students are passionate about change in the world and society, which begins with the Lord’s Church. Connecting a student to a group of like-minded individuals will give them encouragement and strength to press on in this world. How can we connect them to the church?

The simple answer is involvement. Leaders of the Church must utilize the young people in leadership roles both inside and outside of the church. Involvement entails leading devotional thoughts for the congregation, establishing a mentor or “adopt-a-student” program, having student leaders in the college ministry, and allowing them to take ownership of the ministry. 

Bridging the divide among college-aged individuals involves conversations.

When was the last time individual Church leaders sat down with a college student and had an open discussion? In his book Applied Leadership Development, Al Bolea writes on nine elements of the J-Curve Leadership Model. The model aids organizations and leaders in developing the right tools to make a positive change in the organization.  One of the elements is the element of conversation. In this area, Bolea explains, “everything that happens in an organization happens as a result of conversations. These conversations are often spent dwelling on the past or focusing on our immediate environment. A leader’s life must extend the focus of conversations into the future,” (p. 31).

Church leadership must focus on their future and the future eternity of college students’ souls. We must not sit idly by while college-aged students struggle with conformity and complacency. A simple conversation with a student can change the path of their life. A conversation can lead to a Bible study, and it can lead to salvation.

We connect with and have conversations about the things in which we care about in our lives. As a Christian, churchgoer, minister, leader in the Church, do we care about the soul of campus ministry? If we answer yes to this question, then we must ask, “What am I doing about it?”

Pray for the college-age students in your community, and in the Church you attend. Connect them to the people of the Lord and converse with them because showing someone you love them can have a lasting impact on their soul.

Will Sharp lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with his wife and two children. He serves as Campus Minister for the Tide 4 Christ under the supervision of the Central Church of Christ. He also serves as a chaplain for the Alabama National Guard.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash